Our obsession with coffee shows no signs of abating: 85 per cent of us will visit a coffee shop in the next seven days. And it's independent coffee shops – which now account for two-thirds of the country's outlets – that are winning big against the branded chains.
Characterised by exposed brick walls, brushed copper counters, and designer filaments in low-hanging lightbulbs, these cafes are popping up around the country at a hyper-caffeinated rate. They are the temples at which the hooked come for their daily flat whites and long blacks, brewed from coffee grown at very precise altitudes on single farms in particular regions of Bolivia.
This modern coffee-drinking lark is an experience marked by more strictures than Catholic Mass.
"What beans are you using? Which brew methods? If I go in a shop, I'm asking: what have you got on filter? Who's it roasted by? Where are the beans from?" says Dan Hobson of Flat White, in London's Soho. "Then I'll get a bit nerdier and ask for tasting notes. I'm a real geek."
Ladies and gentlemen, next time you order your morning coffee, please make sure you are well-prepared...
Taste test #1: How to 'cup'
1. Grind up your coffee beans coarsely. Place 12-14g of the grounds in a small bowl.
2. Pour over nearly boiling water (95 °C).
3. Allow grinds to infuse for around 3-4 minutes.
4. Break the crust of the grinds with the back of the spoon.
6. Gently stir and allow crusts to sink to the bottom.
7. Slurp infusion from a deep spoon. The noisier the better – you get more 'vapour'.
8. Roll coffee around mouth and refer to flavour wheel.
Five third wave coffees to know
Five third wave coffees to know
1/5 Long black
Espresso and hot water, simple. A stronger, shorter Americano. A coffee for purists who want to savour it. Water first, espresso second. Always. The drink retains more of the crema than an Americano, is less voluminous and more strongly flavoured. An antipodean classic taking UK menus by storm.
Who drinks it: The café purist
Coming from the Italian for restricted, forcing less hot water through the coffee granules at a faster speed makes for a very short shot – typically 45ml for a double compared to 60ml for the same espresso. Say hello to a coffee with more flavour and less bitterness. A pain to make on pre-calibrated machines, it's "a fusspot's coffee," says Kamal Yusuf of Etcetera Café in London.
Who drinks it: The nuisance
Originally from Italy, this one gets the thumbs down from many third wave baristas. Pulling more hot water through the bed of espresso – a minute's worth, rather than 30 seconds – gives a longer coffee, typically 90–120 ml. But, some say, the grains are overused and the bitterness is drawn out. "If someone asked for one, I'd tend to put a touch of hot water in the bottom of an espresso shot instead," says Estelle.
Who drinks it: The poseur
Consists of two shots of espresso 'cut' (cortado is Spanish for cut) through with textured milk. The ratio of milk to coffee is between 1:1 and 1:2 (our diagram has 1:2), with the milk added after the espresso. Also known as a piccolo and – less commonly – a Gibraltar. "They're normally served in a 4oz glass. Like a mini strong latte," says Estelle Bright of Caravan in London.
Who drinks it: The trend-setter
5/5 Flat white
It's the coffee that started it all. Soon after the flat white came to these shores from its native New Zealand, it found its way on to the menus of the big chains from Pret a Manger to M&S. But its pleasingly simple blend of foamed milk and a double shot of espresso, sees it hold its place as the third wavers' favourite coffee. Shorter than a latte, with higher coffee to milk ratio, typically served in a small 150–160 millilitre ceramic cup.
Who drinks it: The blogger
French presses are so passé: Four new wave ways to brew
The Aeropress is similar to a cafetiere, with coffee forced through hot water. A vacuum in the top compartment increases pressure, meaning higher oil (and flavour) extraction levels.
After grinding, coffee is steeped in room temperature or cold water for an extended period, usually 12 hours or more, before being filtered, resulting in a sweet concentrate.
Water is boiled and forced into the top chamber with the grinds. As the mixture cools, it drips back into the bottom through a filter. Artisan Roast in Edinburgh charge £10 for coffee for two.
A pour-over method using a thick filter. "You get a lot of body and a really clean cup. It's a great way to bring out the subtler notes," says Darryl Doherty of Artisan.
