The Third Wave of coffee is in short, a movement that places the quality, source, and character above all else. However, what does all of that mean? Moreover, what were the first and second waves of coffee?

A Brief Overview Of First and Second Coffee Wave

First wave coffee is characterized mostly by convenience and birthed the revolution of automatic-drip home coffee brewing systems, pre-gound coffee, and instant coffee crystals. This wave of coffee is more about the beverage as a utility, rather than a social experience or artisanal beverage.

Second wave coffee, on the other hand, is all about the pleasure of the experience. Along with the second wave came a deeper understanding of coffee roasting techniques, and an increase in coffee vocabulary; with words like latte and espresso.

What Is the Third Wave?

Third Wave is a relatively new term, originating around the year 2002.

“The third wave is, in many ways, a reaction. It is just as much a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement toward good coffee.” – Trish R. Skeie, Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters

The movement aims to produce higher-quality coffee and places emphasis on the characteristics of growing, harvesting and the relationship between growers, traders, and roasters.

In the third wave, coffee is seen as an artisanal beverage, not unlike fine wines and specialty-brewed beers.  At times it is even called “micro-roasting” akin to ‘Microbrewing” about skilled beer brewing.

This movement aspires to the highest appreciation of flavors, variety, and growing region. The idea is to be so transparent that consumers could trace the life of their coffee, all the way back to the origin of harvest.

Placing emphasis on words such as premium, specialty, artisanal, and single-origin, growers, roasters, and coffee shops associated with the movement are predominantly small, independent businesses. However, there are a few large third-wave companies that hold faithful to the philosophy and goal of Third Wave; product quality, direct fair-trade, and sustainability.


The evolution of the coffee movement in some ways, can represent the serious coffee-lovers personal journey through the stages of convenience, craft-quality taste, and ethical, economic impact. Third wave coffee is simply a movement towards higher quality coffee and higher standards of growing, harvesting, trading, and roasting.