Here's a link to an interesting article I recently stumbled across that addresses a point that I've been harboring in my mind for quite a while:

What the author is talking about is the recent so-called "Third Wave" of coffee shops. Personally I think this is absolutely what the coffee biz does NOT need right now. It also doesn't need the Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's either in my opinion. To me the third wave shops are completely to one end of the extreme scale while Dunkin' and McD's are on the other. My point about some of the more serious third wave shops is that they will ultimately isolate themselves in the marketplace by adopting this sort of business model. By catering to the small community of "coffeegeeks" out there you are in effect alienating your shop from the rest of the crowd. I've spent a good deal of my time on two of the most prominent "geek" sites out there and they both become a little sandbox for their most senior members at the end of the day, quoting each other on the front page marquee and what not. I mean, how else are you able to boast such a large number of members on your site, yet it's always the same two dozen or so people who end up actually positing on a frequent basis? I'm trying to say that IMO, the "coffeegeeks" out there are typically nothing short of coffee snobs when you really get down to it. The parallels between this set of enthusiasts and those in the wine culture are almost indiscernible. With the third wave, I completely agree with a few things they are doing:

1.) Usually roasting on site and introducing SO's to the masses.
2.) Utilizing top of the line equipment and knowing how to correctly dial them in, as well as taking into account just how absolutely vital to the end product that having a good grinder(s) in your shop can be.

The things that I don't like are definitely some of the more snobbier aspects:

1.) High Prices. In some cases even higher than the Starbucks model(remember the $15 cup of coffee from Stumptown last year? Really are the differences between that and your average SO really that much??). Again, totally alienating the general public. While this may be great to the coffeegeek crowd, everyone else out there is laughing at them through the windows.
2.) The cuppings. While not a bad idea by any means, it ultimately serves to drive away the crowds because it makes them feel inferior just being around the know it all "coffee elite".
3.) The customer ISN'T always right. Yes, I know. People are stupid. They want their otherwise excellent espresso to be masked with cinnamon, chai(wtf), chocolate, caramel, flavored syrups, and god knows what else. So who really cares? It's these kind of ridiculous requests that will keep the electricity on, pay the bills, and keep you going. Stupid as these people may be, they're the main reason you'll continue to exist... or not. If you'd like to shun those kind of people away(aka THE MASSES), then have fun seeing you're clientele reduced to just a small group of rather eccentric individuals - I'm talking here about the Schomers, the Kehns, the Princes of this world. Watch how they take over your customer base, armed with their hacked up yogurt containers and little stirring needles, sinking shot after perfectly good shot while seriously debating the pros and cons of maintaining an exact 203.5 degree brew temp throughout the duration of the shot pull versus that of say 203 or 204 :rollseyes: My how that'll surely bring home the bacon!

I think that in this time of economic distress and high unemployment, the "Third Wave" model won't be able to endure in the long run. The big players like Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Counter Culture, etc will always be around as they are established names and have more than one store, but I'd be wary of starting up a shop that reflects this model. I don't think you can solely focus on just coffee anymore, you need to provide other things like pastries and food as well.

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wow, My first coffee job as a barista was in the so called "second wave" and we certianly were not simply operators. It is arrogant to presume that we did not and do not know or care about the beans, on the contrary that was the beginning of the birth of Specialty coffee in America. our appreciation of SO is what fuled the passion, we studied the traditions from Italy to master their national drink. with technology that is novel today. I came from a time before even 12 ounce cups! I think most important we continue to explore and learn from each other. The coffee world is vast and we are just a tiny part of it.

Kayakman said:
Wes Russell - WOW... than you have not been in many discussion on this topic on the bX and are totally out of touch with coffee culture... sorry to say.

How many times have we heard it said that one of the reason why Starbucks sucks is that it drowns the coffee with milk and sugar so you cant taste the bean anymore? How many times have we heard it said that the classic espresso bar is the best way to go so that we can allow the flavor of the bean to shine through? In other words, those places that have a broader menu with lots of sig drinks (Starbucks) are not at good. Are these not anti-sig drink statements?

Why do SO coffee education if SO coffee is not the star of the show at the coffeehouse? Why would be baristas have to play the all important role of the gateway into the world of SO coffee if this was not the main menu option?

How many times have we heard it said that coffeehouses that do cultural events must also do bad coffee? "Strip away the poetry, bad music, and pseudo-intellectual banter, and all you have is lousy coffee. And if you don't care about what you serve the customer, you're just stealing their money with a polite smile. [/RANT]" - John P

Barista Championship?
These have little at all to do with the 3rd-wave. These were around long before there as a 3rd-wave and most often have nothing or little at all to do with SO coffee!!!!!!!! Of course 3rd-wave barista compete, but that does not make the event a 3rd-wave event? Only baristas that also do SO coffee at barista championships are 3rd-wave bariatas... all others are just espresso bar baristas.


