Here's a link to an interesting article I recently stumbled across that addresses a point that I've been harboring in my mind for quite a while:

http://theshot.coffeeratings.com/2009/03/remembering-the-third-wave/

What the author is talking about is the recent so-called "Third Wave" of coffee shops. Personally I think this is absolutely what the coffee biz does NOT need right now. It also doesn't need the Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's either in my opinion. To me the third wave shops are completely to one end of the extreme scale while Dunkin' and McD's are on the other. My point about some of the more serious third wave shops is that they will ultimately isolate themselves in the marketplace by adopting this sort of business model. By catering to the small community of "coffeegeeks" out there you are in effect alienating your shop from the rest of the crowd. I've spent a good deal of my time on two of the most prominent "geek" sites out there and they both become a little sandbox for their most senior members at the end of the day, quoting each other on the front page marquee and what not. I mean, how else are you able to boast such a large number of members on your site, yet it's always the same two dozen or so people who end up actually positing on a frequent basis? I'm trying to say that IMO, the "coffeegeeks" out there are typically nothing short of coffee snobs when you really get down to it. The parallels between this set of enthusiasts and those in the wine culture are almost indiscernible. With the third wave, I completely agree with a few things they are doing:

1.) Usually roasting on site and introducing SO's to the masses.
2.) Utilizing top of the line equipment and knowing how to correctly dial them in, as well as taking into account just how absolutely vital to the end product that having a good grinder(s) in your shop can be.

The things that I don't like are definitely some of the more snobbier aspects:

1.) High Prices. In some cases even higher than the Starbucks model(remember the $15 cup of coffee from Stumptown last year? Really are the differences between that and your average SO really that much??). Again, totally alienating the general public. While this may be great to the coffeegeek crowd, everyone else out there is laughing at them through the windows.
2.) The cuppings. While not a bad idea by any means, it ultimately serves to drive away the crowds because it makes them feel inferior just being around the know it all "coffee elite".
3.) The customer ISN'T always right. Yes, I know. People are stupid. They want their otherwise excellent espresso to be masked with cinnamon, chai(wtf), chocolate, caramel, flavored syrups, and god knows what else. So who really cares? It's these kind of ridiculous requests that will keep the electricity on, pay the bills, and keep you going. Stupid as these people may be, they're the main reason you'll continue to exist... or not. If you'd like to shun those kind of people away(aka THE MASSES), then have fun seeing you're clientele reduced to just a small group of rather eccentric individuals - I'm talking here about the Schomers, the Kehns, the Princes of this world. Watch how they take over your customer base, armed with their hacked up yogurt containers and little stirring needles, sinking shot after perfectly good shot while seriously debating the pros and cons of maintaining an exact 203.5 degree brew temp throughout the duration of the shot pull versus that of say 203 or 204 :rollseyes: My how that'll surely bring home the bacon!

I think that in this time of economic distress and high unemployment, the "Third Wave" model won't be able to endure in the long run. The big players like Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Counter Culture, etc will always be around as they are established names and have more than one store, but I'd be wary of starting up a shop that reflects this model. I don't think you can solely focus on just coffee anymore, you need to provide other things like pastries and food as well.

Views: 690

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

When talking about "waves" I think we should bear in mind that it is not adherence to and agreed upon model that defines a movement but the focus of the individuals within it.
In other words...two shops may have completely different "models" but have a singular focus.
Singularity of focus on excellent coffee... seed to cup... with plurality of interpretation as the end result is more "movement" and less "model"...more sustainable and less definable.
Lets hope that is the way it stays (is?).

-Chris Deferio
While I don't necessarily disagree with your general premise, there certainly is a vast difference between the coffee at Starbucks than say, The Stumptown Ace Hotel NYC. Yes, the quality is significantly better and the price should be commensurate with that difference.

As to whether or not it alienates the general public is a matter of how the companies approach their customer base.

The beauty of this is that you are free to spend your own money to build and open a coffee shop that suits your vision. Want to offer great coffee at Starbucks (or lower) prices? Go for it. Think that coffee needs to be augmented with syrups, blenders, pastries and food? You can do that too. Want to create a haven where the coffeegeek is disparaged and heckled? Go for it (in fact, I encourage that option).

