Riding the third wave

Love the term or hate it, the ‘third wave’ coffee movement is definitely here to stay. But all this talk of single estate micro lots and SCA cupping scores gets a lot of people questioning, wtf is the ‘third wave’ and do I need a beard to ride?

Latte art and the third wave coffee movementAs annoying as the term may be, third wave coffee is a movement towards drinking better coffee. And when I say better, I mean much better. Coffee is complex. In fact, it has more aromatic and flavour compounds than wine. (Yes, that’s right, our Costa Rican Lomas Mesas could give your Malbec a run for its money). And, just like wine, a coffee’s terroir and how it is harvested and processed, will all effect its final flavour in the cup. A meticulous attitude is needed at all stages of production to create a high-quality coffee. This requires open relationships between coffee growers, traders and roasters, and would mean nothing without the baristas, coffee shops and individuals who enthuse, promote and back great coffee.

It’s this appreciation for exceptional coffee that has fuelled the movement and created a grading system for beans, helping us to strive for improvement continuously. Coffee that scores more than 80 out of a 100 for quality is known as speciality coffee, and it is a standard that is synonymous with the third wave.

Green coffee grading at Ritual CoffeeSo, how does a coffee achieve speciality status? Q graders (basically coffee geniuses with the sharpest sensory skills) evaluate the beans against a number of principles, including appearance, defects, acidity, body, flavour and aroma. Grading each attribute individually, a final score is generated.

Along with a quality score, every coffee has its own flavour notes and these can vary widely. So, although you may have a coffee with similar grading, the taste can be wildly different – and that’s before you add in the variables of different roast profiles and brewing methods. Exciting, huh?

Okay, okay, so not everyone is going to fall over with excitement for a washed Burundi, but most people know a good coffee when they try one, and this is important not only for taste, but for ethics.

Speciality coffee producers for Ritual Coffee Roasters UKAs I mentioned earlier, to produce high quality coffee (and in particular speciality coffee) producers have to grow, harvest and process coffee with consideration. For this, a premium is paid, which is invariably higher than Fair Trade (which was set up to create better standards in the commodity market) and ensures money goes back into the communities where speciality coffee is grown. 

Speciality coffee is a win-win for everyone and thanks to the third wave (and those folk with beards), it’s more accessible than ever. Wherever you live, you’re probably not far from a speciality coffee roaster and now with the advent of online ordering, great coffee is just a click away. Don’t believe us – check out our shop ;-)