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.

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That's what I'm talking about.... Beautiful!

John P said:
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.
I find your post a bit confusing. I am confused as to where it is that you believe the problem lies. When you point to "The Third Wave", this is not a thing that exists in a concrete way, but is an abstract concept. Is it the shops? Is it the business model (which is something different at each shop and cannot be generalized by lumping shops together). Is it the online personalities you mentioned by name? I can't figure out who you are angry at, who has slighted you, or where the industry has let you down. It is as if you have taken all the bad experiences you have had at coffee shops and constructed a villain, and you have given it the name of the movement you perceive as having forged it's ill attitudes.

There is snobbery, and it is distasteful. However, is is not snobbery to think of the "The Masses" as "stupid" people who do not know how to properly drink fine coffees? Is is not snobbery to hold the belief that the average consumer, mostly equipped with the same five senses and fully functional neurological biology, should feel inferior when asked "how does it smell and taste"?

To be above board, I will say that I work for Counter Culture Coffee. Built into the vision and mission of the company is the desire to make extraordinary coffee experiences available and accessible to the common consumer. Where in this can you find the attitudes you speak of? Perhaps you may point to some high prices. Are there really differences between regular great coffees and coffees that cost $15 a cup? The difference in those cases are a matter of scarcity. One coffee may come in a 7,000 pound lot, and taste great. Another SO, exotic, and highly sought after coffee may only have produced a 300 pound lot. Should it cost more? And as far as having more than one shop, I defy you to locate even one Counter Culture Coffee branded retail location. There aren't any.

Of the three people you mention by name, only one actually runs a coffee shop. Dan Khen and Mark Prince are, in essence, hobbiests as far as coffee goes. All the science that they espouse, however, is indispensable stuff in the creation of fine specialty coffee. You can play an instrument for decades and never be anything more than a folk musician if you never study the theory and history of music. In the same way, you can brew batch after batch of what you might think is great coffee, never understanding the basic physical science of how coffee is brewed, and consequently never knowing how to control the variables of you method. In that case, if you make great coffee, it is purely accidental.

I understand the disillusionment you have probably felt as you may have found the patina of greatly reputable people and places rub away to reveal an Oz-like man behind some curtain. Please do not let those of us who fumble forward in the dark, seeking as you do to enjoy great coffee and community, bring down you hopes and aspirations for an industry with such wide spectrum philosophies and personalities. And please do not be so hasty to paint with such a broad brush.

Edit: At the moment of this writing, there are 243 (309 for the day) users on Home-Barista.com, even though the number of posters may be a small and recycled group, I feel as though the site itself serves a vast audience and fills a great need among the coffee community.
To me, the most noble thing about great coffee is seeing people connect over the rim of a coffee cup. I know that there are some diehard, "it's all about the coffee and I will DIE to protect its purity!", coffee snobs. These individuals hold up perfect coffee as the "purpose for existence" or some such foolishness. Bull hockey. Coffee is a crop, one that is farmed, harvested, processed, and consumed. It is not my purpose for living. It is a vehicle through which I can reach people and make their lives better. Making people's lives better, now that's a purpose for living.

And it is noble to pursue excellence in making people's lives better by serving them superior coffee. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well. And some people do coffee very well, including those who tend to post a lot on geeky coffee sites. Hey, let's face it, that site is not intended to interest Joe the Plumber, unless he wants an education in the nitpicky, theoretical side of the science of coffee extraction. So, if the geeks, or snobs, whatever, want to get geeky about half a degree of temperature variance, then more power to them. It is the obsessed geeky people that drive the desire in industry to push the envelope, find out if there's more to learn. However, these people may have difficulty translating that cutting-edge fervor into effective shop management.

On the other side of the industry are those who see the people, everyday, and don't have time to deal with the theoretical side of coffee. They are there to earn a living providing a service to their customer. The better they do in providing this service will ensure their success. If they are serious about service, then they will be serious about quality. Quality doesn't mean jack if no one likes you enough to trust your recommendation.

For my shop, it comes down to this: while I will likely be a bit of a geek in pursuing coffee excellence, ultimately I am not selling coffee to my customer. I am selling a feeling. They are going to come into my shop and pay me for the feeling they get when I serve them their favorite drink. They are paying for the emotional overtones prompted by the shade of paint on the wall, the music coming through the speakers, the smell of that drink, the cool smoothness of their favorite club chair beside that perfectly lit painting, the visual images of a talented barista pouring a delicate rosetta on their capp. I am selling a sensory experience that makes their life better, if only for a little while.
In many ways, it's a shame that someone felt the need to coin this "third wave" construct that all of us are being lumped into. It's further a shame that so many felt the need to be labeled and identify with some sort of pseudo-movement that they adopted "third wave" as their mantra. The masses mentality indeed!

