Trish Rothgeb, the woman who initiated the term “third wave coffee”

Written: WiG


20:19 15/08/2022

CFRR- Trish Rothgeb, the initiate the term of the third wave coffee,  

the person who defined remarkably better the term specialty coffee.

Taste is subjective, but quality should not be – Trish Rothgeb

Specialty coffee, in the inevitable development of society, has appeared before many different forms, in different geographical locations, without

having to create by anyone. However, according to the social rules, any trend that wants to be spread and recognized, and needs to be specifically marked with a name to describe it, which will become a common word for people to mention. And in 2002, Trish Rothgeb initiated the concept of the third wave of coffee in the magazine Roasters Guild Publication, as well as clarifying the term of specialty coffee.

With Coffeerary perspective, Trish is an academic face, passionate, serious and constantly researching in the coffee domain.
Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha – Los Angeles Times

Through articles written about Trish and her interviews with magazines, CFRR imagines Trish in work related to term of coffee in short words: academic, passionate, serious and constantly researching.

The first woman to reach Q-Grader in America.

The first thing when talking about Trish, that is her knowledge and academic. Having great passion for coffee, she herself manages with a lot of experimentation to get the best roast. However, for her, it is not enough, perhaps, even in most fields, knowledge must be the foundation of her journey of discovery. Trish chose the way of self – equipping with scientific knowledge to serve her work. She attended the CQI course to become the first woman and also seventh American achieving a Q–Grader certificate in 2005.

Q-Grader is a qualification for professionals skilled in sensory evaluation of green coffee issued by CQI – Coffee Quality Institute. A good Q-Grader can fully assess the quality and defects of green coffee beans, finding potential mistakes in the coffee roasting process and different roasts. They can distinguish between the characteristics of coffee beans that are the result of growing and processing, storage or transportation, and roasting ultimately.

Q Grading is the process of grading green coffee beans before roasting by determining and analyzing the quality of the coffee.

Photo: The Bettr Group

Coffee, from a conventional perspective, is a popular and simple product. Because enjoying coffee is often considered to be rooted in the mood and space that the drinkers are enjoying. Without delving into this field, or just by-passing glances, Trish certainly wouldn’t have chosen to pursue coffee academically. At that time, she felt that there was a need for so many changes in the traditional way of making coffee.

“Too much to be recognizable. I feel like being between two different generations, my entrance into coffee is learning how to roast everything black, and we use stable quality, but we don’t really test the quality before buying green coffee… We were a mess about coffee, and it wasn’t great, but the reason why is that people don’t really know well,” Trish recounted in Cargo Collective Magazine. Perhaps, scientific knowledge is as a bottom of an iceberg, but its floated part is exactly a charming cup of coffee lying on the table, this attracted her to continue to study further and achieve so many achievements.

Trish is the co-founder and owner of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco. She had participated in the executive board of the Roasters Guild Executive Council. Trish has been an active volunteer member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America – SCAA for about 13 years, with most of her time focusing on training and professional development committees.

She is a member of board of directors of the World Barista Championship (WBC), is a founder of the Barista Guild of America. Trish is the co-creator of the World Coffee Roasters Championship for World Coffee Events, writes regularly for publications and her

is the presenter at many events in this domain. She was also a Coffee Corps volunteer for the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) before becoming a Q-Grader Instructor and most recently became the director of quality and educational service programs at CQI.

In the same way, Trish has joined and pursued the coffee domain with the perception that it is time to change the way in which coffee would be much better, with higher standards, but just the simplest way. Most people can enjoy the deliciousness from what the coffee cup brings, that is quality.

Trish is always focusing on taking care of plants and harvesting green beans.
Photo: CFRR

Trish always appreciates academic issues in the stages of coffee making, especially plant care and green bean harvesting, this is the parts that belong to the farmers. She thinks that the evaluation of coffee beans based on the Q-Grader certificate has been really useful during the past decade. The honesty, accuracy and objectivity of these certificate holders helps producers get feedback on the defects to fix for the next coffee crop in order to have the next better price. “Can I keep the farmers happy working with me? My role in the future is to be an example,” Trish said in an interview with The Bettr Group. She wants to do well, seriously to connect people and inspires the confidence to farmers, who determine most of the quality of coffee.

