Duane Sorenson & Joth Ricci of Stumptown Coffee
Pair Sorenson, the oracle of coffee, with Ricci, the ex-CEO of Jones Soda, and you have the duo trying to scale Stumptown Coffee Roasters into the dominant third wave coffee brand.

If Ricci--who was hired by Stumptown’s new private equity owner, TSG Consumer Partners--has his way, the Portland coffee pioneer will soon be lining as many supermarket shelves as Starbucks and craft beer.

James Freeman/Blue Bottle
Freeman, the accidental businessman of third wave, has raised over $45 million in venture capital to scale Oakland’s Blue Bottle Coffee into a formidable third wave competitor to Starbucks.

Tony Conrad/Blue Bottle
Conrad, who along with being an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and former M&A guy for Groupe Danone, is one of Freeman’s most bullish investors, who happens to also tote around his own coffee grinder, scale, and manual brewer.

Jacob Jaber/Philz Coffee
If Howard Schultz had a long-lost son, he would be Jaber, the street-smart real son of the Palestinian founder of San Francisco cult-chain Philz. The 27-year-old CEO, who has the salesman’s charisma of Ron Popeil, has managed to colonize virtually every hub in Silicon Valley, raise eight figures of venture capital from Summit Partners, and has plans to make Philz a national brand. (For the record, he does not consider Philz “third wave”: “Do you spit or swallow your coffee? I swallow it,” jabs Jaber.)

Khristian Bombeck/Steampunk
The ex-snowboarding, coffee roasting, perpetual tinkerer from Salt Lake City, Utah has convinced over 200 cafes globally to purchase his pristine $16,000 quartz and glass “precision” coffee brewing machine, the Steampunk. His company Alpha Dominche’s next pitch: convincing cafes to use the same sexy high tech device for next-gen tea brewing.

Jeremy Kuempel/Blossom One
After nearly five years of R&D, the 26-year-old MIT engineer has finally unveiled the Blossom One Brewer, a $4,950 “precision” brewer that claims to brew the perfect cup of black coffee.

L to R: Noah, Adam, and David Belanich/Joyride Coffee
What began as a nomadic coffee food truck pivoted into the dominant third wave coffee distribution company. Joyride now supplies for over 400 companies and startups in NY and SF--from Twitter to JetBlue--with the freshly roasted brews of Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Counter Culture, and Blue Bottle.

Corey Waldron/Modbar
The ex-CAD designer from Fort Wayne, Indiana is behind Modbar, the high tech modular espresso machine that camouflages its mechanical complexity underneath a café counter, leaving only a sexy minimalist spout between a barista and customer. Waldron managed to lure espresso machines’ high priestess, La Marzocco, to help with sales and distribution, as well as invest.

10 Third-Wave Coffee Innovators Worth Buzzing About

Meet the minds behind your coffee.

Over the past decade, categories such as yogurt, chocolate, and juice have made this leap from commodity to mass delicacy. Some consumers no longer blanch at a $9 bar of chocolate half the size of a Snickers or $11 for a cold-pressed juice. Not only have these become the fastest-growing segments in their respective categories, they've created multimillion-dollar markets that never before existed. Greek yogurt was an obscure 1% of U.S. yogurt sales in 2007. Then Chobani entered the scene, luring consumers away from their sugary-sweet Yoplaits. Now Greek yogurt accounts for 40% of the $7.4 billion U.S. yogurt market, while industry heavyweights like Danone and General Mills are racing to catch up.

Coffee crusaders are convinced that they are on the verge of a similar disruption, and they've got deep-pocketed investors cheering them on. After Starbucks's 20-year reign as coffee's dominant force, this once fringe group is launching a culinary, cultural, and financial battle to get a piece of the $30 billion U.S. coffee market.

These are the purists who aim to persuade us to convert our morning ritual to a $7 cup of black gold.

Read the feature story: The Multimillion Dollar Quest To Brew the Perfect Cup Of Coffee

[Image: Flickr user Michael Allen Smith]

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6 Comments

  • mollylavertysurvey

    I love the idea of this article, and agree that these 10 choices represent great innovation in the coffee industry. However, as a woman in the coffee industry I find it to be a slight oversight that no women were included in this list. Women are playing more and more important roles in an industry traditionally dominated by men (from the producer all the way to the roaster) and that in itself should be considered a great innovation.

  • dsacks

    Andrea & Molly, thanks for your note. I spent four months reporting the larger feature story that led to this list, deeply immersed in the third wave coffee world and I am remiss to say that I did not come across women who were pushing the industry forward -- from a business standpoint. That, of course, doesn't mean they are not out there, but I did not find them. If there is someone I missed, please bring them to my attention. But by no means would I -- a woman -- be biased against finding female candidates. -Danielle

  • totrsa1

    The story would more aptly be titled: "10 MALE THIRD-WAVE COFFEE INNOVATORS WORTH BUZZING ABOUT"

    Yet another instance of reporting bias exacerbating industry bias. Disappointing to see Fast Company setting such a low standard.

  • totrsa1

    The story would more aptly be titled: "10 MALE THIRD-WAVE COFFEE INNOVATORS WORTH BUZZING ABOUT"

    Yet another instance of reporting bias exacerbating industry bias. Disappointing to see Fast Company setting such a low standard.