Updated: Apr 9
Coffee is similar to other complex products such as tea and chocolate, and has over four times the amount of flavor and aromatic compounds as wine. Coffee lovers can spend a lifetime exploring coffees throughout the world; roasted and prepared in new, different, and exciting ways. The possibilities are endless, and that is why we are so excited and passionate about coffee. We also realize that some of the terminology associated with specialty coffee can serve as a barrier between the roaster and consumers, especially those who are looking to explore something new in the world of coffee. Let's briefly explore Third Wave coffee roasting.
Third Wave coffee roasting is just one element within the overall Third Wave coffee culture
Definitions of Third Wave coffee are fluid and evolving; and even cause angst within the coffee community. The Third Wave coffee movement is often described as a mindset and it encapsulates the entire coffee experience; which includes elements of coffee culture, quality, excellence, brew methods, and continual learning and innovation. Third Wave coffee roasting is just one element within the overall Third Wave coffee culture and we'll get to that shortly, but first, what are the first two "waves?"
First Wave Roasting: Often characterized by large-scale commodity coffee, often pre-ground for mass consumption. Low prices are prioritized over taste. First wave coffee is typically roasted dark and is bitter to the senses, resulting in most consumers adding cream and sugar out of necessity. Recognizing this "hardship," corporations started to offer flavored coffees, which you can still find in grocery stores. Do you remember all of those iconic coffee commercials from your youth? That was the First Wave off coffee and it's still out there in your local chain store. First Wave is the "easy" button for coffee and it is also what brought coffee into our households, for which we are forever indebted!
Second Wave Roasting: The Second Wave was ushered in by companies such as Peet's and Starbucks. Roasts typically remained on the darker side - partially due to such large volumes and the need to provide a consistent product for the average consumer. These large coffee companies offered greater transparency as to the origin of the coffee, as well as new and fun ways to drink coffee. Just think of all those options on the menu! In addition to so many new ways to enjoy coffee, especially espresso-style drinks, we can also thank the Second Wave for bringing a higher level of coffee consciousness to the consumer - think fair trade and organic. These companies also kick-started the coffee cafe culture here in the United States, for which we are forever indebted!
Third Wave Roasting: Third Wave roasters are typically small and independent. From a Third Wave roaster's perspective, our role is to focus on bringing out the best of a particular varietal, roasting to highlight favorable attributes and to source high quality coffee that does not require roasting overly dark to mask imperfections. This is true craft coffee. The CHR "about" page sums it up:
"As a third wave coffee roastery we approach coffee as a culinary form of art. We source the highest quality green beans from a featured region then artisanally develop the varietal to is full potential, roasting not to mask, but to bring out unique and optimal flavors."
A specialty Third Wave coffee roaster will consider the terroir from where the coffee was grown, the processing method at the farm or processing station, the region, weather, altitude, and other variables to include how the green coffee is stored and shipped. All of these factors - which change over time - influence how a particular varietal tastes. Many Third Wave roasters also have a foot in the Fourth Wave, which assigns greater significance to the coffee farmer. And yes, we're forever indebted to the coffee farmers!