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The Basics of Third Wave Coffee


Paper cups

Third wave coffee is nothing new, at least in terms of the culinary world. But while the term was first coined in the 80s, it is only recently they have started gaining traction outside of the major cities.
Third wave coffee represents an ideological shift in how a cafe or coffee shop make their coffee. Third wave coffee is a reaction to the overly sweet and complicated beverages of the second wave, things like frappes and flavored macchiatos.


One of the biggest tenants of third wave coffee is purchasing direct trade, high quality beans. This has created a culinary culture in many ways similar to wine. Like wine, coffee can take up the terroir, or characteristics of the soil and place it was grown, and express them in the flavor of the coffee.
Instead of relying on generic blends, third wave cafes focus on single origin brews, or coffee made from beans grown within the same small geographic area. This increases the visibility of the terroir, but also makes for a wide variety of flavor between brews depending on where the bean was grown.

Method of preparation

The pour over method is very similar to the drip method. Both rely on hot water passing through ground coffee beans, through a filter and collecting in a pot. One of the difference is that during the pour over method, the barista will literally pour water into the coffee grounds, stir, and repeat for a period of a few minutes while it brews. By controlling the pace and the saturation of the grounds, the coffee becomes richer and more full bodied.
Another significant benefit of the pour over is the that each cup (or cups, depending on the order) is made to order. Not only does that mean fresher coffee, but that the cafe can offer a wider range of single origin and blended options to appeal to a number of different tastes.


About 31% of cafe patrons prefer espresso to coffee, and most third wave cafes offer a range of traditional espresso drinks. Cappuccino and lattes are the most common offerings, followed by mochas and americanos. Many will offer a macchiato as well; however, it is a far cry from the sugary examples popularized by second wave coffee shops. The tradition macchiato is barely more than a shot of espresso with a tiny amount of milk foam on top.

Third wave coffee is not for everyone. If you prefer a sweet treat to start your day, there’s no shame in staying with you normal cafe. But it is a fun way to explore one of America’s most popular beverages.

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