Third Wave Coffee Explained- from First to Third

By | February 23, 2015

Have you ever wondered why there’s been a huge influx of coffee making products in the market? Have you ever thought about where they all came from and how they all started?

I took a home brew coffee class last Saturday and learned quite a lot about the history of coffee, but let’s take it one step at a time until we get to the part about the Third Wave.

The Legendary Origins of the Coffee Bean

Yes you heard it right! There’s actually a legend on how the coffee bean started! It wasn’t something that people already knew how to make since the beginning. It was an event that was like the discovery of many scientific discoveries: It started from something that was observed.

The story takes place in Africa in 800 AD. It tells of a man named Kaldi in Ethiopia who was a goatherd /goatherder. One day, he saw that his goats were really energized, and he probably thought, “They must be eating something to make them this energetic.”

As to how goatherds could see how goats could be more energetic than their usual self is beyond me. They probably know best since they’re the experts.

Anyway back to the story… He observed that they were jumping from a certain shrub to another, eating the berries that were on the shrubs while they were moving around. So he thought of trying the berry out, and he probably had his very first dose of caffeine because the story said he started jumping around with his flock.

(I wonder if he was able to sleep that night…)

That’s where the whole history of coffee started, or so the legend goes.

If you’d like to know more about the earlier history of coffee, you could look up National Geography’s article here or the National Coffee Association’s site here.

We’ll leave the history to the experts. They know way more than I do and so we’ll move on to…

The First Wave of Coffee!


The first wave was said to have started around the 1900’s when big coffee brands like Folgers and Maxwell dominated the coffee market. These was the era when coffee companies bought all kinds of beans from all over the world and batch roasted them and sold them in canisters. Our younger generation might not remember the coffee from that time. Taste wasn’t much of a concern, but we needed the caffeine to drive our bodies forward.Folgers Coffee

The Second Wave

That culture changed in the 1960’s when a man named Alfred Peet started roasting and introducing his own brand of coffee beans called Peet’s Coffee, ushering in a new era in coffee culture.  His drive was to roast artisan coffee beans that were better and had more flavor than the First Wave coffee. His roasting process was said to be the inspiration for the owners of Starbucks, which has dominated the coffee industry for the Second Wave and introduced the beloved lattes, cappuccinos, and the ever-so-popular frappuccinos to us. We could say that this wave as the time when coffee was used as a component in coming up with new types of caffeinated drinks.Starbucks Coffee Shop

At Last, Third Wave Coffee Explained

While coffee companies like Starbucks dominated and still dominates the market for a long period of time, around 2002, specialty coffee shops started to come about and were focused on the quality of the coffee bean itself. Coffee roasters like Intelligentsia, Stumptown, and Counter Culture were some of the names to bring in this revolution.

In this wave, coffee beans are roasted lighter to accentuate their unique flavors, and Arabica has become the solid bean of choice. Roasters have also started going to the source of the beans and have started buying directly from farms rather than as a whole batch from a country. The term single origin coffee has come up in this wave, which basically means that the beans have come from a single small area or a single farm. Bids are being made for the quality of coffee beans produced, and more experts are coming into play, from specialty farmers, to coffee quality inspectors, to green bean bidders and buyers. Continuing the chain are the specialty roasters and the baristas.

In terms of equipment, we have seen an influx of new coffee grinders and standards in grind sizes. The brewing equipment has even become more diverse than it ever was with the introduction of new brewing methods.

To add even more confusion to it all, the ratio of coffee beans to the amount of water being used is now weighed, and ideal brewing time also measured.

This wave is all about being able to extract the taste of the coffee in a clean cup. The way I understand and have experienced it, the aim in this wave it to be able to make people appreciate the taste of their coffee without any additional components like the Second Wave coffee drinks have.

So to sum it all up, in the Third Wave, quality is already measured from bean to cup.

Does it Sound Overwhelming?

Is sure did to me at start. I started wanting to learn about making coffee at home. I never knew I’d be introduced to such a huge industry!

But don’t worry. We’re all learning about coffee and the different methods or making it at our own pace. And even if there’s a lot to soak in at the start, it’s relatively easy to follow through once we’ve caught up.

After all, once you find a process that suits you, you’d probably stick to that single process until you become better at it and then try other new processes.

To give an example. My first equipment was actually a 3 hole Melitta-style pour over dripper called the Kalita 102. A week after, I found myself dabbling in an old French press instead of the dripper,  and learned to perfect that method first by sticking with it for two weeks. You could read more of it at my How to Make Great French Press Coffee guide.

Now that I’ve learned brewing with the French press, I’ve gone back to the Kalita 102 dripper, mastering the craft and learning tweaks to make a better cup of coffee with it. So as you can see, it takes time to learn about brewing methods, but that’s whats fun about brewing coffee at home, isn’t it? We’re not pressured to learn everything in one go, and we actually have fun while making our coffee!

Is Another Fourth Wave Coming?

I recently read that there is another Fourth Wave that’s about to come. But with regards to what it’s about, it’s still hazy and vague. We’ll probably know more about that after this year’s much awaited 27th Annual SCAA Specialty Coffee Event happening this year April 9-12 (2015).

So I’ll write more about that wave when the time comes. But for the near future, we’ll probably look more into the Third Wave and the changes that it has made, like the exclusion of the Robusta bean in specialty coffee.

2 thoughts on “Third Wave Coffee Explained- from First to Third

  1. War

    We’re fond of using the nespresso machine and capsules. Would you consider that system part of the third wave?

    1. Darwin Post author

      Hey there War!

      The connoisseurs of the third wave movement would say “no” right away. The main reason that I could think of is that the third wave gives heavy consideration to the freshness of the beans. Industry experts will tell you that you should buy your beans one or two days from roast date, and that you should consume your coffee beans within two weeks from the date that it was roasted.

      The coffee beans also begin losing their flavor once they’re ground (because of oxidation among other stuff). That plays a major role in the third wave as practitioners grind their coffee right before they brew it. For a better explanation of what happens to coffee beans after grinding, you could look here.

      That being said, I see no problem with enjoying your Nespresso coffee. We all enjoy coffee in our own ways. And one of the benefits of coffee pods is that you could enjoy it fast, easy, and without fuss; just pop it in and out comes the coffee, right? You could’ve probably finished half a mug of coffee by the time it takes me to make a mug using the drip method.

      So enjoy your coffee 🙂 and when you have time, drop over one of the specialty coffee brewers and taste the different flavors to see if there’s a difference. If you do get to enjoy and want to dabble in making coffee through other methods, come back here and I’ll have more content up for you to see!


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