Few are willing to deny the positive values held dear by third wave café owners, yet from a perspective seasoned in business and attuned to the history of local food service, the third wave coffee shop very well may be temporary phenomena. Here are some facts that hinder this wave from carrying the societal clout it strives for.
If you have encountered a young person—usually with a handlebar mustache, a cardigan, a smattering of tattoos, and a knack for thrift shopping—who has proceeded to tell you about a new coffee shop in an artsy part of the city you live in, he or she was probably referencing what is now known as a “third wave” coffee shop. You've probably heard of cafés like it before; they usually serve fair trade coffee, offer gluten-free pastries, and are more expensive than your run-of-the-mill coffee spot. In the worst case scenario, the young person you encountered might have scoffed at your frequent Starbucks runs and your cup of Folgers every morning. In the best case, they encouraged you to visit their favorite café because they enjoy the environment, the coffee, and the values the business boasts. The patrons of these budding establishments are often referred to as “hipsters,” but the interesting fact is that they aren't just a fringe demographic; their values correspond with the values of millennial consumers as a whole. Those born between 1980 and 2000—the peak ages for specialty coffee drinkers—show marked concern for the environment, healthy growth of the economy, and gravitate towards companies committed to good citizenship. These are the frequenters of the third wave coffee shop. So all of us longstanding coffee industry participants need to ask ourselves, is the third wave here to stay? In what ways is the tide changing? Let’s take a look at what good has come from this movement to see if this style of café will long endure.