The youth paradise of the art student

“I went to college at San Jose State, South of San Francisco, in an art school. I got my degree in painting and drawing, then I got a job as a bartender, like most of you always,” Trish said about her youth.

Any career journey begins at a young age. Trish is an art student with a background in painting that is the markable field of levitation and fantasy. Coffee, in another view, has a little bit of art because of the travelling moments of emotion. Trish does not approach coffee in such a dreamy way but chooses the path of deep science, although certainly difficult. At once in her job as a bartender in 1990, she decided that she wanted to learn roasting, mainly because of curiosity. However, she wanted more flexibility in her working time, she learned roasting work in a town named Campbell, a suburb of San Jose, and worked at the now-closed Coffee Roaster Company called Campbell.

“I still find that it was the best time of my life because I was so young, and everything was amazing. In the morning, I would ride to the roastery, do the roasting, then get in the bus and go to an elementary school for teaching art to a group of children. After that, at about 3 p.m. I would be in my studio and paint all night. It’s really a pure heaven,” Trish told Cargo Collective.

Sure, it’s a paradise of youth, experimenting and doing what they love. Each of us, almost everyone goes through that paradise, whether it is short or long, but being free to create is a great happiness, which later when we grow up, we suddenly realize that we have had it.

Trish at the young age. Photo: Sprudge

Despite being passionate about this brown beverage, not until Trish moved to Norway in 2000 and began working with Robert Thoreson at Mocca, her psyche was really hit by coffee.

“Then I went to Europe with my Norwegian husband, it was like a whole new world, there were so many new things. I was in the coffee business for ten years when moving to Norway and at that time I thought what the hell was going on? This was a completely different world. What are these cappuccinos? They are perfection. That’s when I received a new wave of interest. The idea of being an artist really died then because I saw the potential of coffee in the near future. I was blown away to pursue coffee all my life,” Trish told Fresh Cup magazine.

“And coffee has been really interesting throughout my life, it hasn’t let me down in anything – it’s another expression of art, but perhaps coffee and art are the same in that they let me make everything,” Trish talked to Cargo Collective about the reason why she really put her heart and mind into the coffee business.

Coffee is a universally popular beverage, people drink it daily, in the morning, at noon or in the afternoon. It comes in different forms such as cappuccino, latte, iced black coffee, iced milk coffee, drip, cold brew, ibrik… People need it to stay awake, or give themselves moments of reflection, or be the bridge of meeting. Not so many people love coffee, although we can hear on a regular a lot of basis quotes about passion, about emotions; most of them is just fleeting sounds about coffee.

In an uncertain way, it can be seen that Trish is so passionate about this drink, with depth. Perhaps, her school time as an art student with a part-time job as a barista was the seeds of love for Trish to pursue coffee for the past three decades.

Uncertainly, it can be seen that Trish is so passionate about this drink, with depth.
Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha – Los Angeles Times

Trish with the desire for a simple, separate cup of coffee

During her time in Norway, with the desire for a simple and separate cup of coffee, Trish was employed by Taylor Maid Farms and returned to California, then she moved to work for Zoka in Seattle. After her divorce, she lived in Seattle, eventually moving to the East Coast to join her longtime friend Nick Cho, who later became her husband, started up Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in 2011 (later moved to San Francisco). ‘’As any small business, survival and development is very difficult, so far, Wrecking Ball Coffee has gone through a long process with hard work

and love’’ Trish sums it up, “not only did we start from nothing with this business, but we were under none there, so we needed a lot of time to make our stride.”

Trish & Nick Cho, her husband and co-founder of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in 2011.
Photo: Foodgps

Trish shares her secrets to making great coffee with Foodgps magazine: “It doesn’t have to be the esoteric cup I used to have to be successful.

For me, such as tasting an entire table of Colombian coffee, my first priority is always the one which has the greatest potential for sweetness.

And I can temper cleverly how sour it would be so as to become a part of my sweet story.’’ We’ve told newcomers who are more show-oriented, that sweetness is sweetness, and that complex coffee flavor is a tasty element. People talk a lot about the balance of coffee… I want when coming here, they will get a good taste of coffee and whatever they can

recognize and want to come back here. That doesn’t mean it’s the weirdest thing they’ve ever had, it’s simply the most rustic thing or something they’re going to have back in their lives.” That is to say, Trish just wants her customers to enjoy good coffee, in a simple and individual way.