Taste test #2: The flavour wheel
The coffee flavour wheel is used by buyers, roasters and cuppers to spot flavour taints as well as positive aromas. Use it to befriend your barista – 'yum, onion!' – with a little help from John Thompson, master buyer and cupper at Coffee Nexus:
1. "Cucumber is a fragrance I would get when smelling unroasted green coffee."
2. "When you start getting tobacco-like aromas, it tends to be something that's roasted a little fuller. It's not necessarily a taint: it's down to preference."
3. "Dark chocolate, spice and caramel have tended to be the crowd-pleasers but there's been a real fragmentation of people's tastes in the last five years."
4. "Part of the third wave has been a move towards lighter roasts where you can really taste the flavour profiles of the individual farms. You see a lot more brighter citrus and floral aromatics"
5. "Medicinal flavours indicate the coffee is defective. One bean could give a strong iodine flavour and kill a whole cup."
And the global capitals of third wave coffee are...
From Zweig, Klimt and Trotsky supping the stuff in Vienna's wood-panelled coffee houses, to white cup-toting Seattleites taking over the world, coffee's previous incarnations have all started somewhere. And for the truly clued-up aficionado, it's important to note that the third wave came from down under.
Speciality coffee shops have done a roaring trade in Australia and New Zealand since the late-80s. The movement became an obsession and in 2014 the average Aussie drinks 14 cups of coffee a week and the country as a whole parts with US$3bn a year for their daily fix.
Now, the antipodean upstarts are showing the rest of us a thing or two about making the perfect brew.
"Everyone goes out for their coffee every day in New Zealand," says Agnes Potter of Allpress Espresso which, having traded in New Zealand for 26 years, opened its first UK branch in 2010. "Our founder saw what was happening and that there was a huge opportunity to bring the speciality scene over here."
In perhaps the most tell-tale sign of third wave coffee culture being dyed in the countries' wool, Starbucks closed 61 of its 85 Aussie outlets in 2008. Despite having toiled over a speciality blend, designed for the nation's demanding palate.
Meet the barista: Estelle Bright, Caravan, King's Cross London
“There was a small, independent coffee chain back in Wales. They opened in my hometown and I got a job there at 18, without even liking coffee. I’ve been a barista for over nine years now and I’m still learning. It’s not just about putting coffee in a machine and pushing the button. You have to think about everything: the grind size, the amount of water, and timings. We change things for each coffee we use.
"If you pulled water through 18 grams of coarse coffee, it would pour right through, but if you have a grind that’s superfine, it’s going to take some time and make a thicker, treacly shot. To be a good barista, you have to be patient, calm and have a passion. Also, it’s important not to be arrogant. There’s too much of that out there. You’re customer-facing and for some people getting their morning coffee, you’re the first person they speak to that day.”
Meet the roaster: Steve Leighton, Has Bean Coffee, Stafford
"I couldn't get the coffee I wanted, so I began roasting it myself 11 years ago. I used a small 2-kilo roaster in my garage and it just grew from there. We roast to order, only what we need, always in small batches. Each bean will need a slightly different approach: typically, a shortened roast can make it livelier while dragging the roast out can reduce the acidity.
"It's a creative job, I have to constantly take a different approach, varying the temperature, the speed of the roast and temperature changes, such as increasing heat towards the end, if you're slowing down you're going to bring out sugars and sweetness."
Where to go
Nine UK third wave coffee shops to try (those with baristas competing in today's UK Barista Championship semi-finals in brackets)
Colonna & Smalls, 6 Chapel Row, Bath BA1 1HN (Maxwell Colonna Dashwood)
Caravan, 11-13 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QD (Estelle Bright)
Allpress Espresso, 58 Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, London E2 7DP
Flat Cap, 13 Ridley Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle NE1 8JQ (Joe Meagher)
Artisan Roast, 57 Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH1 3RJ (Darryl Docherty)
Six Eight Kafe, 6/8 Temple Row, Birmingham B2 5HG (Imogen Ludman)
Small Batch Coffee Company, 17 Jubilee Street, Brighton BN1 1GE
Devon Coffee, 88 Queen Street, Devon, Exeter, EX4 3RP
Prufrock Coffee, 23-25 Leather Lane, London, EC1N 7TE