A new coffee wave
A new wave of coffee washes over us in the form of specialty coffee. ‘Third-wave coffee’, or the third wave of coffee, as it’s called. Now there must be specialty coffee in the cup, and coffee drinkers around the world are more than willing to pay a nice price for high quality and coffee that is produced at good values. But what is specialty coffee and third-wave coffee really about?
“Taste is subjective, but quality should not be”.
So short can ‘third-wave coffee’ be explained, according to Trish Rothgeb .The American was the first to classify and name the movements within coffee that we have reviewed over time. Right now we are in the third movement, the third wave. The name is inspired by the waves of feminism that have washed over society on a regular basis.
Trish Rothgeb is a coffee expert, trained Q-degrees from the Coffee Quality Institute and an expert in assessing whether coffee beans excel to such an extent that they can get the coveted title of specialty coffee.
According to her, our historical approach to coffee can be divided into three coffee waves:
First wave (19th century)
Coffee is becoming a commodity and consumption is growing exponentially. People are starting to see the potential of coffee and buying it regularly.
The wave is about coffee becoming a staple in line with milk and sugar. Something most households have in the closet and a product that has a specific purpose: to get people out of bed in the morning with a solid caffeine kick.
Coffee was not a product where consumers demanded neither good taste nor quality. It was all about convenience and low cost. Therefore, ground coffee in a vacuum-packed bag was a hit with coffee drinkers.
Second Wave (1970s)
Starbucks transforms coffee culture. Coffee becomes a thing that you meet and gather around to a greater extent, and the coffee bar becomes a meeting place and a giant thing.
The wave is very much about espresso coffee and the coffee varieties you can make based on an espresso shot. The wave also means that consumers are starting to make demands and have expectations for the quality of coffee and the coffee bar.
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Third wave (2000s)
In the third wave, the coffee drinker transforms into a coffee connoisseur. Coffee becomes a product to be enjoyed in line with wine. One begins to be interested in where the coffee comes from, how it is produced and brewed.
At the same time, there is a focus on the coffee value chain. The middlemen who have so far made a splash on keeping the price of green beans down are now being bypassed by the roasters, who would rather trade directly with the coffee farmers. This gives the roasteries more control over quality, and at the same time you become experimental in the coffee production. This means a lighter roasting on the coffee beans, which brings out more flavor nuances in the cup.
There is a whole new awareness about coffee and one now understands that a Nicaraguan coffee tastes different than coffee from Kenya. Single estate and single origin coffee are becoming popular, just as it is becoming popular to make pour-over coffee at breweries such as Chemex and Kalita Wave .
It is important to keep in mind that both the first and second wave continue to exist. You can still find vacuum-packed and ground coffee down in the supermarket, and for many people, a caffe latte from Starbucks is still one of the highlights of the day. Certainly not all roasteries or producers are interested in where their coffee comes from or how it is produced.
What is specialty coffee?
Not everyone uses the term third-wave coffee. In the coffee industry, the term specialty coffee is used more frequently, but the two terms cover roughly the same thing.
For a coffee to call itself specialty coffee, it must score over 80 points on the SCA scale. Behind the abbreviation SCA hides the Specialty Coffee Association, which is a global coffee organization that, in its own words, fights to make specialty coffee a “flourishing, fair and sustainable activity for the entire value chain”.
The SCA scale is a way of determining the quality of coffee beans. Through tastings – so-called coffee cupping – the beans are awarded a score of up to 100 points. It is a way to ensure that the coffee lives up to a standard where it can be described as specialty coffee.
Specialty coffee stands in contrast to commercial coffee – the coffee you find down in the supermarket. But it is certainly not all coffee that is judged. In fact, it is the fewest coffee beans that undergo the official Q-grading as it is expensive.
Is there a fourth wave on the way?
Trish Rothgeb, the mother of the concept of third-wave coffee, believes she can see the contours of a fourth movement in coffee. It will be even more about the people involved in the coffee value chain.
Where the third wave is about paying a fair price to coffee farmers and uplifting baristas to renowned artisans, the fourth wave will focus on gender equality and minorities in the coffee industry.
At ØNSK, we work together with the coffee cooperative Corcasan, which works with a goal of more female farm owners and employees. So we feel we are already feeling the ripples of the fourth wave of coffee.