People used to pray for their food before they ate it. Now, they take pictures of it. As for coffee, people used to just make it and drink it. Now, they lavish attention on it, from their single-origin beans to espresso machines costing tens of thousands of dollars. They paint pictures in the milk foam. This phenomenon is part of a new coffee movement called “third wave coffee,” a term still unfamiliar to many caffeine addicts. Third wave coffee is about more than just coffee consumption. It is about craft, connectivity, experience, and quality, from planting to harvesting, from selection to roasting, from brewing to the final touch.
In the old days, coffee was simply a commodity. Today, in liberal cities across North America, coffee is evolving from a cheap mass-produced commodity into an artisanal pleasure like wine, cheese, and microbrewed beer.
The term “third wave,” coined in 2003 by Trish R. Skeie in The Flamekeeper, the official newsletter of the Roasters Guild, contextualizes this phenomenon in the history of coffee’s place in North America. The first ‘wave’ of coffee emerged in the late nineteenth century, when coffee was first distributed on an industrial scale. The first wave lives on in your grandparents’ can of Folger’s. The second wave began when specialty coffee retailers like Second Cup and Starbucks started setting up shop in high-traffic spots to give the masses a taste of European-style coffee, and a relaxing place to hang out, work or study. Third wave coffee refers to the rise of independent coffee bars, like Chez Boris, Café Rico, and Caffè in Gamba in Montreal, that make coffee beverages out of high quality coffee beans roasted by independent local companies. The third wave sees coffee as an artisanal beverage, from preparation to final presentation, with the attendant careful sourcing, roasting, and brewing. Enthusiasts of third wave coffee also believe in paying every worker, from farmers to baristas, fair wages. This latest wave is a movement toward wine-like appreciation, and a shift away from giant coffee chains.
While some people think that this new trend is snobbish bullshit, third wave fans are growing in number. Most ostensibly go for the coffee quality, but others like to support local businesses, to experience a non-Starbucks ambience, or to simply just enjoy a unique beverage.
Guillaume Kittel, owner and founder of Kittel, an independent coffee roasting company in Montreal, believes it all comes down to flavour: “Coffee is all about opinion. What tastes good, what tastes bad, it’s an opinion. I like the third wave movement, the way we think, but then, it’s just an opinion.
Kittel, who roasts the coffee beans at his workshop, finds the exchange of opinion touching, because coffee roasting is a personal art form to him. “It’s like doing an art work and receiving the feedback from people. If the people love it, it means they love your work,” he says.
I like to frequent third wave cafes because they each have their own personality and signature. Prices at a third wave coffee outlet are comparable to Starbucks or Second Cup, and the quality of coffee is almost always higher. Rather than a chain outlet, why not check out an independent shop that offers a unique ambience, serves artsy coffee beverages and allows you to support the local entrepreneurs?