Not to get all “philosophical” on you coffee heads, but you got to know your past to understand your present. Whoa that is kind of deep, actually… Like a supercut of Keanu Reeves saying “Whoa”, deep. But let’s get back to the coffee, shall we.
We introduced the idea of Coffee Waves in our last blog post. So where are we? Well, grab a board and some surf wax, because we are currently riding high on the Third Coffee Wave. The glitzed up 2nd Wave shops still exist, while the hard boiled 1st Wave shops have become more of a crotchety relic. It’s important to know what coffee wave the shop you frequent is part of, for a couple of reasons. It will help you figure out what they likely offer, what you should order, and very importantly, how surly you can expect the person behind the counter to be.
The 1st Wave has never been a strictly defined category. These shops deal mostly in the old school, very traditional brew methods. Think primarily of your diners and doughnut shops. Does it look like the coffee pot has been used since the Eisenhower administration? Is there a possibility you could find cigarette ash in your coffee?? Is your server twice your age, and has already had enough of your shit before you even walked in the door??? Yup, you’re at a first wave shop all the way, baby. You can expect to get a cup of coffee for 50 cents. And that’s really where your expectations should end. It will be dark and old, and we wouldn’t blame you for using any and all available cream and sugar at your disposal. Basically, your options here are not plural. Drip coffee that was brewed at 5 a.m. that morning—take it or leave it, fancy pants. But if you’re gonna take it, at least grab a nice glazed doughnut to help you get it down.
Can you buy a Jack Johnson CD at the checkout? Then you’re probably at a Second Wave coffee shop…
Starbucks, perhaps you’ve heard of them, ushered in the Second Wave of coffee. The emphasis here was on sugar and customization, and then some more sugar. The coffee itself is not the focal point, but rather just a vehicle for delivering mocha and whipped cream. We’re not here to bag on the ol’ Starbucks; there are plenty of other 2nd wave shops out there, too. Does the cafe have a bare minimum of 24 different coffee syrups? Does the barista’s coffee knowledge end with house blend? Can you buy a Jack Johnson CD at the checkout? Then you’re probably at a Second Wave coffee shop as well. You can expect to pay up to $6.50 for a 20 oz. drink, and while it may be tasty, it won’t taste like coffee. Which isn’t exactly surprising, given the pumpkin pie they jammed into it. Service is fast, but almost too fast. The person behind the counter may be so peppy that it makes you want to stick your face in one of the 10 blenders that they have behind the counter. Then again, it’s actually kind of nice to have a smiling face serving you. To each their own.
Finally, we find ourselves in the Third Coffee Wave. These shops will be significantly more expensive than the 1st Wave ones. But the real difference here is that there’s a decisive focus on quality—all the way from crop to cup. Does the shop have white subway tile and is about as sterile as an operating room? Are people willingly talking about World Music? Did your barista go as a piece of reclaimed wood for Halloween last year? Then you my friend, are assuredly at a 3rd Wave shop. You can expect to pay about $3.50 for a drink that is probably going to take a good 5 minutes to make. However, if done correctly, the emphasis will be on the coffee, and the coffee alone. It’s the closest the industry has come to approaching coffee in the same manner as we have approached wine for centuries. It took a while to get here, but one sip—and you’ll know if was worth the wait.
Now go forth and enter these shops equipped with the proper information.