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3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
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Discussions > Coffee > General > 3rd Wave Coffee...  
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DavecUK
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Joined: 21 Sep 2005
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Location: UK
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Posted Thu Oct 17, 2013, 6:48am
Subject: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

Perhaps my first ever new topic on Coffeegeek. I was writing up my review on the Gene Cafe CBR-1200 1kg roaster I am testing/reviewing in depth and to easy my boredom of writing reviews, my mind started to wander. I began thinking about roasting over the years modern trends and fads and this so called "3rd wave" of coffee.

Now my story begins 36 years ago when I first had real coffee, I thank a Scottish lady who was very particular and a percolator for that experience. I was immediately hooked and threw away the spoon and jar.....gradually I began to move to ever more sophisticated methods of enjoying coffee. As we move towards more modern times, there was the advent of Starbucks et al in the UK with their ashy over roasted offerings, usually doused in huge helpings of milk and espresso so horrible it was undrinkable. This led to the smaller coffee shops and the rise of more UK roasters or perhaps the increase in awareness of these roasters and chains like Whittards exposing most people to the fact that there was more than 1 type of bean..

Coffee became more moderately roasted and was tasting pretty good. Then came the 3rd wave of coffee.....now my exposure to it has been limited. I have seen many of the roasts which I assumed were just F$%% up roasts, but no, amazingly they were intentional. I have even seen roasts from a roaster who used to roast more normally, where they have become so light...I wouldn't really be happy drinking them. A lot of these roasts didn't taste great and certainly could never have been drunk as espresso, well I didn't even try. Yesterday "enjoying" a trip to my local supermarket, I saw a coffee cart outside and they were giving away free coffee, espresso, latte long drinks, because they were opening a shop inside. Now it's amazing how many people suddenly drink coffee when it's free! Ignoring the queue I wandered over to the grinder and had a look at the beans. I would describe them as medium light (with an emphasis on the light), perhaps not very far after 1st crack. Personally I didn't think they were roasted enough and could have done with an extra minute or so in the roaster. The Barista (level 1) offered me an espresso or latte etc. He proudly told me that these beans were only roasted to "before first crack and not into it" to preserve the coffees flavour and integrity.  Now I know the lad meant well, but was probably misinformed, which of course starts a whole chain of misinformation. I told him that these beans (which were a Guatamalan) were roasted past 1st crack and although OK were a varying screen size so perhaps not of the best quality...but well roasted enough, for the level they were roasted to. He expressed surprise and assured me they had not been roasted into 1st crack, I assured him they had been, but were roasted too light. So I said OK I'll try an espresso, by now realising I might know a little about coffee he said, "oh they might not taste that great" even though they had been offered as espresso! I can confirm that the espresso was terrible, thin astringent, acrid and relatively flavourless, you could tell that a long drink really wasn't going to be much good either.

To test my taste buds I went to have some espressos from a medium Costa Rica, medium-dark el salvador) and a mainly medium edging towards dark, Ethiopian Harrar. The espressos were in a different league, flavour, body, brightness for some, low acidity for others,  but not that horrible acrid taste of the coffee I had earlier.

So what's going on, why is this 3rd wave happening, some of the coffees don't look sufficiently roasted to me, when I taste them. What I find in them is:

Acidity (aometimes acrid) - not brightness
Thin - not body
Grassy and off tastes - not richness and complexity
Finishing with the feeling that you definitely wouldn't want another until your stomach and taste buds have calmed down.

So what's going on, does everyone really like these under-roasted coffees (I know, I know, it's just my opinion), is it just the younger newer roasters trying to put their own stamp on things (in a similar way teenagers do for music and fashion). Are many of the roasters moving with the trend, because they are frightened of loosing sales, or looking "behind the times", or "off the ball" when it comes to coffee. Unbelievable I've even met roasters/baristas who don't really drink coffee or perhaps the odd cup (wtf is that). Now I'm not talking about the nuked to death roasts of old, when I compare, I'm talking about what seems to have come about in the last 3-4 years more and more, vs what we had 4-8 years ago. I have had many, many people try my roasts, then tell me they were getting coffee from various sources that were much lighter roasted, one even commented that my beans were really dark vs what he was buying from a well respected online supplier. I said "no, they're just medium" and he said, "I think they will taste really bad". He took a Kilo and left, he called me later and said how great they tasted! Even more interesting  he came for another kilo this week and told me he had thrown away the beans from the online retailer, "I just couldn't drink them after trying yours, I didn't realise how off they tasted". He went on to say he had been ordering from this retailer for 2 years and had had quite a few off batches, but thought that's how it was meant to be. I was roasting at the time and I said to him "tell me when the beans in this chamber are the same colour as the ones your getting from the roaster...........when he told me, my god they were light!!!