For better or for worse (and I usually think it's for the worse), most if not all of us, are part of this "third wave" thing. It's not necessarily a matter of ethics (or lack thereof), or rudeness (hopefully a lack thereof) or any of the negative characteristics that make the rest of us look like "third wave" types - of which there are too many. Instead, it's simply a matter of being at the right place at the wrong time.

Whether you want to label it "third wave" or not, my perspective is that we (as a company) are here to pursue our vision of coffee and customer experience. You can take that "third wave" and shove it into the rubbish bin. My question to myself is constantly: "How do we take it beyond?" We live outside our comfort zone. We push outside our comfort zone. We're pursuing excellence. "Third Wave" is too busy pursuing self-love.

My suggestion to you is to take all that you wrote above (and whatever else is troubling you about "third wave) and toss that in the rubbish bin. You don't need it. It's unnecessary baggage designed for people who need to identify themselves with something. I encourage you to look outside the limited world of coffee for inspiration elsewhere, forge your own concept and vision for coffee and then bring that back and do your own thing.

"Third Wave" was exemplified and defined by a bunch of blowhards trying to make a name for themselves. Truth is, "third wave" is old news. Don't be part of old news. Create something new, something different. "Third wave" is played out and tired. Kick it to the curb. Good luck.
Jay Caragay said:
"Third Wave" was exemplified and defined by a bunch of blowhards trying to make a name for themselves. Truth is, "third wave" is old news. Don't be part of old news. Create something new, something different. "Third wave" is played out and tired. Kick it to the curb.
^^
Nicely Said Jay!
Where as I agree wholeheartedly with you on this Jay, there is something to be appreciative of the label "third wave."

It takes a serious impact on culture for a trend to be labeled. If we didn't have something to label 'third wave' there literally wouldn't be anything there. There wouldn't be any discerning factor to point at to see the effect that the coffee industry is doing anything to society.

There's a balance that all of us need to hold on to. On one hand, we don't want get caught up in the label, but on the other hand, the 'third wave of coffee' gives us something to be a part of. Literally, something that sociologists can be teaching on in college classes some day.

The 'third wave,' with all it's ups and downs, is something tangible that is happening in society. Let's not be so quick to through that baby out with the bath-water.
Jeremiah-
I don't disagree with you. In fact, I agree that historians, teachers and the needy have a need to label groups, movements, whatever. It makes it easier to digest rather than some vague idea (even though the supposed practice of third wave is vague).

Personally speaking, and presuming I have the choice, I would much rather be too busy being part of that so-called movement than sitting around trying to coin catch-phrases and descriptions about it. I'm a bit too consumed by what we are doing to figure out that this is some sort of "wave" or whatever the label turns out to be.

I hope that people stop worrying about these silly labels and gimmicks and continue pressing forward with their own vision of how they see coffee.


Jeremiah Perrine said:
Where as I agree wholeheartedly with you on this Jay, there is something to be appreciative of the label "third wave."

It takes a serious impact on culture for a trend to be labeled. If we didn't have something to label 'third wave' there literally wouldn't be anything there. There wouldn't be any discerning factor to point at to see the effect that the coffee industry is doing anything to society.

There's a balance that all of us need to hold on to. On one hand, we don't want get caught up in the label, but on the other hand, the 'third wave of coffee' gives us something to be a part of. Literally, something that sociologists can be teaching on in college classes some day.

The 'third wave,' with all it's ups and downs, is something tangible that is happening in society. Let's not be so quick to through that baby out with the bath-water.
Amen and Amen

Jay Caragay said:
Jeremiah-
I don't disagree with you. In fact, I agree that historians, teachers and the needy have a need to label groups, movements, whatever. It makes it easier to digest rather than some vague idea (even though the supposed practice of third wave is vague).

Personally speaking, and presuming I have the choice, I would much rather be too busy being part of that so-called movement than sitting around trying to coin catch-phrases and descriptions about it. I'm a bit too consumed by what we are doing to figure out that this is some sort of "wave" or whatever the label turns out to be.

I hope that people stop worrying about these silly labels and gimmicks and continue pressing forward with their own vision of how they see coffee.


Jeremiah Perrine said:
Where as I agree wholeheartedly with you on this Jay, there is something to be appreciative of the label "third wave."

It takes a serious impact on culture for a trend to be labeled. If we didn't have something to label 'third wave' there literally wouldn't be anything there. There wouldn't be any discerning factor to point at to see the effect that the coffee industry is doing anything to society.

There's a balance that all of us need to hold on to. On one hand, we don't want get caught up in the label, but on the other hand, the 'third wave of coffee' gives us something to be a part of. Literally, something that sociologists can be teaching on in college classes some day.