The only uniquely 3rd-wave contribution to the world of coffee is the SO-espresso... before the 3rd-wave we had everything else that people now try and claim as being 3rd-wave.

A place can be a great espresso bar, with award winning baristas and not be 3rd-wave.

A place can serve really great SO non-espresso brewed coffee and not be 3rd-wave.

Its only when you mix the two via the SO-espresso bar that you have 3rd-wave.

The article pointed to at the start of this post does a great job defining it, but does leaves out a number of other hallmarks. You should read it if you want to understand the 3rd-wave and what this post is all about.

Please do some coffee history before making statements about the 3rd-wave and stop confusing it with things are are not unique to the movement.

Sorry for coming off strong, but really the term "3rd-wave" does not mean whatever we want it to... it has a historic meaning and can be defined... and many people on the bX are actually 3rd-wave and care greatly about SO-espresso and the barista as the SO-espresso artist.

Chris - "specialty coffee" is a term used to discribe Single Origin coffee not dark roasted, where the flavor of the bean shines through. Offering espresso bar drinks and/or loads of sig drinks does not quality a place as being 3rd-wave.

Starbucks is a second wave "specialty coffee" shop and can not be called 3rd-wave. The reason, although they offer espresso and SO coffee, they do not offer SO-espresso and the focus is NOT on the skill of the baristas (if you can call them that).

dude... I am all for "specialty coffee" roasted in a great way, brewed in a great way, and served in a great way. I am not however for the 3rd-wave movement.

read this for education: The 3rd-wave

"The second wave is the introduction of espresso beverages to the world, as well as the elevation of overall coffee quality, abandoning all-robusta coffee in favor of the arabica species. Starbucks, the initial Juan Valdez Colombian coffee campaign, and the sudden ubiquity of espresso machines all over the continent are all part of this second wave."

"So what of this 'Third Wave?' In an admittedly esoteric way, I usually refer to the 'Third Wave' as letting the coffee speak for itself. During the first two waves, we appreciated coffee for what it gives us: caffeine, a hot beverage to sip and enjoy a conversation over, a drink to modify with sweetener, dairy (or non-dairy) creamers, syrups, whipped cream, etc. The Third Wave is about enjoying coffee for what it is."

"Seriously though, while in years past, a 'barista' was someone who merely operated an espresso machine, a Third Wave barista is a student of the bean. A Third Wave barista doesn't merely focus on "How can I hurry and make these drinks for these customers as quickly as possible." It's about coaxing everything that's good from of your espresso blend, taking as much energy and effort and time as necessary... and serving THAT to your customers. A Third Wave barista is a coffee ambassador."

Wes Russell said:
"There seems to be this strange assumption that the only good coffee shop is one that does only ONE thing right, SO coffee. "
Kayakman, You are the only person I've seen make this assumption. My experience is that every Third Wave shop does a blend as their main espresso and some offer a SO espresso as a secondary option. Can you name this SO only shop? I can't think of a single shop that only serves a SO espresso as their main offering.
Additionally, you are the only person I've heard suggest that offering a sig drink is not third wave. Where did you get this from? Have you every been to a barista championship?

I think of the Barista championships as being Third Wave and that the sig drink part of the presentation is the highlight.
I have indeed and as a person that has been in this industry for a real long time i agree with you, if you really want a great perspective read "The Devils cup" by Stewart Lee Allen. Best book I have ever read on coffee!!

Demian Luper said:
Has anyone in this thread read Ukers cover to cover? Or Pendergrast's book for the short version of coffee history?

I agree with the idea that certain parts of the Specialty coffee industry suffer from chronocentrism. Most "3rd wave" discussions contain gross chronocentrisms. Its a nice by-product of our short life spans and American culture.

There are things happening in the coffee industry that have happened before which will happen again. When you strip away all the terms and buzzwords, it's still just the big wide world of coffee.

An old colleague of mine observed the "direct trade" phenomenon as "just another name for something that's been going on for 400 years." In other words, coffee buyers going down to origin and working with growers to develop consistent supply and quality at a mutually agreeable price is nothing new. Baristi in Italy have been arguing for generations about how to pull the perfect shot, just not not on the internet. Just because coffee used to be ground and packed with dried egg whites to help clarify the brew doesn't mean that the industry wasn't constantly striving to improve their production methods.

Take a longer view, learn about the history and scope of your profession, and figure out your place in it. Forget about waves and become a movement of one.

There are those who "do" things and make things happen.

Then there are those who write about it.

Define "3W" and argue about those semantics all you want. The rest of us will continue doing what we've always been doing and let people like you argue later about whether or not what we are doing is "post 3W", "4W" or whatever terms and definition suits your fancies.

Like I said before: I leave the "defining" of what we are doing today to those with idle minds.
Let's get into this straightaway, shall we?

