2013-06-13

Defining "Third-wave" Coffee

"Third-wave" is a term coined in the USA. You can read up on the traditional rationale for its choice of language. But even within the community of people who use it, its definition remains in question.

Language must be useful, otherwise we discard it. A definition must enable us to distinguish what a symbol does and does not point to.

So far, the terms I associate with "third-wave coffee," are: "micro-lots," "lighter roasts," and "flavour profiling."

Update 2013-06-29:
The SEA style is the only one with additives at the roasting stage: butter, margerine, salt, sugar - perhaps, some say, to provide a sweetened taste for otherwise uncharacterisable beans.

The "traditional Italian" dark roast is said to have been a result of the coffee-exporting regions in Africa which the Germans colonised at certain points in history. The quality of the beans, the requirements of the industrial age, and the ability of the fast-extraction "espresso" method to extract the lighter components of the roast, are further hypothesised to have contributed to the development of "espresso" in Italian culture.

In the USA,

(i) post WW2 industrialisation led to gradual degradation of coffee as a consumer product. Think Folgers, and flavored beans for home consumption, etc.

(ii) Peets / SBUX reacted to this with Italian influenced tradition, see above, with full-bodied, dark roasts, without additives at the roasting stage, finally brewed via the espresso method.

(iii) At some point, a bunch of coffee quality nerds honed in on the problems of SBUX's style... things roasted too dark lose their individual taste/aroma characteristics... and so there was a need to roast lighter to preserve the unique flavours of each lot of coffee. Further research led to miscellaneous very very nerdy insights into that everything from terrain, farming methods, pre-roast processing, roasting, and brewing methods. Ergo, US hipster coffee... at some point began referring to itself as "third-wave" where the waves correspond to the three industrial developments in this list.

Addendum: super-customised-candied-drink style of customer service ... that's also been popularised by SBUX. The third-wave purists just don't encourage anything to be added to coffee. But as a businessman I think there's plenty of room for a single company to diversify into every niche, and use different brands to satisfy every customer (no matter how idiotic their preferences).

That being said, purist ethics would entail that we try and nudge customers in the direction of fewer additives to "just good coffee"

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