What Is “Third Wave Coffee” – How Is It Different to Specialty?

Coffee is now considered an artisanal food like wine or cheese. People are now more excited about learning about different regional coffee beans’ unique profile characteristics and new coffee brewing methods. In a nutshell, We can summarize the Third Wave as being an era where people are researching, conducting thorough inquiries into how we can perfect the art of coffee brewing.  

If you are a coffee lover, you must have heard about the term “Third-Wave Coffee.” But most of us are not sure about what it means, what its specialties are, and how it is different from specialty coffee. 

Before we dive right into what the Third Wave coffee means, we need to first look at the First and Second waves of coffee. The First Wave started back in the 1960s. During that time, the demand for coffee started growing exponentially. And as a result, the production of coffee also sky-rocketed. 

To meet the demand, different companies sprung up like Nescafe, Folgers. They produced and sold coffee in vacuum-sealed tin cans. If you could take a tour down memory lane, you would find these cans in every kitchen of the ’70s. However, at the end of this era, consumers wanted to enjoy coffee in the open, outside their homes, with friends over the conversation. And as a result, the Second Wave kicked in. 

third wave coffee

The Second Wave started with the advent of all the fancy coffee franchises such as Starbucks. During the same time, many other coffee shops sprung up. People started considering coffee as a luxury product; it was a symbol of status. It was the Second Wave when ethical sourcing of green coffee beans became a critical discussion point. 

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But what triggered the Second Wave Coffee? Well, it was the availability of coffee from international markets. By his time, coffee producers could trade with coffee shop owners from different continents. The overall coffee market was expanding. On top of that, Brazilian producers and Colombian producers fought to win the larger portion of the international coffee market. 

What is Third Wave Coffee

By now, you might be wondering what triggered the Third Wave Coffee? Was it an advancement to its predecessors? And is it better? 

Well, the Third Wave Coffee was triggered by both consumers and manufacturers.  Consumers started considering coffee as an essential part of their daily life. In the last decade, more and more people have switched from tea to coffee. People drink it with their breakfast, have a cup in the afternoon, and brew a cup when they have to pull an all-nighter. 

On the other hand, the manufacturers quickly tried to fill the demand for coffee. They went beyond the traditional ways of procuring coffee. They started reaching out to independent coffee farmers throughout the globe. This reaching out enabled the baristas to explore various new blends and brewing techniques of specialty coffee.

And then came the Third Wave. It has revolutionized the way we produce coffee, how we brew it, and how we consume it. Now the roles of every member in the Coffee Supply chain, such as the farmers, harvesters, importers, traders, roasters, baristas, and end-consumers, are more defined. 

Key Features of the Third Wave

There are many key features of the Third Wave Coffee, but here are a few important ones- direct import, ethical sourcing, light roast profile, and new brew methods.  The fact that baristas can now source their coffee beans from any independent producers gives them more flexibility to try unique blends. 

The Third Wave VS Specialty Coffee

Many factors make the Third Wave coffee special. First, there is the diversity of coffee beans. Coffee Shops can procure coffee from Columbia, Indonesia, Brazil without having to contact a dealer first. 

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Secondly, as per the brewer’s preference, the producers stick to specific harvesting and processing methods. Baristas can choose from natural, honey, washed, or wet hulling processing that best suits their recipe. 

Before the Third Wave Coffee, producers were more concerned over standardization of the coffee taste. Furthermore, they emphasized low prices over other determiners.  

The term Specialty coffee was coined by the pioneer himself, Timothy Castle. He used this term back in 1999 in the journal “Tea & Coffee Trade Journal Asia.” On the other hand, the term Third Wave Coffee was coined by world-famous barista Trish Rothgeb. He used this term in an interview given to the journal Roasters Guild back in 2003. 

The concept behind the Third Wave Coffee took inspiration from the Three Waves of Feminism. Now is there any distinction between the Third Wave and Specialty Coffee? Well, You can use them interchangeably. Native people of Australia refer to the same thing as merely Good Coffee.


If you are still confused about the Third Wave and Specialty Coffee, think about it this way. We consider the act of making wine as art. The wine’s final taste depends on what grapes you are using, what geographical location were the grapes procured from, how long was the wine fermented and stored for aging. 

Similarly, in recent times the act of coffee brewing has become an art. Consumers are open to new blends and new methods of coffee brewing. We now see a significant portion of the consumer segment trying out coffee brewing at their home. And with the availability of more affordable and portable coffee brewing gadgets, coffee brewing has become a popular hobby. 

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