The 'third wave,' with all it's ups and downs, is something tangible that is happening in society. Let's not be so quick to through that baby out with the bath-water.
The following sort of appears to be Slayer Espresso's take on the issue:

"The coffee scenes in Portland and Seattle differ more than you might think, especially considering that the two cities are less than three hours apart by train or car, and share similar demographics, climates, & cultural attitudes. Sam Lewontin touches on what the Seattle coffee scene could learn from Portland and what it might take to catch up.

The opening of Heart Coffee Roasters in Portland, Oregon has garnered a huge amount of buzz in the Northwest coffee community, and it’s easy to understand why: It’s clear that a great deal of money and attention to detail were lavished on building out the space. It’s a polarizing design, certainly (sparse seating, cool colors, cavernous ceilings, very industrial chic), but there’s no doubt that it’s a work of care and precision. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to deny that it’s audacious and interesting.

Thing is, it’s not particularly out of the ordinary in Portland. Beautiful, well thought-out spaces have been opening left and right in the past two years: Ristretto Roasters’ café on Williams, Barista in the Pearl district, Coffeehouse Five and the Red E in North Portland—to name just a few. There’s almost no part of Portland that’s without an ambitious, forward-thinking café. It’s little wonder that the coffee scene there is widely considered to have eclipsed the scene in Seattle, long considered the birthplace of modern specialty coffee.

What happened in Seattle? It certainly has its fair share of quality-oriented stalwarts (Caffé Vita, Victrola Coffee Roasters, the venerable Vivace) and some interesting relative newcomers (Trabant Coffee & Chai, Tougo Coffee, Herkimer, Neptune, and so on). There’s also no shortage of technical innovation and progressive thought going on in the city. It’s still the hub of the country’s espresso machine production, and projects like Visions Espresso’s Coffee Enhancement Lounge are catalyzing meetings and exchanges of ideas between progressively-minded baristas throughout the city. So, why aren’t there more groundbreaking cafés?

The common argument goes something like this: Seattle is a saturated market. Every neighborhood has more than its fair share of cafés, and many of them are well-established names with whom it will be difficult for new and audacious shop owners to compete. Seattle residents are so bombarded with choices that they are jaded about new cafés: “It’s just another coffee shop,” they’ll say. Seattle coffee consumers are already set in their ways, and won’t budge for new experiences, new shops or new models.

All of which is true, in a certain light. The trouble is this: Many prospective shop owners have a mistaken idea of who exactly they are competing with. Most shops in Seattle are based around the second-wave café model—the model of coffee beverage as commodity. In this model, volume of drink production is paramount. Any choice which might challenge the customer is avoided for fear of scaring away potential drink sales. Drink prices stay low, because low drink prices are easy to stomach. Sugar and large volumes of milk are the order of the day, because sugar and large volumes of milk appeal to the broadest range of palates. In order to keep profit margins up at relatively low price-points, cheap, low-quality ingredients become the norm. Training time is reduced, both because training time costs money, and because well-trained employees will demand higher wages. Automation is adopted to promote speed, efficiency and consistency. Quality is beside the point. Quantity is everything.

If this is who they feel they need to compete with, any new, quality-oriented shop owner is destined to fail. Shop owners focused on making great drinks, who carefully source the best ingredients, who hire and train expert baristas (and pay them what their work is worth), who build out their bars with exacting attention to detail and use the best equipment, cannot possibly compete on price, output volume, or marketing muscle with second-wave chains. They inherently lack the economies of scale necessary to do so.

Thankfully they don’t need to, because they’re not in the same business. Serious quality-oriented shops create fundamentally different products from volume-oriented ones . Second-wave shops are essentially fast food, and operate under all (or most) of the assumptions of the fast food industry. Expertly crafted coffee is a culinary art, and needs to operate under none of these assumptions. No one expects a restaurant of the caliber of, say, Volterra to compete on price or volume with McDonald’s. Despite selling ostensibly similar products, they are in entirely different worlds.

In order to fully differentiate themselves, however, quality-oriented shop owners need to abandon a number of assumptions. Prevailing models of pricing, café build-out, menu composition, barista training, compensation and customer service are all still largely based in the second-wave. These models are easy to adopt—they are comfortable and known quantities for both shop-owners and customers—but they create the perception that a shop is serving the same product as the next shop down the street, regardless of whether or not this is true.

If shop owners actively choose not to participate in the Seattle second-wave market, they’ll see very quickly that there aren’t that many other shops with whom they are in competition. In fact, there’s really no reason for competition between quality-oriented Seattle shops in the first place. The only saturated coffee market in Seattle is the mediocre, volume-oriented market. The market for great coffee is still very small. It’s still at a stage where buzz for one shop is good for the whole scene: The more people talk about great coffee, the more people will try it; the more people try it, the more people will never be able to return to mediocre coffee—and the more business there is for all of us.

