The journey of coffee from seed to your empty cup.
Maybe you’re like us and the idea of getting coffee from your local coffee shop as opposed to making it at home makes you smile inside.
When you walk up the steps of your local coffee shop, you know the atmosphere is going to be great. You expect the coffee to be even better. You make your choice from the carefully crafted menu. Is it going to be a cortado today … or maybe a latte … or maybe it’s more of a pour-over kind of day.
Then you wait.
You don’t know exactly what they do behind that counter but what comes out on the other end is an artful masterpiece.
Have you ever wondered what happens behind the coffee bar? Why does coffee taste so much better at some places than others? Why haven’t you achieved the same great taste in your home?
How can people drink black coffee – and like it?
And what in the world is third wave coffee? Is there a fourth wave now too?
This year we’re going on a journey that explores answers to all those questions. Through a series of articles, we’re going to see how we are all connected through coffee.
The empty mug.
We’ll start our journey in what seems like the most unlikely of places – the empty mug.
Next time you finish a mug of coffee, take a second to look inside. Do you see the last couple of drips of black coffee collected on the bottom of your mug?
Or how about your latte? After you drink it, can you see a bunch of lines around the inside of your mug?
Each line signifies the amount of coffee left in your mug after each. amazing. sip.
Okay now consider for just a minute that it’s more than just a dirty dish.
Your empty mug symbolizes the sacredness of the transfer from the farmer, to the plant, to the producer, to the importer, to the roaster, to the barista, to YOU.
The reason we start with the empty mug is that it shows the point at which you and all those pieces connect because you’ve just consumed the coffee.
So what is Third Wave coffee?
One part of Third Wave coffee is having a higher level of understanding of all that goes into each mug of coffee. Once you’ve digested that simple yet sacred symbol of the empty mug, you’re part of the third wave coffee experience.
Congrats and welcome.
In order to fully grasp what Third Wave coffee is, you have to know what the first and second waves of coffee are about.
The First Wave
We want quick and easy caffeine.
Beginning in the 1960s, the first wave was marked by:
Key brands in this wave such as Folgers and Maxwell House were easy to find in the grocery stores and affordable.
If you were to describe the flavor, you might use words like ash and dark. There was not much conversation happening around the well being of the farmers or the quality of the coffee. An entire continent was used to describe the origin of the coffee.
People are more likely to dump all kinds of sugar and cream into this coffee and you can imagine why.
The Second Wave
Coffee dates are a thing now.
We can thank a man who some call the grandfather of coffee, Alfred Peet, for igniting what is now known as the Second Wave of coffee. Peet is known for his artisan style of hand roasting beans as well as differentiating between the countries of origin of the coffee beans. (1)
The Second Wave gave birth to many chain coffee shops, Starbucks chief among them. If Mr. Peet is the grandfather of coffee, think of Starbucks as the flashy uncle in a souped-up red, or rather green, sports car.
Emphasis was placed on enjoying coffee. All kinds of dessert-style espresso drinks were popularized. Coffee began to be treated more like a luxury. No longer was it something just to get you through your day but it became something you enjoyed with others – and maybe also get through your day.
Coffee was elevated to above-average quality in this wave and consumers started to become more aware of the journey of coffee.
The Third Wave
We realize pure black coffee has different flavors. Chocolate is sometimes one of them. No sugar required.
Third Wave coffee is a movement toward:
- higher-quality coffee
- positive relationships with the farmers
- a better understanding of the story behind the cup
Third Wave Coffee uses specialty coffee, which is high-quality coffee beans that rate 80 points or higher on a 100-point scale. (2)
In the Third Wave, we not only know the country where the coffee originated from but sometimes we know the farmer as well. If a roaster buys their coffee directly from an individual farmer, they might name their coffee after that farmer.
All of our coffee at Red Dot Coffee Company is named after the Region where it came from, except for our Compass Blend.
Tasting events are no longer just for wine but for coffee as well. Many coffee shops and roasters have flight nights and cupping events where you can try several coffees and talk about their flavor profiles.
Depending on the origin and roasting profile, one coffee might have a green apple tasting note, while another has chocolate and caramel notes.
These events are a great way to learn more about the origin, process, how it was roasted, and all kinds of details about a particular coffee. Keep an eye on our events page at The Red Dot Coffee Co. for upcoming tasting events.
Many roasters in the Third Wave get their coffee through Direct Trade. The focus here is on having a direct relationship with the farmers.
While you can brew a fantastic cup of specialty coffee in your home you can’t exactly have Third Wave Coffee that way. That’s because a key element of the Third Wave is the customer experience. Remember how we talked about visiting your coffee shop? When you’re comfortable chatting with the folks behind the coffee bar and asking them questions about your coffee, you’ll know you’ve found a good spot.
It seems like coffee can’t get much better. So what’s the Fourth Wave?
For years, people have been talking about the fourth wave of coffee and trying to decipher what the next movement of coffee is. Different people in the industry have different points of view on this.
District Coffee Roasters asserts that while the Third Wave is focused largely on the consumer and the overall experience, the Fourth Wave of coffee is focused on making a positive impact on the world. And they do this by cultivating relationships with farmers in poor areas. (3)
In an article on Taste, we see Elizabeth Dunn discussing with Todd Carmichael, founder of specialty coffee roaster, La Colombe, whether the Fourth Wave of coffee is about the consumer’s obsession with cold coffee. (4)
So is Fourth Wave characterized by choosing nitro cold brew even when your car is glistening with frost in the grayness of winter?
OR is it the increasing focus on higher-quality coffee and doing what is best for the communities where our coffee originates from? Are both true?
No matter what wave we’re in, coffee continues to inspire us, fuel us, connect us, and impact the world for good.
Journey with us.
Continue the journey with us as we look deeper into all things coffee. Each month we’re going to look at one aspect of the journey to the empty mug.
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