So is there an "elephant in the room", do you really like these very light roasts, or like me feel this trend for overly light roasting has gone too far, that were loosing something and getting some quite bad flavours in return. forget looking bad, forget what the Barista judges say, what popular opinion says.....what do you like?
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JuanR
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Joined: 30 Nov 2012
Posts: 30
Location: Houston
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Thu Oct 17, 2013, 8:38am
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

I tend to agree.  I use three local roasters on a regular basis.  Recently I decided to try a fourth local roaster that was getting some buzz.  I bought a bag that was actually the same bean and same farm as one of the other roasters I already used; and that version was delicious.  The new bag was drastically lighter.  I mean extremely light, probably lighter than any I've seen before.  And it was terrible in every preparation I tried.  I couldn't find any adjustments that made it taste good.  Acrid, thin, just bad.

Around the same time I was talking to one of the other roasters and he was telling me that he planned on darkening the roast on his espresso blend.  I was worried, since it's one of my go-to blends (it's the easiest for me to pick up without making a special trip).  I got a bag and when I opened it I was more worried.  It was noticeably darker in color and the smell was very different.  I tried it with my regular routine and it was okay.  I made some tweaks, and what do you know; it was a very marked improvement on their previous roast.

Of course, to each his own, and that is just my taste.  I'm sure those who enjoy these extremely light roasts know how to use them, but I haven't been able to figure it out.
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GVDub
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Posted Thu Oct 17, 2013, 8:52am
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

There was a great tag team presentation by Martin Diedrich and Mike Perry (Kean Coffee and Klatch Coffee, respectively) about this at the recent Barista Nation L.A. event. Both of them are more concerned with developing the best balance of flavors from any given bean, rather than "roasting by philosophy." They pointed out that the average roast that they were seeing from other roasters averaged 80-85 on the Agtron scale, which is light indeed (as 85 is the lightest roast that's deemed even marginally drinkable). The two of them are saying that we appear to have temporarily misplaced the middle ground between the "Cinnamon" roasts prevalent in the 3rd Wave and the Vienna+ roasts that Peet's and Starbucks brought to the fore a couple of decades past.
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cerridwyn
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cerridwyn
Joined: 6 Jun 2010
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Location: Inland Empire California
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Posted Thu Oct 17, 2013, 3:26pm
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

Not all third wave roasters give you coffee colored water. They are a response to the fact that Peets and Tullys and other second wave folk believed darker was better.

But they all have their followings. Good or bad, just like *$ has people who swear it is the best (*gag*)

I personally have never met a Geisha that I even sorta liked and the worst I ever had was from Klatch. And that's personal taste. Even without being light roasted, they don't taste like coffee.

That being said, there is no real fixed definition of light, medium, dark. There may be a community standard, but I have seen light roasted coffee that really is closer to medium and dark that isn't so dark that it actually tastes okay.

We all have to go with what we like, not what coffee review likes or what whoever likes.

Me, I'll stick with a to the light side of medium roasted Ethiopian Heirloom as either coffee or espresso any day.

 
The world needs more outstanding coffee.

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MWJB
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Posted Tue Oct 22, 2013, 4:28am
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

Hi Dave,

From your description, it would appear that the coffee you sampled was not representative of what the roaster may have intended, irrespective of perceptions of "style". The tastes you describe strike me more as a defective brew. I'm not sure that this is a good basis from which to draw any conclusions.

The barista doesn't seem to be well informed of roast level...who knows whether the roaster even intended for the beans in question to be used for espresso, or has any hand/control in the way they were presented to you?

Ideally the coffees should be compared at a comparable level of extraction...though you'd obviously be free to prefer one over the other, but "thin/acrid/grassy" does not suggest that this is the case.

Personally, I don't have a horse in the race...I enjoy coffees of varying roast level (I drink much more brewed than espresso...but I still see parallels & find that nominally extracted coffee is usually, at least, enjoyable if not always spectacular), but also find that some roasters with a reputation for light roasts, aren't actually that light for some beans, or espresso-centric roasts. Light roasts can be harder to extract and there be more of a risk of dropping into underextraction, in the wrong hands (I'm sure you already know this, just fleshing out for any other interested readers)...so I personally wonder whether 'badly presented coffee' is more the issue, rather than quirky tastes/defects in roasting?
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Markarian
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Markarian
Joined: 27 Jun 2012
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Location: Seattle Area
Expertise: I love coffee

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Posted Sun Oct 27, 2013, 3:48am
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

