What is Third Wave Coffee? Coffee blog - Tin Cup Coffee Company Nashville, TN

Third wave coffee is a term that is defining the brewing and roasting methods from many of today’s coffee houses. Consumers are taking an interest in the product and taste rather than convenience and experience. They want coffee brewed with craftsmanship that reflects their artisanal taste. There is a lot to be said about the new direction in which coffee is not only consumed but produced. To truly understand the third wave, we need to take a look at its predecessors.

First Wave Coffee

Starting back in the 1800s, the first wave is defined by mass production. Some companies saw an opportunity to create ready-to-brew coffee beans and devised methods to make it accessible in households across the country. Such brands we will discuss in a second, but what’s important to note is the concept of coffee during this time. Coffee was a beverage consumed in the morning or after dinner. It provided fuel in the form of caffeine and was pretty straightforward when it came to brewing. Most will look back on the first wave critically, citing a lack of flavor and quality with more focus on mass production. While technically this is true, there were cultural norms during this period that warranted more time and attention elsewhere than on brewing coffee. But, the mass production that was established paved the way for coffee roasters and brewers to have access to the equipment and processes they use today.


Invented by the Hills Bros. Coffee in 1900, vacuum packaging was an entirely new method of removing air that can cause beans to oxidize. The result was a fresher bean that could store for longer. This innovative technique quickly brought coffee beans out of the roaster and onto the grocery shelves.


The early 1900s was about industrial revolution, and most of America was on the move working in factories and traveling further than before for their careers. In 1903, a Japanese-American Satori Kato decided to apply a dehydration process to the beans and voila — instant coffee was born.


We wanted to add extra information about Maxwell House because the company started during the first wave, and much like Tin Cup, it was established in Nashville. Joel Cheek founded Maxwell House and named it after the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee where it was first served. Cheek and a business partner founded a wholesale company and used Maxwell House as their portfolio leader. The famous the slogan “good to the last drop” was applied when President Roosevelt allegedly made the comment after on having a cup. Maxwell House took a gamble and invested a lot of money on advertising, and the investment paid off making the company one of the most well-known coffee brands in America.

Second Wave Coffee

The second wave was a rebuttal toward the “bad” tasting coffee from the first wave. Consumers wanted a little more from their coffee. No longer was coffee an accompaniment to a meal it was an experience. Many people were relocating to spaces outside their home as a way to socialize or conduct business. Coffee shops became a relaxed atmosphere that granted a reprieve from the home or office and gave consumers a little more choice regarding coffee. It was during this second wave where menus started listing lattes, cappuccinos, and espressos. People would migrate to these places to “indulge.” Central Perk from Friends is an excellent example of the second wave playing out. Characters from the hit show would assemble at their “local coffee shop” and order their coffee in unique ways. People wanted to know where and how their beans were roasted which lead to specialty roasts.


We can’t discuss the second wave of coffee without mentioning Starbucks. The company patterned its business model after Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley, California. The first Starbucks was opened in 1971 by three business partners. The origins of the coffee chain were more third wave than second because the founders were interested in serving freshly roasted coffee beans to their consumers and were passionate about coffee from the beginning. Unswayed by their new hire Howard Schultz who tried to convince the team to sell brewed drinks, Schultz left to start a successful coffee chain of his own. He returned in 1987 and purchased Starbucks for $3.8 million. By 2000, there were over three thousand locations, and Starbucks represented what we now understand as second wave coffee. Their menu included frappuccinos and novelty drinks on their menu and created a space that introduced the public to the coffee shop and drinking experience.

Third Wave Coffee

Because we are currently in the third wave of coffee, let’s recap what the first and second were about to understand how we got here. The first wave was about the consumer. Individuals were looking for ways to indulge in the product readily and without much effort. The market listened and created opportunities like vacuum packing and instant coffee to bridge that gap. In the end, consumers got what they wanted even if it lacked a bit in flavor. The second wave brought some flavor back but had another drive — marketing. Most of the coffee shops springing up wanted to drive the consumer into their shops for an experience that displayed other coffee choices that were at times extravagant. All this attention on coffee wasn’t a bad thing, because it leads us to where we are today. By driving people into coffee shops, interest began to shift heavily towards the product.

Third wave coffee’s focus is about the coffee. Roasters returned to the coffee bean and concentrated their efforts on bringing out the natural sweetness, acidity, and floral notes. Third wave coffee has nothing to do with syrups and mix-ins. Instead, you get the craftsmanship that hasn’t been seen before. The experience is no longer about the coffee shop itself, but the brew. Beverages are sophisticated because they are developed from a process that includes skill and a lot of consideration is put into the growing, picking, and processing. You can think of third wave coffee as an artisanal celebration of its innate complex taste rather than focusing on production and flavors.

Tin Cup Coffee Co.

Experience the third wave of coffee at Tin Cup. We blend together a relaxing atmosphere with exceptional knowledge of the best brewing and roasting methods that create a beautiful cup of coffee.

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