The Different Waves of Coffee
The phrase “third wave coffee” has been loosely thrown around nowadays that one may wonder if there ever was a first wave or a second wave of coffee, and the answer is: yes! Each “wave” serves as a different approach towards coffee—a different philosophy and preparation process.2 One is not better than the other; it is all about preference.
It all began with first-wave coffee, also known as your average cuppa joe. First wave coffees are those frequently purchased in groceries or supermarkets. The common taste of these coffees could range from bitter and bland, to super sweet and creamy, and they can also come in variants such as French Vanilla or Mocha.3
“Second-wave” coffee is the response to first-wave coffee. Companies such as Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts came in with the intention of distributing a fresher, more high-quality product. It was during this wave where coffee speak such as espressos, lattes, and baristas were popularized, coupled with a bit of education as to where the coffee beans came from and how they were roasted.4
And then, these second wave coffee shops started selling their beans in the supermarkets—this was when third wave coffee stepped in. Third wave coffees take a more particular approach by highlighting the producers and the process. This is the equivalent of a farm-to-table concept; for third wave coffee, it’s from farm to cup.5 Third wave coffee beans are identified by region and elevation, as well as showcasing complex flavours that are unique to the bean’s source. “Light Roasting” was also popularized by third wave coffee, allowing the bean’s flavours to shine more.
Robusta vs. Arabica
The two main types of coffee are Robusta and Arabica. They may look the same once roasted, but the difference in flavours is very noticeable.
In terms of taste, Robusta coffee has a more bitter, harsher flavour with a peanut-like aftertaste and is known to contain twice more caffeine than Arabica beans. Arabica coffee, on the other hand, tastes more acidic and astringent if not prepared properly.6
The difference in flavour lies in where the coffees grow. Robusta is more easily accessible, bears more fruit faster, and is grown in lower-altitude places such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Africa.7 Arabica coffee is more expensive as the altitude of where it is grown is much higher—we’re talking about the more leveraged points of Africa and Latin America, where they grow in abundance.8
Explore the Different Methods of Preparing Coffee
There are also a number of ways to prepare coffee, and to sound like a professional coffee drinker, it could help if one is exposed and is knowledgeable to the different preparation methods.
Apart from the popular espresso machines, there are also other ways of preparing coffees such as the Aeropress, which makes use of the immersion of water and coffee together before getting pushed through a filter.9 Another well-known way of preparing coffee is through a Chemex, which brews coffee using the infusion method, making it most similar to drip coffee in terms of body and taste. A Chemex yields a slower brew and a richer cup of coffee.10
At the end of the day, it’s all about the coffee drinking experience. The wider you explore, and the more coffee you drink, the better your knowledge of the humble beverage will be.