To galvanize the Seattle scene, then, coffee professionals need to throw it all out and start over again. We are not competing for the same small slice of the total coffee market, and we are not competing for the folks who have chosen fast food as a lifestyle. We are in this business to show people who have never known—or had any reason to know—what can be done with just two ingredients. We are here to challenge people’s assumptions about what coffee can and should be.

So, let’s throw out menu boards, linear café designs, wall-like preparation areas, front-ended registers, huge pastry cases, and big, under-priced drinks. Let’s start from scratch, ask ourselves what we really want to accomplish with our cafés and then design them thoughtfully and purposefully from the ground up, without assuming that our audience will be scared away by our choices. Let’s figure out what really works best. Let’s stop trying to take over the world; there’s plenty of room of all of us to make a comfortable living at this. Let’s make some great coffee and share it with people.
"

Posted by Sam Lewontin in Seattle
I agree here, there is no reason not to have a good balance of offerings to be accessible to a wide range of customers. I think id your goal is to raise the public's awareness of great coffees you have to first gain their trust. Offer them products that they understand at a quality level that raises the bar, first earn the right to challenge them.

Kayakman said:
Jeff Jaworski - I agree with you on so many of your points.

Maybe the the SO coffee industry could stand to learn from the tea industry.

For example, at a good teahouse they offer a wide variety of teas, including high priced SO teas with finely nuanced flavor, as well as lower cost less nuanced flavored teas that are blended with other herbs and flavors. The prices and type of tea range greatly, offering the tea-geek as well as the common person options.

The problem with the 3rd-wave is not that it offers higher priced SO coffee, but rather that it prizes that above all other types of coffee. 3rd-wave coffeehouses and barista want to shout "only the best nuanced coffee is good enough" and thus create a snob culture. THIS IS WAY OUT OF BALANCE!!

Most wine bars and teahouses are more wide in the net they cast and have never developed this "only the best is good enough" way of thinking as they want to reach a wider market.

I do disagree with you regarding cupping, as this event can teach the public to enjoy some of the finer coffee. Education on the nuanced flavor of coffee, tea, or wine is a good thing.
Kayakman, you've really done a great job there encapsulating the gist of what my opinions concerning the third wave essentially are. Sure all of us can say that we're deserving of nothing but the best things in life, but that was a helluva lot easier thing to do a few years back when the Dow was climaxing at 13k and unemployment wasn't at a national average of 10%. To simply denounce everything short of top-tier offerings doesn't exactly jibe with the economic realities at hand right now. Put it this way - I've seen a lot of higher-end dining establishments put banners out promoting "power value lunch specials" and what not. And you have to remember that these are the sort of places who don't necessarily advertise all that much and where cheesy banner advertising outside just plain doesn't exist. So what is this telling me? Well that a lot of people have had to cut back on their extraneous spending and that these upper crust dining establishments have had to try and adopt to this cold hard fact. What bugs me about the 3rd wave model is that its business principles seem to be running in the complete opposite direction of that.



Kayakman said:
The problem with the 3rd-wave is not that it offers higher priced SO coffee, but rather that it prizes that above all other types of coffee. 3rd-wave coffeehouses and barista want to shout "only the best nuanced coffee is good enough" and thus create a snob culture. THIS IS WAY OUT OF BALANCE!!
Let's not get all caught up in semantics, now. 'Third Wave' is simply a short-cut method to describe a particular bent in a coffee organization. The first being (as described to me) the replacement of tea in the colonies, the second being the move from restaurants and coffee houses to every table and canteen in homes and trenches here and 'over there', and the third being that triumphant return to the specialty coffee house.
It's just a term sued to describe an idea, and that's what words are for. You can shun the mantle, but Jay, you're third wave. I know, you're the rebellious type, but it's that very rebellion against mediocrity that *makes* you third wave, bro!
It's a bit of lexicon that is useful, until someone comes along and muddies the waters with obfuscation or associations that don't really adhere to the original usage definition. Don't make it out to be any more than it is, or folks'll just have to come up with some other bit of lexicon to replace it. And y'all prolly won't like that one any better.
'Third wave' simply represents that change form a lot of folk getting up to fill the percolator or drip machine with grocery store bought, pre-ground coffee to wanting something better. Something hand-crafted and fresh.
If you no longer want to be associated with that, so be it, great, but don't ruin a perfectly useful piece of language in the process.
Anyhoo, I agree with Phil about the difference between the hobbyists like Dan and Mark, and the residents of their fora, those cats are mostly into taking their hobbies as far as they can, and seeing what they can do. OTOH, they've contributed quite a bit into the development of kit and technique on those sites. Think of them as the independent race car drivers that used to build dragsters and stock cars in their garages and take 'em to the track every Sunday. Lots of automotive innovations came from those cats.

Now, go read my thread on (less0than) friendly competition in the coffee community. I'd love to hear your take on that.

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