Third Wave Coffee: How things have changed from the previous two waves

third wave coffee

Are you ready for the next big coffee wave? Its time to get your head out of the sand, wake up and smell the coffee! Get ready, because the third wave of coffee, the future of high quality, specialty java, is here!

If you're not up with the latest news, or if you're still at home drinking instant coffee, we at Black Ink Coffee are here to give you a taste of what's in store with this new, third wave of coffee. While the coffee is becoming a bit lighter during this wave of coffee, you'll be happy to know we carry plenty of the dark stuff as well!

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Third Wave Coffee

Third Wave? But I missed the first wave!

Coffee consumption has evolved throughout North America, going from being something cheap and accessible, to becoming a more nuanced culture of quality brewing, reaching new standards of excellence.

What about the First Wave?

first wave coffee

The first wave of coffee began in the 1960's, and inspired entire generations of folks to love coffee. Today, the average person in Canada consumes roughly three cups on a daily basis!

While the coffee was widely accessible, and the world was more caffeinated than ever before, the quality level coffee businesses were nowhere near today's roasters. Still, many people don't know the difference between coffees, and just drink what is cheap and available, but the industry has changed a lot!

If you look around today, the fast coffee industry is on its way out, and the specialty coffee shops are on their way in. This isn't just about having your own espresso machine, or a good rating from the specialty coffee association, either.

And the Second Wave?

second wave coffee

So, if the first wave of coffee was all about getting the drink into the hands of every human in the entire world, the second was all about making it a better cup off coffee overall.

Ever heard of Starbucks? Well, then you know what the second wave is all about. This wave went from coffee being a quick morning fix, to something people everywhere began to demand with a level of higher sophistication and nuance.

This saw the rise of big companies like Starbucks, offering specialty coffee beans, chocolate frappuccino's, and sourcing them from exotic origin countries as well. So, in the second wave specialty coffee saw a massive surge in high quality coffee, leaving many consumers in search of a perfect daily grind.

Just about every country around the world has come to appreciate having their own coffee coming from specific microclimates, second wave coffee still left people in search of more than just specialty coffee. Suddenly, rare and exotic coffee beans just weren't enough.

Third wave coffee is about more than the unique flavors from an exotic coffee bean. Roasting coffee has now become a craft with an emphasis on ideas that provide benefits not only to the consumers, but also to the farmers who processed the coffee.

Seeds Of Change

third wave coffee shop

The true sweetness of third wave coffee comes not from the taste of the brew, or the flavor shot you add to it, or the latte art made by the barista, either.

When you hear about cafes embracing third wave coffee, these are baristas with a focus towards improving not just the quality of the coffee, but the quality of life for every human involved in the process.

Any cafe embracing third wave coffee has refused to accept the old school coffee roaster mentality, and sought to regain control of the way coffees are produced.

This means a new focus on the larger network that aims towards more sustainability from those who roast the coffee all the way to those who pour the coffee and those who purchase it.

The Life of a Coffee Bean


While third wave coffee still does create a standard of excellence for every cup, the focus also goes much deeper.

While the first coffee wave was all about making coffee accessible, and second wave was all about the increase of specialty coffee roasters, third wave brings a human quality to the art of roasting not seen before.

This all begins with the origin of the coffee beans. It is not enough to simply grind the beans and pour the coffee without any consideration for the country from where they came.

While the previous coffee wave companies like Starbucks continue to serve up coffee of very high standards, there is an even greater flavor amongst third wave coffee sellers to share each coffee's story with the customer.

This has helped to create a newfound, special appreciation for certain things like direct trade and sustainability, while also expounding on the love for different flavor profiles, taste notes and methods for brewing. Nowadays, people find that there is greater satisfaction in their coffee experience knowing that it came from a good place!

What Do You Mean, 'Special'?

coffee shop

While specialty roasters have existed for generations already, the latest news on coffee production is all about the origin. The specialty coffee association grades coffee similar to the system for a good wine. Each coffee is evaluated based on things like its flavor, its aroma, and its body. So, whats missing from this equation? Third wave coffee has shown us that what really makes coffee special most of all is its origin. With that, coffee has gone from a commodity, to a special cultural phenomenon which bridges people together from everywhere on the entire planet.

Ready For the Fourth?

Just as the second built on the first, and third built on the second, soon the fourth will replace the third wave. That's right, the third wave you just learned about may actually be over soon.

Fourth wave coffee, is about going to a new level of scientific innovation with coffee. Though specialty coffee has come a long way, the fourth wave may use technology to advance our world's understanding of coffee to a whole new dimension. By researching aspects of coffee growth, including soil, coffee plants and other environmental factors we could be on the verge of a whole different level of coffee experience altogether. Does this sound futuristic? Maybe, but the way coffee manufacturing has progressed since 1960's, this shouldn't be too far fetched...

Wave Goodbye

One thing we know at Black Ink Coffee for sure: coffee waves may come and go, but the love for the bean will always remain!

Whether you enjoy a French press with our roasts from South America, or Ethiopia, or you're just a quick instant coffee type of person, nothing can ever replace that first morning sip. Stay tuned, folks, as the future brings us more and more delicious coffee, we at Black Ink will be sure to deliver it straight to you.

Enter the Third Wave →
Author Profile Picture

Parker Russell is a coffee professional and the founder of Black Ink Coffee. As an expert in the field of coffee roasting, cupping (professional Q-Grader) and brewing, Parker has established Black Ink as brand that fuels the grind of dreamers.