As for me, I've found that even with our higher prices and higher quality and so-called third wave approach, the supermajority (and more) of our customers are definitely not what anyone would consider "coffeegeeks." They're Joe The Plumber or Sally The Soccer Mom or Allen The Attorney - people who want to have coffee then (hopefully) discover something different, tasty and noteworthy. People who come for both the quality of the drinks and the friendly, unpretentious atmosphere.

Certainly, a "third wave" shop can be all the negative things you mentioned above. However, there is no law stating that is has to be that way.
Poetry Jay, pure poetry.

Jay Caragay said:
While I don't necessarily disagree with your general premise, there certainly is a vast difference between the coffee at Starbucks than say, The Stumptown Ace Hotel NYC. Yes, the quality is significantly better and the price should be commensurate with that difference.

As to whether or not it alienates the general public is a matter of how the companies approach their customer base.

The beauty of this is that you are free to spend your own money to build and open a coffee shop that suits your vision. Want to offer great coffee at Starbucks (or lower) prices? Go for it. Think that coffee needs to be augmented with syrups, blenders, pastries and food? You can do that too. Want to create a haven where the coffeegeek is disparaged and heckled? Go for it (in fact, I encourage that option).

As for me, I've found that even with our higher prices and higher quality and so-called third wave approach, the supermajority (and more) of our customers are definitely not what anyone would consider "coffeegeeks." They're Joe The Plumber or Sally The Soccer Mom or Allen The Attorney - people who want to have coffee then (hopefully) discover something different, tasty and noteworthy. People who come for both the quality of the drinks and the friendly, unpretentious atmosphere.

Certainly, a "third wave" shop can be all the negative things you mentioned above. However, there is no law stating that is has to be that way.
I dont think snobbery comes into it. Education done in the right way, a non evasive way, leads to innovation and continous improvement- for the cafe and for the customers. Regarding pricing- if I work directly with farmers- pay them more than FT minimums, help build infrastructure, have a payroll to keep advisors on the ground, build health centres, schools...fly and stay at the farmers location- having to build that into the price of a KG or a cup is part and parcel of business. If I buy volume from a broker and haggle on price- I could offer the cup for a cheaper price...but personally I would feel pretty empty and feel I was wasting my time even being in the business. I think the third wave (and I know many BXers hate calling it the 3rd wave) is filled with people with passion for coffee- the process from bean to cup. Its not about dissing the SBux of CBTL- McDs or DDonuts of the coffee world- its about sharing this passion through excellent coffee, through baristas enthusing knowledgeably about origin...its about doing all this in a way that is far removed from isolating the masses, rather bringing them into the wonderful global coffee community.

I DO agree that there is a degree of snobbery (perceived or real) that is out there. I hate this. I think the band waggon for specialty coffee is big and wide, there is plenty of room for everyone onnoard. Inclusive, rather than exclusive is where we should all be steering this waggon.

I DO agree also most modern cafes cant just rely on coffee sales. In our model our 4 cafes were build on coffee, but these days Food sales also make up a good % of our overall sales.

Finally yep, I am one of those who perhaps posts way too much on coffee related sites :)))!

Good discussion
While I generally don't like labels because they can be very limiting, if you interpret "third wave" as spotlighting the coffee itself with a focus on quality and careful preparation, the idea has contributed to elevating the entire industry.

However, the air of superiority that is sometimes felt along with the concept could lead one to wonder "what could possibly be coming next?" Rest assured, we will continue to evolve and one day look back on the third wave. I disagree with the article though that single origin coffees are a "fad". Rather, highlighting the efforts of specific origins, regions, and farms and teaching the customer to go beyond choosing between a "light" or "dark" roast seems to be the key that will help us continue our march toward greater quality.
"An artist's expression is his soul made apparent, his schooling, as well as his "cool" being exhibited. Behind every motion, the music of his soul is made visible. Otherwise, his motion is empty and empty motion is like an empty word; no meaning. - Bruce Lee"

I think there is a balance between the science and the art of coffee. Sometimes those who label themselves as "Third Wavers" get too enamored with such heady discussions that they lose the art of it all.

