The Third Wave Kape “Bakit?” List

By Paolo Cruz

It’s easy to be dismissive or outright cynical about buzzwords like sustainability, social justice, and Third Wave Coffee, especially if you’re a savvy consumer in the so-called developing world. That’s why it’s crucial to define what Third Wave Coffee is and why (or in Filipino, bakit) it matters in the Philippine setting. This is the Third Wave Kape bakit list.

The Third Wave is an approach to coffee that treats it as an artisanal good, similar to wine, tea, or chocolate, rather than a commodity, like wheat or sugar. This involves a change in all stages of its production:

  • how it’s grown, harvested, and processed;
  • how it’s sourced from growers and distributed by traders and roasters;
  • and finally, how it’s prepared, brewed, and served to the people who drink it.

Because of this holistic approach, Third Wave Coffee is about providing a more satisfying experience for everyone involved. Let’s consider how this might work in the Philippine context:

For coffee growers, the Third Wave offers the prospect of direct trade. Local farmers would become integral, hands-on stakeholders; their interests will direct the course of production. The Third Wave makes real those lofty ideals about economic justice and participatory enterprise, without the red tape. Beans are grown in line with farmers’ needs and capacity.

For the baristas who brew and prepare the coffee, the Third Wave promises a chance to hone their work as a skilled craft. There’s an emphasis on mastering a variety of specialized techniques for delivering quality brews. Some of these are time-honed processes, like the use of drip filters. Other methods, like vacuum or siphon brewing, rely on the wonders of physics to achieve a particular taste, aroma, and texture (or body). With the seemingly innate Pinoy knack for repurposing existing gadgets, technologies, and ideas for our own end, the options for crafting new preparations seem boundless.

Of course, coffee drinkers stand to gain from the Third Wave. Coffee lovers stand to gain an appreciation for the diversity of coffee, in terms of flavor (sweet vs. bitter), bean varietal (e.g. robusta vs. arabica), and growing region (Batangas vs. Compostela Valley). This is complemented by an emphasis on high-quality beans and lighter roasts. The Third Wave approach also encourages single-origin coffee, coming from a particular location — say, a designated plantation in Lipa, for example — as opposed to mixed blends. Likewise, the Third Wave calls for beans to be roasted on-site, at the same location where it’s brewed and served (often called “microroasting,” analogous to the microbrew beer).

All of this contributes a richer, more diverse coffee culture, Third Wave Kape style.