Third Wave of Coffee: Unraveling the Third Wave Coffee Movement

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter

Third wave of coffee –  Is a movement to produce high-quality coffee and see coffee as Artisanal, not merely a commodity. The third wave of coffee includes the quality factor in all production stages, from seed selection, planting, harvesting to coffee processing, and at the same time strengthens the relationships between farmers, collectors, and farmers. Buy a roaster to improve the quality of coffee.

This article mainly opens up the most straightforward approach to the third wave of coffee, breaking through the previous two while also giving an overview of its main philosophical pillars. For a more comprehensive view, you can refer to The Craft Coffee – the rise of craft coffee.

Overview of the third wave of coffee

The term “third wave of coffee” refers to coffee’s highest quality and experience. The elements from Specialty Coffee primarily dominate it, and The change of the following four factors has sparked the third wave in the coffee industry.

  • Focus on coffee quality with  Specialty Coffee standards
  • Exploiting the unique attributes of indigenous coffees – Single-origin coffee
  • Focus on blending techniques manually (manual) such as average Siphon, Pour-over, Chemex, Hario V60.
  • Finally, the direct trade trend (Direct Trade Coffee) evolves from Fair Trade Coffee towards sustainability.

The following clip will help you better understand the three waves of coffee:

Who coined the term third wave of coffee?

“The third wave of coffee” was first used in 2002 by Trish Rotholt of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters (by Craft Coffee) to refer to the growing number of importers, roasters, and baristas.

Above all, treat coffee beans as a craft, like people do with cheese, wine, and (more recently) beer. To accomplish that mission, third-wave coffee professionals typically adopt three key philosophical pillars that include:

  • Protecting the unique qualities of each coffee bean has led to new roasting techniques, with levels of brightness much brighter than other traditional roasting methods. Therefore, the processing technique is perhaps the most recognizable difference between second and third wave coffee for old conventional coffee.
  • It has created new research institutes and certification programs for people at all links of the coffee trade chain, from producers to roasters to baristas, to share knowledge. Knowledge and techniques that benefit every step of the coffee-making process.
  • Ultimately, most third-wave professionals care about transparency ethics and work with manufacturers. The general aim is to show that coffee producers respect the work of producers, both through commercial means and in the way their coffee is presented to consumers.

See more about the origin of the third wave at Wikipedia

The first, second, and third waves of coffee

Coffee industry experts often describe the history of world coffee consumption in three waves.

The first wave of coffee started in the 1800s when global coffee consumption exploded with big brands like Maxwell House, Hills Bros, Folders… beginning to grow.

The first wave of this coffee culture (started in the United States but soon spread to the whole world) found the fastest, most convenient way to consume caffeine: the introduction of instant coffee.

The first wave fulfilled its historical mission and received futile criticism for sacrificing taste and quality to promote convenience and mass production.

In the end, the growing aversion to low-quality coffee has spawned a second wave of coffees, led by companies, like Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Starbucks, with a new value pillar: quality and community copper.

Third wave of coffee - Helena Coffee Vietnam
The second wave of coffee – Starbucks coffee

Starbucks – Inheriting the “coffee gene” from Peet Coffee has led the second wave, pioneering the “third place” renaissance to enhance the coffee experience.

It is the period of the most drastic changes in the history of the world coffee industry, when a series of coffee words were born, such as Specialty coffee, Espresso, Latte.

On top of the trend, Specialty Coffee producers have been selling their specialty coffee ideas and experiences to a large demographic.

As it turns out, plenty of people are willing to pay a premium for it. From 1987 to 2007, Starbucks opened an average of two new locations per day. Significantly, specialty coffee has changed how some coffees are bought and sold.

Only a fraction of specialty coffees is sold on the commodity market. Instead, large specialty coffee companies often contract directly with producers, and smaller roasters sometimes use importers specializing in supplying the highest quality beans available.

