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Specialty Coffee and the Third Wave Coffee Movement

specialty coffee, third wave coffee

Specialty coffee has been around for quite some time now. Nevertheless, it’s only as of relatively recently that it stepped up into high-gear on a global basis. To such an extent that it’s become the norm for millions of coffee fans the world over who prefer the kind of coffee that’s truly special. Perhaps even exclusive.

The third wave coffee movement, as it’s commonly referred to, is something that’s been going on all around you for a number of years now. Even if you haven’t noticed it happening, it’s no doubt been right there in front of you. In fact, if you’re a true coffee fan, you’ve also probably dived head-first into the whole thing personally. Single origin and artisan beans, dollops of milk replaced by full-blown works of milky art – all the kinds of things that make the humble everyday coffee into something so much more.

But what exactly does this third wave coffee movement refer to?

A New Coffee Standard

Well, as the name quite rightly suggests, third wave coffee represents that third identifiable and major coffee movement to come along. The first wave having come about all the way back at the time when coffee first hit the mainstream. Both in the US and UK alike, coffee came out of nowhere a few generations back to suddenly become the drink of choice for tens of millions of everyday consumers. So much so that it eventually overtook tea in Great Britain of all places. Once unthinkable, but it went and happened!

As for the second wave, this was when the world (or at least the West) started getting into the idea of premium coffee and coffee culture for the first time. Entrepreneurs and large corporations alike realised they could make a fortune by capitalising on the public’s love for coffee, by providing them with a choice of products, often of poor quality despite their claims to the contrary, and still selling them (with the help of fancy marketing gimmicks) at an inflated price that only true specialty coffee should command. A variety of basic coffee types were introduced and became the norm – espresso, mocha, cappuccino etc. – the kinds of coffees most hadn’t yet heard of. Or at least, associated with far-off cafes in sophisticated French and Italian eateries. Slowly but surely, European coffee culture started to creep into nations where it had previously been a foreign concept.

Today, we’re well and truly into the third wave coffee movement. Third wave coffee is essentially just an alternative term for specialty coffee, which is defined by coffee which scores 80 points or above on a 100-point scale. Only coffees with excellent aroma and flavor, and little to no defects, can reach such high grades. This is certainly not the case of the coffee grown or produced en-masse by the bigger brands. Just as is the case with craft beer, it’s about creating smaller, often limited batches with completely unique characteristics. The kind of coffee you sip and savor, rather than guzzling down habitually at the office.

And of course, with premium coffee comes the art of premium presentation too. Not to mention, the proliferation of painfully stylish hipster baristas, now competing for the kinds of jobs you once couldn’t give away for love nor money!

So is third wave coffee the new standard that’s here to stay? Chances are we’ll see a fourth wave of some sort eventually. But for the time being, the third wave coffee movement only seems to be getting stronger across most of the world.

…so you might as well make the most of it!



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