Another special thing is that Trish does not stop, she is always eager to learn and research to bring even better products, from a scientific perspective.

Portrait of Trish. Photo: Matty Newton – Imbibe

“I’m still trying to figure some things out. I have been in business for 25 years. I’ve been roasting for 20 years and even at this point, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m trying to say. That intrigued me because I went to art school and originally went to school as a painter. All ideas of this whole journey are never-ending, and I’m trying to figure it out by myself, it’s fascinating. So, the idea was that with coffee, I could create something more meaningful with the ingredients that were given to me. Absolutely. Can I try to do that better than anyone else who has bought that same green coffee? Sure”. Trish said.

The constant effort in improving even more the coffee quality after more than 20 years as a coffee roaster and becoming an instructor for CQI of Trish is truly precious.

At CQI, Trish serves as an instructor for the Q-Grader. She describes a Q-grading class with The Bettr Group, “It was a pretty basic but rigorous class. If you have some coffee experience, you can come and do well. It is based on the idea that everyone has the capacity to taste and will develop that capacity for coffee. There are people in this class who aren’t coffee experts yet but want to be because they’ve always tasted coffee in their lives and enjoyed it. We asked people to focus on taste,

aroma, acidity, and distinguish between different regions. For example, how is African coffee different from Indonesian coffee?” Trish thinks that having a Q-Grader certification has a lot of advantages for quality control work, and it serves as proof of coffee understanding. She used to teach courses in California and now in Singapore. She is on the committee that approves CQI’s Q-Grader instructors, which has saved her from having to travel a lot lately, as the number of people who receive this certificate is increasing in other countries.

Trish was guiding how to classify coffee bean size (Q Calibration), a part of Q-Grader program at Bettr Barista.
Photo: The Bettr Group

Laying the foundation for the third wave of coffee – specialty coffee “Hi, can I roast for you? You don’t know how to do this, and I will do,” Trish told Robert William, the first winner of the World Barista Championship in 2000, at his cafe in Norway. Most of the time, people used to roast coffee darkly, like Starbucks with particularly strong batches of coffee. Trish has used most of the coffee from Latin America and Africa to produce medium and medium-light roasts. Most people assumed that she was an American who went there to express herself and didn’t know much about coffee roasting. She asked Robert if he really liked such roasts, to which Robert replied, “I like it, you like it, and everyone will like it.”

No need to be espresso, just good coffee, this is the initial point for Trish to introduce the concept of specialty coffee.
Photo: Freepik

The Italian embassy was near that cafe, so Italians came over for an espresso and told Trish that this wasn’t Italian espresso. Trish replied: “It’s okay, because I’m an American living in Norway and this is what I make.” “This is not espresso”, ‘’It is very good coffee, but not espresso”, replied to Trish. No need to be espresso, just good coffee, this is the initial point for Trish to introduce the concept of specialty coffee. Although many people were annoyed some of them did light roasting, some came to learn Trish this way of roasting for their own business, and the trend of light roasting started to take shape after that.

Trish returned to America and wrote a short article for Roaster’s Guild about this light roasting method, but people barely noticed; then, Barista Magazine asked her to write something about it after three years later: “Why don’t you write about the third wave in its third year?”, and she wrote about the “third wave of coffee”, known by everyone as specialty coffee. From there, people started talking about it more, but it wasn’t until about three to six years after that, in the first article people started using that term and it was popular even with outsiders. Even, things became much clearer than she expected. In Trish’s class, one of the students mentioned the third wave of coffee.

“I can go into a new coffee shop; meet the barista and they don’t know who I am. Sometimes the barista will say: Did you know this is a third wave coffee shop?”

“I asked them what that meant, because I wanted to know what they thought it meant, and how they articulated it. They talk about how much they care about coffee. The barista told me about the different flavor’s specialty coffees have, the things their cafe does to make the experience special. They talk about all manufacturers and places of origin. This is all information that when I started my coffee business, I dreamed that one day the baristas would know, and be happy to tell it to customers. What we all hoped would happen in the past is now present in many places.”

