The Business of Third Wave Coffee
The phrase “third wave coffee” sounds inflated but it’s a term that best sums up the current trend that many coffee companies are invested in. Many independent coffee shops care about the nuanced flavors of different regional or varietal beans so they buy beans, or roast their own, from domestic companies which use roasting methods that bring out the distinct flavors of each kind of bean. Most of these companies also care about the ethical and environmental impact their industry has on the globe so they make efforts to do direct or fair trade with organic coffee farmers around the world. When they work directly with a farm, they are able to inspect farmlands and examine the quality of the beans—from inception to harvest. In return, the farmers can more easily set their own workplace standards and their own prices when working with coffee corporations. All of these practices are an attempt by third wave coffee companies to make the industry more concerned with product quality and finance ethics. These ideal business models could become standardized and widespread if more consumers took action by supporting third wave coffee businesses. Yes, their products are often retailed higher than non-third wave companies but you will actually get more when you pay more for them! Raising your coffee expectations and budgeting to make room for third wave products is a wise consumer decision. Plus, an increased demand for third wave coffee may just help decrease the prices eventually.
For those of you who care about coffee but have not hopped on to the third wave bandwagon, I issue you this caffeinated challenge: buy a cup of coffee from a local third wave shop or a bag of beans from a third wave roaster and taste the difference! In addition to making your taste buds happy, I bet you’ll learn something too. Most third wave coffee businesses like to share their practices with their customers. Whether it’s from a barista at a local shop or information found on a bag of beans, you’re sure to learn more about coffee once you start investing in the third wave movement.
Two of the companies that promoted my coffee education and palate refinement, are Portland, Orgeon based Stumptown and Chicago’s Intelligentsia. These two companies are widely recognized as the biggest names in third wave coffee. Despite their corporate expansion, Stumptown and Intelligentsia have maintained much of their small business spirit. When Stumptown expanded their reach to New York and Los Angeles they opened local roasteries in each city, making distributing and maintaining freshness easier. It also allows the company to have direct and regular communication with their own cafés and with the coffee shops/retailers that they serve. Intelligentstia remains dedicated to training talented and knowledgeable baristas. At their cafés, and at many barista competitions, you’ll find passionate baristas that can make drinks as if they were coffee wizards. Both Intelligentsia and Stumptown continue to invest in direct trade with quality coffee producers and remain dedicated to making delicious coffee for their customers. Although neither company has expanded to the Rocky Mountain region, I still recommend checking out their websites to learn more about them. You can also buy their whole beans, and those of other third wave brands, at select Whole Foods and Alfalfa’s. I’m sure that you’ll be able to taste the difference, regardless of how you brew your coffee at home. Luckily though, Boulder has its own third wave coffee businesses you can support. Here’s a small list of local third wave coffee companies:
We fortunate coffee drinkers—who have access to third wave coffee and can afford it—should be mindful consumers. Taking the time to consider the important implications of third wave coffee and supporting businesses invested in it will positively impact the evolution of the industry. I would love to see third wave coffee values go mainstream in the U.S. so I’ll be here weekly to provide more information and updates for the coffee curious.