Jay Caragay - You seem to be making a common mistake in your logic, by disconnecting thinking from doing.

That's entirely possible. I tend to do things rather than think too much about them. In my position, I'm constantly making judgments based on incomplete or inaccurate information. However, decisions need to be made and I avoid "analysis paralysis."

But when you're not actually operating a coffee company, then you're free to analyze and theorize all day and all night. The nice thing is that thinking doesn't require you to spend money.

Thinking before acting is a golden rule in all of life, including the coffee industry.

Since you've already stated that you're currently in the position of planning on opening a coffeehouse, I encourage you to take all the time you can to "think" about what you will do once you decide to actually go and do it.

It should never be about what our vision is or what we like about coffee, but also ways about what is IDEAL! The ideal coffeehouses has broad appeal, a broad menu, encourages coffee culture to develop, and cares about quality in every area.

Well, that certainly sounds idealistic. However, it's my money, my reputation and my company - and I certainly will follow my own personal vision of coffee whether or not it fits within your paradigm of "ideal coffeehouse."

For those of us starting new places, our goal should be to overcome our own limited vision and the unbalanced trends of the day. This should not only be our goal, but our everyday driving passion. This is why we must study coffee history and evaluate current trends. If we don't think critically and creatively about coffee culture trends and/or just follow our gut passions, we will simply repeat all the mistakes of the past and thats a way irresponsible way to live life and do coffeehouse.

Again, I encourage you to study the history of coffee and analyze what is and is not "3W" to your hearts content. Meanwhile, I've got a company to run, a vision to pursue and the constant demand of making the right decisions to keep the company financially viable so that my baristas and staff can be paid on a bi-weekly basis and have the means to enjoy their lives and life pursuits.

It should never be about everybody doing what is right in their own eye and what feels best to them, but always about what is balanced, what brings the most added value to the international and local community, what does does coffee justice, what is in rooted in long 400+ year history, and what pressed for progress in quality in all areas of the coffeehouse.

Like I stated above, when you actually take the opportunity to get up, put your money down and build your own coffeehouse, I encourage you to build a place that embodies your statements on what is the "ideal coffeehouse." But I will continue to do what I see as "right in my own eye" and that "which feels best to me."

However, if you're ready to pay me US$250K per year to build and operate a coffeehouse to your prescribed ideals, I most certainly will follow your mandates.

I am just sayin dude... i don't want to chase after useless trends just because everybody is doing it or it feel right to me.

Then don't..., dude.

What are you core values?

Probably different than yours. However, you're welcome to visit my company's website to see what we are about:

What weaknesses in current trends are you seeking to avoid?


What creative solutions to age-old issues in coffeehouse culture are you working on solving?

The age-old issue of making sure my staff can keep food on their tables.

Are you just doing whatever comes to mind, because it feels good, and because others are doing it?

I did whatever I have done because I decided to do so.
Jay Caragay - actually it would be really interested to better understand your core vision and how you are living it out. my guess is that we agree on many more things than we disagree.

That should be relatively easy to discern since I've been quite vocal about my vision of coffee through online forums (such as this one), co-hosting the podcast, the company website ( or my own personal blog (

In any case, i would love to better understand the work of art that is your coffee shop. What are the values that drive it day in and day out. Everything from menu, decor, customer service style, music theme, and core coffee values would be fun to explore.

Since I've written about those visions extensively, both on bX and my blog, it would be redundant to do so here, now and with just a few minutes to respond. But I suggest you review my blog, which should give better insight to my thoughts on what we are planning.

I would love to come to your place, but when we come to visit the states, Chicago, Milwaukee, the Twin Cities, and St. Lewis are at the top of our list of cities with the coffeehouses we want to learn from.

That is your choice to make and those cities certainly have exemplary examples of the "3W" cafe culture to study and learn from their examples. However, should you decide to visit the little hamlet that is Baltimore, we look forward to welcoming you to our vision of coffee.

As you will find out the more you explore my blog, we will be using a variety of brew methods in our new coffee place, depending on the coffee and which method we feel best exemplifies that coffee. In addition, the customer will have the option of having any coffee brewed by any of the following brew methods: french press, chemex, clever, eva solo, pour over, vac pot or aeropress.
"The only uniquely 3rd-wave contribution to the world of coffee is the SO-espresso..."

In 1994 I worked in a coffee shop that used, for our espresso, a washed Ethiopian Yirgicheffe.
Where do I think things are going?

History tells us that pendulums swing. People got sick of things tasting the same, so they embraced widely-varying flavors. It becomes all about distinctiveness. What is the natural reaction to that? Back-to-basics. "I don't care where its from or how you made it"...

I don't think they'll go back to tolerating crap, though... just wanting coffee to taste more like coffee with a little less fuss.

Just my thoughts... I don't like the crystal ball stuff, so don't do it often.

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