Subtitle: First Wave, Second Wave, 2.5 Wave and Third Wave.
I intend on defining the Third Wave concept, adding some personal points to the definition and giving my experience with Third Wave.
Third Wave. That just sounds cool, doesn’t it? I guess the first time I heard of the concept called “Third Wave” it must have been on the Portafilter.Net Podcast. What is Third Wave? The theory was first proposed by Trish Skeie of Zoka Coffee and I think the best summary of it that I can find is
“Her theory goes like this. The “First Wave of Coffee” was the post-World War II era, a time when coffee was simply consumed, not enjoyed. The war forced the production of quick, easy foods and instant coffee reigned supreme.
“The “Second Wave of Coffee” started in the late 1960’s with the birth of companies like Pete’s and then Starbucks. Specialty grade Arabica coffees began replacing lower grade Robustas as cutting-edge roasters and baristas gained appreciation for the nuances of different roasts and origins.
I would like to add here that I think that the second wave is also probably best described as a “selfish wave.” A wave of wanting to be identified with a brand. For example, not starting with, but surely popularly inserted into the Mike Myers movie called “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)“, Hollywood started placing $B in movies and TV spots all the time. A practice which goes on to this day. Even when they either can’t get the “rights” or get paid for it via product placement, studios regularly will take a cup with a $Buxy style logo on it and put a heat sleeve around the cup and stick that cup in a actor’s hands in front of the camera. Thus, American’s, especially, follow the stars and therefore people want to be identified with pop culture. I think it is safe to say Starbucks was a big part of “Pop Culture” in the United States for the past 10 or so years.
Here I will add “a wave;” or better called a ripple: Two and a Half Wave (2.5 Wave). These are the “coffee shops,” bakers, deli’s, restaurants and other various businesses who are trying their best to whore off of the crest of the Second Wave. Who have no desire for coffee, may not even drink the stuff, and could care less about any thing we would consider “best practices.” Their coffee is usually, gush, worst than Dunkin, Starbucks, or anything else decidedly Second Wave.
“Fast forward to 2007 and we find ourselves here in the “Third Wave of Coffee”. According to Trish, it’s the evolution of coffee drinkers toward a deeper appreciation for the uniqueness of different coffees. Today it is quite common for customers to ask for a certain country of origin (Ethiopian, Sumtran, etc) when ordering their coffee. Here at our Coffee Bar, many of our customers know the name of the farming co-op that grows their favorite coffee along with the roast profile and other unique attributes of the bean.”
Here is a walk on Google regarding Third Wave and it is very much worth reading from several sites and blogs on this topic.
To put it simply, Third Wave coffee is the love and appreciation of coffee. Whatever benifits the coffee as a final product and what is in the coffee’s best interest is at the heart of Third Wave coffee. Everything and everybody involved every step of the way is centered on the coffee; Not a barista, a roaster, not money, not a company, not an individual, not a farmer, broker or real estate agent is more important than the coffee that fills a cup at the end of the chain. To me, that is Third wave coffee.
So, what is the fuss? I really don’t know. I listened to all of the pf.net podcast and one thing I could garner was is the fact that Jay Caragay (pf.net co-host) was always thinking the concept was b.s. The problem with that podcast is you never know when one of the host, or both, are b.sing. So, he may well have been fully behind the concept, but calling b.s for the fun of the show. There is a couple podcast where Trish is on the air with the guys and at least one podcast that has Third Wave actually part of the debate of the show. BTW, Trish had a blog on Zoka and I read her post regarding T.W, BTW I can’t find her blog, at all – even through Google.
So, not willing to “commit” to the concept of Third Wave I reluctantly would talk about it amongst baristas, roasters, and other coffee lovers. I just didn’t feel comfortable, in fact, I felt awkward. As much as I love coffee, and even though I have a two group Faema in my house running off of 220v and plumbed in, plus a professional food grade Mazzer Mini, a professional grade EspressoCraft tamper and can pour latte art (read “trying”) I still don’t fit in with baristi. So, therefore I don’t feel comfortable talking with them about Third Wave concepts.
When I go to Octane in ATL, (and guys don’t take this wrong) I don’t fit in at all. I know it may be because I am the only one there that is just sitting there talking about coffee. It also could be that I probably intimidate the “daylights” out of everybody because I just pulled up across the street with a 80,000 lbs truck! “What is that trashy truck driver doing walking over here?” Everybody else is buzzing around talking about all sorts of crap and the ONLY thing we have in common is the Toscano in the grinder and in the cup. Every coffee establishment I go to that is decidedly Third Wave I feel like I am freaking people out when I start talking about coffee in a dedicated, knowledgeable fashion. Sometimes they slow down at whatever they are doing, listen a little, and look at me funny. All I probably have said at this point is “Wow, the chocolate notes in this espresso is rather prominent. Kind of Brazilian in nature. Almost has a Sumatran kind of ‘zing’ to it, dontcha think?” By this time, the poor barista is thinking of calling the manager up as if I was a customer with a gun! Just think of John C. Reilly (Step Brothers the movie) or even Jack Black (All sorts of stupid stuff) walking in and talking like that? You would stare too.
When I introduced myself at Coffee & Crema to Shannon, said, “Hi, my name is Wilson Hines, I am a “coffee geek.” Shannon smiled and quickly stuck his hand out. I didn’t know how else to introduce myself, I figured he needed to know I had high expectations, as geeks do. We have been friends ever since! Oh man, Shannon and I have had some crazy coffee discussions. We even refer to the pf.net podcast like Bible verses, LOL! Such as, “According to PF podcast 52 Jay said……” I don’t know why Shannon and I mixed so well together, but we did. But, when I packed the family in the car and went to both Murky locations in D.C I had a mixed bag of descriptor! We went to Arlington first and they thought I had lost my mind dragging a wife and two kids 220 miles for a shot of espresso and a couple of capps. What can I say, I wanted to see the place! When I pulled up at the Pennsylvania Ave location they already knew we were on the way! They welcomed us warmly. It was odd, one place thought we were crazy and the other place was like Shannon’s reception, we really had a good time at the Penn Ave location. I bet Liz pulled twenty shots of different grind settings. We were trying everything in and out of “the book.”
Out of the remainder of places I have been, I have had more of the “odd” look than the “excited to see somebody who cares look.”
I still think we have a long, long, long ways to go in educating our baristas, even at a Third Wave shop like Octane, Open Eye, Coffee & Crema or anywhere else, and I am not so sure if we will ever get to the point the Third Wave concept envisions. The fact of the matter is you must have employees. The second matter of fact is you can’t do but so much to ensure those employees are truly in love with the product. You can have certifications, mandatory training at a roaster or in-house, or any other method you want, but at the end of the day, you still have got to hire somebody and that somebody you have probably doesn’t come home at the end of the day after pulling shots to sit at the computer “learning lingo,” working Barista Exchange, and posting or whatever on Coffee Geek or Home Barista. In fact, I think BE has had a good and effective impact on getting the Average Joe Barista online and communicating with others. And lets face it, BE is decidedly Third Wave! One thing I don’t buy about the Third Wave concept and I don’t know if this is a perceived idea of mine or a perceived idea of the industry; But, there is an idea that you have to be a screaming liberal, tree hugging, tattooed to death (tastefully or not), Bush hating, “rent a protester” that you would only imagine at a G8 Summit Protest! Trust me, I am none of these. I am not the guy on the opposite end of that rope either!
But, I am naturally a Third Wave coffee enthusiast and convert.