Trish told The Bettr Group
Trish was tasting with coffees in a cupping time in Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters.
Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha – Los Angeles Times

“The term “Waves” is really a term to distinguish different movements in the coffee business. And these movements are stages of specific trends and processes in coffee. About this term, I found in an article by Roasters Guild in 2002, with a publication called The Flamekeeper.

That article was written by Trish Rothgeb; I hope I will pronounce her name correctly, but she is the co-founder. She’s the co-founder of Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters in San Francisco, and she’s the one who came up with the term to refer to three movements in coffee history. She started calling those movements The Waves,” said Bradford Lowry of Craft Beverage Jobs.

In another way may be coincidental, Trish has named a new wave of enjoyment of this popular beverage. There, coffee is focused on its origin: growing region, altitude, farm name, variety, processing method, and its flavors. Enjoying coffee in this wave is also about the artistic side and personalized taste. Although the starting point is not Trish’s intention in creating this trend, what she has created is not simple, it is a long process of working in the coffee business, and more than that and above all, a passion for research, always wanting to discover and create better quality products. Nothing is random, it only comes when you have been prepared for a long time.

Coffee trends from Trish’s perspective

Trish in the red room provides sensory instruction to students at Bettr Barista.Photo:
The Bettr Group

“If there is a fourth wave or the next, I have seen movement towards it. It is creating a real change for everyone in the industry instead of individuals,” Trish said in the Los Angeles Times.

This view of Trish can be interpreted that the enjoyment of good coffee with distinct characteristics of each kind of bean will be more widely spread, not only to individuals, but possibly the whole coffee industry.

Although the spread of the trend of using good coffee may be fast or slow, it will gradually grow, especially in developed countries when people pay more and more attention to spiritual values. rather than convenience. In the separation of social connections caused by technology, the need to enjoy coffee according to the individual’s feelings will grow more and if high-quality coffee is more and more popular, it is a clear positive point for coffee farmers.

Pour over at home is the current way to enjoy coffee when the trend of personalization is increasing.
Photo: Freepik

“Specialty coffee may be more popular than ever, but skill and discipline are key contributors for quality, which is what we need now more than anything. The way to be a better consumer of coffee that is to find the coffee you like while you also keep trying new things; and then, don’t expect every cafe to be the same,'” Trish told Imbibe magazine.

In more details, Trish also gives opinions on the trend of enjoying coffee with Sprudge magazine such as the use of espresso in paper cups will bring convenience to drinkers. That means good coffee will become popular everywhere, not just in places where this is concentrated.

Next, Trish predicted to The Bettr Group that the input cost of coffee would increase due to increased labor wages and green beans prices due to climate change. This leads farmers to be forced to sell coffee beans at a higher price in order to survive. This is an obstacle for consumers and can turn coffee into a limited-use commodity because it is expensive. In addition, Trish is also concerned that, because of the high price of specialty coffee, large corporations will use these terms as a marketing weapon for their business, then sell low-quality coffee products with the labels of specialty coffee.

A very important social topic which is the role of women in coffee production, is also mentioned by Trish.” We consider that this change is getting more and more. I see more women in the import, tasting and roasting rooms than ever before. And if women see it, they know they can belong there.” – Trish told Bettr Group. As a prominent woman in the predominantly male specialty coffee industry, Trish has encountered several barriers to her progress, but believes it is important to maintain a wholesome perspective on that experience, as she explains to Cargo Collective, “I think the obstacles I’ve seen are like other professions for women. Women in the coffee consumption industry do not have the same problem as women in Ethiopia. In there, they may do all the work on farm, but it’s still owned by their husband who can drink all day while women are doing everything, but they still don’t have got their own farm.”

And she believes that the role of women is increasingly important in the coffee industry, they deserve to be respected and enjoy benefits commensurate with their contributions.

The end

Trish Rothgeb has been in the coffee industry for more than 30 years, her practical experience, her accumulated knowledge and scientific approach to coffee are great assets that Trish has. Her clarity in how to answer social issues, or the scientific evidence to explain coffee has increased our admiration for Trish after completing this article. The words encapsulated in an article certainly do not highlight the portrait of a third-wave coffee influencer, especially one we have never met.

Surely in the near future, CFRR will have a private interview with Trish to learn more knowledge, pass on her passion and her perseverance to coffee makers and also share with her about a potential infant specialty coffee market in Vietnam.

Please wait with CFRR.


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