A Beginner's Guide to Third Wave Coffee

Recently, I walked into a pretty little coffee shop a couple meters down from a pretty busy street in Dublin. I pulled out my DSLR and began shooting. As cliche as it sounds, the friendly barista behind the counter waved an arm at me. “Whatchya taking pictures for?” he asked me. “I….have a website,” I replied slowly, as if I was confused; not sure of what to say, because the website wasn’t exactly finished yet. To this wavered reply, he seemed excited anyway. “Oh yeah? What’s it about?”

“City guides through coffee.”

“Oh wow! Cool! What can I get you?”

And the fantastic banter went on. Until he asked if I drink espresso, to which I said I was getting used to it and he said: “Oh, you’re a newbie then.”


Fair. I’m a newbie when it comes to third wave coffee, but not to coffee itself. As a recent convert from Starbucks to independent shops, I decided ‘no more’. But I know I couldn’t be the only one. The ones who love coffee but don’t know the background; know the life of the bean before it’s consumed; be the only one who used to use the term “third-wave-coffee” without definition. I just knew third wave was the good stuff, usually accompanied by a pretty designed layout, bright lighting, reclaimed wooden tables and small menus with avocado toast at the top.

Third-wave coffee is a movement to produce high-quality coffee, and for it to be considered as artisanal as wine, where the beans you drink no longer come from countries, but farms and each bean carefully picked by dry, cracked, tawny hands; to leave the world of Grande cappuccinos and large salted caramel cooladas far behind and appreciate the life span of fruit to filter.



As I stood, granite partition separating novice from master, Rob-my-barista’s eyes lit up as he explained to me the elements of tasting coffees from mouthfeel and brightness. Words that I’d heard before with wine but never with the drink I consume multiple times a day, reminiscent of light and shadow streaked exposed brick and low watt bulbs dangling from the ceiling; light blue ceramic mugs and tin bucket potted succulents.    

Plainly stated, specialty coffee is defined as being rated 80 points or more on the 100 point coffee grading scale, where third wave coffee refers to a smaller segment of specialty coffee. The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has standards based on green coffee, roasting, cupping, water and brewing which lead to its over all score. Specialty coffee is the viewpoint that “the process of roasting, brewing and drinking coffee to fall into the artisanal and specialty foods category. There is an emphasis on coffee being consumed fresh, as well as, roasting in a way that highlights the origin characteristics and processing method of the coffee” (John Giuliano).

A Bit About Roasting

There has been a massive amount of research done to roast and produce different kinds of coffee from instant to self taught quality roasters. Whether or not the beans are slow roasted or fast, lightly done or dark leads to a host of different chemical reactions and therefore tastes that fall into the categories of acidity, sweetness and bitterness (which I was told was never a good word to use when describing coffee to a barista). Why? Because it means the roaster over extracted the flavor out of the coffee. Roasters can manipulate what they want you to taste by the style of roasting they use.


Words that are a checked box in your imaginary specialty coffee book should be: relationship coffee, direct trade and fairly traded. With relationship coffee, it means as it says: a relationship between producer and roaster to get to a better quality coffee.

Direct trade simply put is coffee roasters who buy straight from the grower, while fair trade is a word you might hear most often. Organizations create partnerships based on dialogue, transparency and respect, and seeks greater equity in international trade. This contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to coffee bean farmers and advocates for practices that prohibit child or forced labor.

There is, quite literally, a whole world of coffee to learn about and this just skims the surface.

To learn more about specialty coffee visit www.scaa.org