Although coffee has been around for hundreds of years, many changes have occurred over the past two decades. Originally, people roasted their own coffee, often using a hand-powered roaster that would be set over a flame. With the introduction of packaged products, roasted coffee quickly became a convenient and time-saving item to purchase. Instant coffees further moved America away from hand-roasting until the practice, much like churning butter or making cheese, was all but forgotten.
While Europeans long enjoyed espresso, the beverage was usually only found in ethnic neighborhoods in the USA, such as New York’s “Little Italy” or Boston’s “North End”. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s when the espresso drink movement took of in Seattle, Washington and began a trend that exploded across the continent.
Originally, espresso was based on a dark roasted coffee, in the style popular among Europeans. But some roasters who were not tied to tradition, were convinced that a dark roast masked some of the flavors that differentiate coffee beans from different regions, began experimenting with lighter roasts and different techniques of producing coffee. Thus was born the “Third Wave” coffee movement, replacing espresso-style roasts with select beans roasted using profiles that are arrived at through experimentation, and brewed with techniques that afford a high level of control and consistency to arrive at an optimum result.
Does this mean Third Wave coffee is better? To some, yes, but others don’t care for the sour notes and other emergent flavors that are more apparent in light roasted coffee. Ultimately, it comes down to what you enjoy, whether it’s the familiar taste and smell you grew up with, the heavy, smokey flavors of Italy, or the distinctive wine-like character of the Third Wave approach. Drink what you like, and to each one’s own.