But somewhere along the way, the importance of the specialty coffee experience has replaced the importance of quality. So it’s perhaps no surprise that many in the industry say we’re living in a third wave of coffee – Craft Coffee

The main problems in the third wave of coffee

To summarize the dynamics of coffee waves, we will see that in the first wave, consumers take the lead because it is from the very need that instant coffee is born.

Coffee has better quality with the second wave, but marketing is the driving force (because of the need to find a “third place” space in the community – Theo Pour your heart into it, Starbucks ).

With the third wave of coffee, production, and marketing in the backseat, the product now takes center stage. The following factors demonstrate this:

Artistic trends

Since the beginning of the 21st century, successive trends have sparked the third wave of coffee. That is when coffee growers focus on the cultivation techniques of indigenous coffee varieties.

Coffee has “separated” from automatic machine processes and started manual processing. Through courses, baristas have become “masters” of taste, knowledge, and skills (which previous waves have never had access to).

Users begin to dig deeper into the many dimensions of flavor and the stories behind their espresso.

The beginnings of coffee were not as luxuries as wine, which propelled an industry away from mechanical processes into an experiential, artistic product.

Today, when it comes to the third wave, we can come across backbone terms such as artisanal and craft products. It is part of the growing trend of the coffee industry when commodity nature gradually gives way to food and art.

A new experience from Single-origin Coffee

Another significant development in the 3rd wave was the focus on richness in coffee flavors. The big coffee companies started to focus less on blending different types of coffee to keep the taste consistent.

Instead, the 3rd wave sparked the concept of Single-origin Coffee. Geographically-indicated coffees grown in specific soils, climates, and altitudes have presented roasters with new challenges in exploiting a wider variety of flavor characteristics through Processing technique, roasting, extraction process…

As more and more roasters want to bring out the natural flavors inherent in coffee, lighter “roast profiles” have been adopted instead of burning the coffee during dark roasting.

In this way, we have discovered more complex flavors than the primary ones known in coffee. Thereby, the Coffee Flavor Circle was introduced by SCA as a valuable tool to measure and identify different tastes in coffee.

Equal coffee and direct purchasing

Even though Fair Trade Coffee has long been developed to create a fair market, there is no regulation or supervision for coffee farms (to distinguish them from other farmers). Produce higher quality coffee from poor quality farms).

Third wave of coffee - Helena Coffee Vietnam
Third Wave of Coffee: The “community responsibility” brought by businesses in the third wave demonstrates a more significant commitment to the benefit of farmers.

With the aim of providing quality local coffees, many coffee companies have begun to move away from Fair Trade coffee systems to buy directly (Direct Trade). from farmers.

The direct trade model has allowed coffee companies to support farmers to produce with better resources (higher purchasing prices). At the same time, they are helping to create a natural bridge between customers – roasters – farmers.

This sustainable supply chain helps farmers access the most affordable prices in the market and provides transparency in communication for roasters and consumers.

Big three – The leaders

The last thing is that in the coffee waves that have happened, there are always businesses at the forefront with the role of initiators, such as Maxwell House, Folgers of the first wave, or Starbucks of the third wave.

Two leading firms in the third wave include Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea in Chicago, Counter Culture Coffee in North Carolina, and coffee roaster Stumptown in Portland.

Businesses are called the Big Three” to show the philosophy and objectives of the third wave of their activities. Every company represents sustainable coffee (Sustainable coffee) balance between business activities, social issues, livelihoods, and the environment.

Reference source:

  • – Third Wave of Coffee
  • – The History of First, Second, and Third Wave Coffee
  • The History of Third Wave Coffee & Beyond


Helena Coffee Vietnam

Helena Coffee Processing & Export in Vietnam | Helena., JSC, which was established in 2016, is a Vietnamese coffee exporter, manufacturer & supplier. We provide the most prevalent varieties of coffee grown in Vietnam’s renowned producing regions.

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