I've run across some artisanal third wave light roasts that were like mossy grass and each shot pissed through the portafilter in a pathetic display of being underroasted. They obviously had discovered a peppy pourover blend they liked and thought it would be cute to package it as espresso. Not all coffees are destined to be espressos. Though I can say the most unlikely light roast single origin I've found that just makes a fantastic espresso is Tanzanian Peaberry. If you haven't tried peabs, please treat yourself to some green beans and see how it comes out in the shot.
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DavecUK
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Joined: 21 Sep 2005
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Location: UK
Expertise: I love coffee

Posted Mon Nov 4, 2013, 3:09am
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

Well I had a Starbucks at a motorway service station last week....It was a long drive and I really needed the break/coffee. The beans were roasted as black as usual, the filter coffee I found undrinkable. It did not taste of coffee at all, just a burnt ashy taste. it was disgusting. I complained and was told, aha, the pikes blend we use for filter blah blah heavily roasted blah blah and they offered me an americano from the espresso machine. It was the same disgusting over roasted mess as the first coffee and undrinkable. The thing I found most incredible was the huge queue at Starbucks vs the other easting outlets that served coffee at this service station.

It seems that in the UK we lurch from one extreme to the other with roast levels. We have a strange election of cold whipped chocolate skinny fudge sugar crappes, to flavoured shite. When I meet someone who says to me "I don't really like coffee" I now have to wonder.... have they actually ever had coffee, or just a drink incorrectly called coffee

Needless to say, my Starbucks coffee was left on the counter of Starbucks, because I couldn't drink it. As I walked away I couldn't help thinking that if cookies were routinely cooked until they were black, or left uncooked, a lot of people wouldn't like cookies either, but there would probably still be the long queue at the bakery!
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Lee_M
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Lee_M
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Posted Mon Nov 4, 2013, 12:39pm
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

Light roasts are harder to roast well, harder to grind well (higher bean density means you'll have to use a finer grind than usual), and harder to brew well. (They typically require a higher degree of extraction to avoid sour/grassy/peanuty flavors). Additionally, very high green coffee quality is required, because there is very little roast flavor to mask defects. Medium-dark roasts are more forgiving on all fronts.

However, when all of these factors come together perfectly, a light-roasted coffee is, in my opinion, the purest expression of that coffee as a unique agricultural product, and will most fully display the flavors of terroir, processing, and bean variety. To me, these flavors are far more interesting than the generic chocolate/nutty flavors that emerge in darker roasts.

There's no question that it has taken 3rd wave roasters some time to figure out how to master fully-developed light roasts, but don't give up on the style just because you haven't had a good one yet! Buy some Square Mile, try adjusting your brew method (e.g., using a finer grind), and open your mind to what coffee can taste like.

That said, you still might not like light roasted coffee. That's fine. Tastes differ. There's nothing objectively wrong with French Roast either, I just don't care for that style.
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JKalpin
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JKalpin
Joined: 28 Dec 2008
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Posted Mon Nov 4, 2013, 2:51pm
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

Two things come to mind:

First, I (personally) come to like ...what I'm currently drinking ...that is to say:  what I'm used to.  After going through 3 months of one bean, a departure from that takes getting used to something else.  That's why I punctuate the experience with regular trips to my local coffee bar to figure out if my roast/grind/brew is just right.  A bit of fine-tuning, I guess.

Second, I *like* the taste of coffee.  I like it deep and rich, but coffee.  I don't want fruit-punch or flavoured tea.  I seem to get what i want from most beans if I get into the 2CR about 30 seconds, dark brown with just a light sheen of oil (no droplets).

Some day, a skilled barista will feed me a light roast ...done properly... and I might change my mind.  Coffee-Geeks must be willing to change ...!!  (And, Starbucks 'Blonde' does nothing for me.)

 
Jerry
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cerridwyn
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cerridwyn
Joined: 6 Jun 2010
Posts: 512
Location: Inland Empire California
Expertise: I live coffee
Posted Mon Nov 4, 2013, 6:52pm
Subject: Re: 3rd Wave Coffee - The lighter roast!?
 

I think as well the region you like your coffee best from affects the roast you like best. I think most coffee's from specific varietals lend themselves to different roasting styles. It's not absolute. People experiment and find another way to do it.

I will remember forever the day I walked into Barefoot (wear Chromatic is now) and ordered their special SO espresso. (I'm a coffee drinker, not an espresso drinker as a rule). It was an Ethiopian heirloom bean, which is what I prefer over anything else. And much lighter roasted than their regular espresso blends.

I had read "God in a Cup" just a few months before and I can tell you that I experienced in that drink.

I've experienced that with coffee too. It was Intelligentsia Silverlake. A lighter roasted Ethiopian again. And I have honestly never tasted a better cup of coffee.

But I do agree about the fruit-punch or flavored tea, or as we liked to call one we tried, "fruit soup". That's not coffee.

 
The world needs more outstanding coffee.

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