The third wave of coffee is a movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity. This involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee plant growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers, traders, and roasters, to higher quality and fresh roasting, at times called “microroasting” (by analogy with microbrew beer), to skilled brewing.
Third wave coffee aspires to the highest form of culinary appreciation of coffee, so that one may appreciate subtleties of flavor, varietal, and growing region – similar to other complex consumable plant-derived products such as wine, tea, and chocolate. Distinctive features of third wave coffee include direct trade coffee, high-quality beans (see specialty coffee for scale), single-origin coffee (as opposed to blends), lighter roasts, and latte art. It also includes revivals of alternative methods of coffee preparation, such as vacuum coffee and pour-over brewing devices such as the Chemex and Hario V60.
The term “Third Wave” was coined in 2002, and refers chiefly to the American phenomenon, particularly from the 1990s and continuing today, but with some roots in the 1980s, 1970s, and 1960s. Similar movements exist in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia. More broadly, third wave coffee can be seen as part of the specialty coffee movement.