Event – Third Wave Coffee and Beyond

The other night I went to an event called “Third Wave Coffee and Beyond” at Barista Parlor Golden Sound, which was sponsored by the Vanderbilt Institute of Coffee Studies and Department of Latin American Studies. The panelists consisted of a few anthropologists from universities in the southeast as well as the owner of Barista Parlor. Not only was this discussion extremely interesting, attendees were served Barista Parlor roasted coffee brewed on a Chemex. I had been wanting to try their new coffee and found it extremely tasty. Definitely up there with roasters like Verve, Intelligentsia, Counter Culture, and Stumptown in terms of taste and quality coffee. No fear, Barista Parlor still continues to serve other amazing great coffees alongside their own.

The panel began by discussing coffee consumption, particularly the “third wave” and what distinguishes coffee from this wave from others. The consensus seemed to be that third wave coffee is about traceability, quality, and an experience. One of the panelists emphasized the idea of “drinking coffee versus tasting coffee”, which I found interesting. The third wave consists of specialty coffee which is usually on the more expensive side because it is Arabica coffee usually grown at high elevations. People who drink specialty coffee can easily know where the beans come from, at what elevation they were grown, and even details about the farmers many times.

The next topic in the panel was regarding Direct Trade versus Fair Trade. Fair Trade came about during the second wave of coffee (the Starbucks, Peet’s era) due to backlash these large corporations were getting about the treatment and payment of coffee farmers. Still, people were unsure of how beneficial Fair Trade was for the farmers. According to the panelists, Fair Trade definitely helped out coffee cooperatives as a whole, but did not necessarily benefit individual farmers. On the other hand, Direct Trade was developed in the third wave by specialty coffee roasters who critiqued Fair Trade. Interestingly, the panelists said that Direct Trade is never actually direct. Direct Trade involved direct contracts between farmers and roasters which gave them more incentive to produce better quality coffee, but there are also cons to this system because it can pit farmers against each other. The main conclusion on this topic was that neither model was better because there are benefits to both.

Lastly, we discussed the future of the coffee market especially because of it’s popularity today. The major concern had to do with climate change and the ability to continue producing high quality coffee. One of the anthropologists commented that he believes GMOs will start playing a role in coffee production because it will be the only way to replicate enough great-quality coffee for its rising demand. On the consumption side, moderator Ted Fischer predicted that we will start seeing specialty coffee in high end restaurants. Overall, I found the event to be extremely informative and interesting, and it kept me wondering, what is the fourth wave?


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