I've always thought of myself as "Fourth Wave" ...

but you Third Wavers aren't ready for that yet.
John P said:
"An artist's expression is his soul made apparent, his schooling, as well as his "cool" being exhibited. Behind every motion, the music of his soul is made visible. Otherwise, his motion is empty and empty motion is like an empty word; no meaning. - Bruce Lee"
I think there is a balance between the science and the art of coffee. Sometimes those who label themselves as "Third Wavers" get too enamored with such heady discussions that they lose the art of it all. I've always thought of myself as "Fourth Wave" ... but you Third Wavers aren't ready for that yet.

Nice post John! I think you really nailed it there with the science and for some, getting far too wrapped up in that. At that point it seems that one begins to lose touch with the whole point of coffee in general.

Myself, I believe the "Fourth Wave", if there is one, will be all about getting back to basics. A sort of backlash to the whole third wave movement. That's kind of what I've personally done in my own life. In the process of moving, I went from having three machines and two grinders on the kitchen counter to now just having an Olympia Cremina and one grinder sitting there. Let me tell you - this change has been utterly liberating for me!
"Personally I think this is absolutely what the coffee biz does NOT need right now. It also doesn't need the Dunkin' Donuts or McDonald's either in my opinion. To me the third wave shops are completely to one end of the extreme scale while Dunkin' and McD's are on the other. My point about the third wave shops is that they will ultimately isolate themselves in the marketplace by adopting this sort of business model. By catering to the small community of "coffeegeeks" out there you are in effect alienating your shop from the rest of the crowd."

There is nothing wrong with "alienating your shop from the rest of the crowd," provided you understand your market and are in the right location. The fallacy underlying the OP and Mr. Shot's comments is the assumption that one style of retailer necessarily drives out another. There is room in this world, even in the same town, for different approaches to coffee retailing. I see long lines at some of the most pedestrian and most 3rd wavish shops within a mile of each other in L.A.
If you haven't seen their books, it is pure presemption to conclude that a shop whose style you personally dislike is headed for an early demise.
Guilty pleasure,... I have to jump in. All I want to say is that ten to fifteen years ago the nay-sayers were heckling those in the wine community. Now you can get great wines in almost every grocery store. Intelli, Stumptown, etc... are established, but they have not always been so. They established themselves on the third wave "movement", and it alone. There was a quality vacuum. Of course it was only because of the second wave having paved the way, and yada yada... Point being, they established themselves when no market was proven to exist. Yet, now that you have even said that they are established and are going nowhere, (which is only possible if there are tons of people buying and supporting this niche' market) you are also saying that this is a failing endeavor. This is illogical. Other companies have done and are doing and will do the same.

However, your point about costumer service must be heard. Offering something and telling a customer, "This is what I offer, nothing else." is a business' prerogative. however, it does lose customers, if not, at least that one. We are not only in the craft of coffee, but of customer service excellence. There does need to be a balance struck. Of course, where that balance lies depends on a thousand factors, locale and demographics being huge. By balance I mean, if I am a coffee "snob" and want my $15 cup, and want to take my mom out for coffee too, but she will only drink a sweet drink, I need a place. I'm not saying let's all install fully automatic machines next to our slayers.
For me: I just love coffee and I want my customers to feel some of the emotion that I have.
Knowledge and opinion don't equate snobbery but they can be cornerstones of the snob-block. You have to temper them with passion.
spot on stickman!
Pursuing excellence will never lose one's customers, but feigning excellence "in the name of" certainly will. There will always be those who stumble across an Artisan/Quality focused/Third Wave... shop here or there who don't "get it" and that's ok, they will move on none the wiser. And there are also those who are seeking for what you have but may never find you, and that is true loss.

Greatness doesn't come from criticizing those whose goals are higher than yours, greatness comes from finding those who are better than you and then improving on what they've done.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Barista Exchange Partners

Barista Exchange Friends

Keep Barista Exchange Free

Are you enjoying Barista Exchange? Is it helping you promote your business and helping you network in this great industry? Donate today to keep it free to all members. Supporters can join the "Supporters Group" with a donation. Thanks!

Clicky Web Analytics

© 2022   Created by Matt Milletto.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service