My husband and I have recently evolved a morning ritual that gives us a foundation to our day, and a shared passion to bond over. It goes roughly like this: the alarm rings and we quietly whisper complaints about the hour; he gets up to start the kettle (an elegant little matte-black electric gooseneck) for our shared cup of pour-over; after weighing out the beans (22 grams, the beans making a rat-a-tat-tat as they land on the tray) he pours them in to the hopper of our too-big-for-our-tiny-kitchen grinder and turns the dial that starts the machine roaring; that sound serves as my second alarm, so I roll out of bed and pad in to the kitchen just as he’s heaping the grounds into the freshly rinsed filter and starting the first circular pour of the exactly 205 degree water. As the steam rises from the little glass pot, bringing with it that warm, familiar smell, our bodies begin to wake up. When conversation finally starts, it’s usually about that first pot of coffee.
When we started dating, I was the coffee drinker. He drank tea. Yet seven years later, we start every morning nerding out over a cup light-roast, small batch coffee micro-roast, and he’s the finicky one. I started to wonder how that happened, how we came to be so ritualistic and exacting (and opinionated) about coffee, especially in our always-in-short-supply morning hours – there are any number of answers supplied by our evolving relationship, but the broader truth is that our obsession for third wave coffee grew along with the rest of America’s.
It’s been more than fifteen years Jonathan Gold brought the term ‘third wave coffee’ into the lexicon, and though the spread of these delicately roasted, single-origin beans took the better part of a decade to expand outside of the metropolitan areas (it’s pricey, it’s niche), in the last couple of years, it has been rapidly gaining ground in the smaller pockets of the country. Where once only dark roast dominated, making it easier to hide flaws in the beans, now light roast is making inroads, and with it deepening the American coffee palate.
There are any number of reasons for this – shifting demographics, greater awareness around fair trade, the rise of the foodie – but my husband and I like to think it’s because a light roast allows for more complexity and depth to arise from a cup; it tastes, well, more – richer, fuller, more complete. And of course it has a better story. Behind every third wave bean, there is a small farmer who had to innovate techniques in order to cultivate and make profitable his land; there is a roaster who saved pennies and bought an antique machine so he could buck tradition and try roasting his way; and there’s a coffee house that risked everything to compete with the national brands that don’t care as much about nuance. And without the charr of a dark roast overpowering the palette, those stories come through in the nuanced flavors in the cup.
All of which is to say, we have come to expect more from a cup of coffee. My husband, the romantic that he is, likes to wax philosophic and say that it’s only through nuance that we know anything, that nuance is character and is depth, that ritualizing our experience of the nuance in the coffee opens up nuance in our relationship. I think he’s probably right. And in return for all that depth and nuance, we’ve made brewing the perfect cup of coffee the centerpiece of our scarce morning hours.
While we’re at it, here are some interesting facts about the rise of third-wave from the National Coffee Association:
46% of coffee was consumed outside of the home in 2017. Of all the coffee consumed, 59% was specialty versus 41% non-specialty.
The number of drinkers has increased 10 percentage points in the last year alone, up from 31% in 2016.
Over the last 18 years, the number of daily specialty drinkers has seen the strongest overall growth in the coffee market. Only 9% of U.S. adults were drinking specialty coffee daily in 1999. In 2017, that number hit 41%.
When broken down into single servings, specialty drinkers consumed 2.97 cups of coffee per day in 2017, an increase from 2.24 cups in 2001.