Know Your Ingredients: Making Waves In The Coffee Scene

Dan Pennington
5 min read
Making Waves In the Coffee Scene
Latté art is a magic all it’s own. (Chevanon Photography)
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It’s hard to imagine not having a coffee shop within a mile of you nowadays, but it didn’t always used to be that way. There was a time where your midday coffee choices were McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, a local diner or Folgers. So how did this shift happen to the culture we live in today? Welcome to Weekly Alibi’s discussion of the three waves of coffee.

Wave one was simple: quick, cheap, fast coffee via a drip brew system that allowed anyone to swing by and grab a cup or make it at home. The get-up-and-go drink of the modern era, people were accessing coffee easier than they ever had before, and it continued that way for a long time. The important information to take away from this wave was that the beans used weren’t anything fancy. There was no deep science or love in the brewing; this was mass production of a (typically) dark roast that had no real magic behind it. It was a cup of coffee, as simple as that, and if you didn’t like it, there weren’t really many other options for you to explore. Which leads us straight into the second wave.

Second wave coffee was all about two main goals: availability and choice. This was the rise of Starbucks everywhere, with the idea that coffee didn’t need to be a single taste profile and wasn’t meant just to give you a kick in the pants first thing in the morning. As more and more people fell in love with lattes and cappuccinos, coffee became more of a cultural touchstone and choices continued to evolve and grow. Eventually the market exploded, leading to the “café on every corner” world of the mid to late aughts. Second wave was the coffee of the future, with local favorites like Satellite, Java Joe’s and other local shops getting in on the action and cutting out their own market from the Starbucks’ empire.

So, what is third wave then? Third wave was the next, and arguably final, step in the growing market of coffee as more than a drink. Third wave is coffee with love, care, knowledge and precision. The beans are sourced specifically, and usually for their sustainability, with a history and a culture to follow, so you know what you’re getting in terms of a flavor profile. The brewing is an exact science, with water temperatures closely monitored and brewed to maximize the taste. This isn’t a mass-production product, but more a labor of love, making sure every cup is an experience to unwind and enjoy, not power through on the way to the next destination. A third-wave style cup of coffee is an amalgamation of care and effort from everyone to create magic in a cup that will cause you to stop and sit for a few minutes and take inventory of your day.

Albuquerque is lucky to have so many third wave coffee shops, giving us a wealth of options to choose from when it comes to getting our daily fix. Looking for where to start? We’ve got a couple of suggestions to get you rolling.

Zendo – Located in Downtown at 413 Second St SW (, Zendo has been around for a hot minute, and has a selection of specialty styles and drinks that will leave your head spinning while you try and decide which to partake in first. The Turkish Latte is a go-to favorite with honey, cardamom, clove and nutmeg. Let that first sip flow through you and feel every inch of you wake up instantly.

Little Bear Coffee – Found up in the Heights at 2632 Pennsylvania St NE (, Little Bear is the sister shop of the currently closed (but not for much longer, please!) Deep Space Coffee. Carrying a lot of the same ideals for perfection in a cup, Little Bear Coffee strives to help educate about coffee beyond the normal baseline many would expect. In fact, their website is currently hosting a couple videos that can help you learn the process behind your favorite drinks and get a newfound appreciation of the art of brewing.

Michael Thomas Coffee – A Nob Hill staple for many years, Michael Thomas Coffee (located at 202 Bryn Mawr Dr SE, transitioned from a great second wave shop into an amazing third wave shop. The selection of beans available is almost overwhelming the first time you walk in. Thankfully, the staff are beyond competent and will be your first-class navigators for getting you the right cup for your taste profile. Find the bean that’s right for you and check out some of their free brewing classes so you can start making your favorite drink from the comfort of your own home.

Is there a new wave on the horizon for the café scene, or are we in the truly golden era of coffee? It’s hard to say, and time will tell if and when a fourth wave is coming. For now, we should consider ourselves lucky to be surrounded by such an amazing scene for coffee creators and lovers. What’s more, newer places are popping up every day, helping push innovation and style forward. It’s a long road ahead, but thankfully, we’ve got more than enough caffeine to see it through to the next destination.
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