These third-wave cafés are taking our favorite habit to the next level.
Toby Lewis Thomas
There may be no global ritual more ingrained than that of drinking coffee. No matter how or when you consume it, chances are you’ve spent years honing your practice—complete with a strong physical need and an emotional connection to match.
But the coffee culture you once knew has undergone tremendous changes over the last decade and more, upending your daily routine with philosophies and taxonomies, all under the umbrella of coffee’s third wave.
“The term ‘third wave’ was first coined by Trish Rothgeb, of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, in 2002,” explains direct-trade roaster and training ground Counter Culture Coffee's Erin McCarthy, who is also the Coffee Events 2013 World Brewers Cup Champion. Before that, he says, there was the advent of Peet’s and Starbucks in the 1960s and early ’70s (the second wave), which brought espresso drinks to the mass market; prior to that, Folgers (the first wave) put freeze-dried coffee in every cup.
Today’s movement is defined by an attention to quality and sustainable, traceable methods—the seed-to-cup model—which kicked off a boom in single-origin coffees (from one farm, rather than one country), micro-lot beans (indigenous to a specific site on a farm), and profile-based, small-batch roasts, which dispense with the general categories of “light,” “medium,” and “dark” and highlight a bean’s particular characteristics.
This change in thinking has, in turn, engendered a shift that resembles both the Slow Food and the craft movements, whereby a new cadre of experts has emerged, reviving more bespoke, and often older, methods of brewing. (The Chemex, the cold-drip brewers, the siphons, and the high-quality espresso machines—all in vogue—were invented long before the first Starbucks opened its doors and offer very different ways to brew the same beans.)
Do these changes matter? Yes. They have set a new standard for a product we’ve long taken for granted (and even misused) and sparked more sustainable approaches, including direct-trade agreements with farmers from around the world. As a result, your daily caffeine dose has arguably never been better. See how these cult coffee shops around the world take the quotidian to new heights.