Mon, Jul 2, 2012
It’s been right in front of us for many years, but you may have failed to see the coming of the Third Wave of coffee, a revolution which has redefined the concept of coffee drinking itself.
In the past two major events changed British coffee culture: the popularization of freeze-dried techniques in thepost-WW2 period and the mass-proliferation of chains like Starbucks in the 1990s.
But today innovation is driven by dozens of small independent roasters based in parts of East London, Covent Garden and West Soho, who have developed a whole new approach to coffee creation.
Let’s take the guys from Flat White Café, a cozy coffee shop based in the heart of Soho. Their most popular coffee is the Flat White Espresso:
“a washed 100% Red Bourbon lot from Finca La Fany in Ahuachapan in the Ilamatepec mountains of El Salvador.”
That may sound like too much information for the average Costa consumer, but that’s the whole point with Third Wave coffee: coffee is not just a commodity but a fine artisanal drink. Every little stage of production is considered a piece of art, and that’s why transparency is the movement’s main priority, along with innovation. In fact Flat White Espresso itself is a modern take on the traditional Italian espresso, the outcome of new brewing techniques.
Their path was started by Café Direct in 1991, the first company to bring fairtrade coffee to our country. The merit of Café Direct was to stress the importance of closing the gap between the small African farmer and the London consumer at a moment when the collapse of the International Coffee Agreement had sent coffee prices plunging.
However, the new coffee wave took off in Australia and New Zealand first, at the end of the ‘90s, and gained popularity in Britain only a decade later thanks to coffee shops like Flat White.
The movement came to be identified with Gwilym Davies, who claimed to belong to the Third Wave after winning the 2009 World Barista Championship. Davies made a name for himself by launching the “disloyalty card” campaign in order to promote emerging coffee stores: you had to complete a tour of eight of East London’s coffee shops to claim a free coffee from Davies himself.
It’s hard to say how many London coffee shops have embraced the new discipline, as their number is in constantly expanding. However, Blue Crow Media has developed a free iPhone app called “London’s Best Coffee”, which tracks down the best baristas in town.
A good chance to see the caffeine artists at work is during UK Coffee Week, an initiative launched by Jeffrey Young’s Allegra Foundation in 2001. It gathers both big companies and small artisans from all over the country. The event works as a sort of Gladiatorial contest for baristas and according to some this is where a fourth wave of coffee might be under way. But that’s a whole other story.
Written by Ruggero Galtarossa