This is pretty silly, but I keep tossing around terminology that even coffee nerds get a bit embarrassed to use, so I figured I’d take a moment to define these terms as well as ones I made up and will likely use in the future.
First Wave: This is something people rarely talk about as it’s related to Achille Gaggia, Francesco Illy, and the other gradfathers of coffee (which at the time would mean espresso). This was a time when machines were still being made and perfected, so a lot of the focus was on that and a great deal of emphasis put on getting out the perfect crema. Freshness of beans wasn’t really a well talked about thing at the time, so there’s not much to say about that.
Second Wave: This is your West Coast coffee factories, such as Starbucks and the like, a coffee production line based on getting the best easily mass produced cup of coffee and getting it to a lot of people in time. The treatment of beans remained pretty much the same considering the myth that coffee doesn’t deteriorate with age. Despite these lining up with time periods, second wave shops pop up all the time and don’t even have to be big corporations.
Third Wave: Originally third wave was about taking everything into ones hands, after the growing and processing. In America and Japan, this usually translates as the shop being associated with some established third wave roaster or being big enough to justify a large roaster for themselves. In Korea, however, I found that a great deal of third wave cafes actually roasted pretty small batches for just their one (or three) shops. The philosophy took a huge shift about being about the quality of beans, meaning the scale turned to beans>grinder>machine. It’s also very likely the reason why medium roasts are favored and sometimes even held as the standard, because with a medium roast you will taste more of that bean’s natural flavor.
2.5 Wave: I think my nerdiness is showing, I made this up. Places like Think Coffee and Gregory’s Coffee are on that list for me, places that look and act like third wave cafes but are just missing some of the dedication and effort of most shops. This is likely because I’ve been spoiled and have had easy access to amazing cafes for a long time now.
Bullshit Wave: I think you can guess this one, let’s just imagine if there were a cafe in Brooklyn Heights that acted like they were some wonderful local shop but in reality used far worse beans than Starbucks and took absolutely no care of them or their machines. That’s bullshit wave, give us money because we’re not Starbucks, even though we do nothing better than them.