If you’re like a lot of coffee drinkers, you know how you like your coffee. Black, maybe. Light and sweet, perhaps. Tall skinny no foam latte with a double shot and a caramel drizzle, extra whipped (your barista likely hates you, by the way). But where the coffee came from? “Feh,” you respond. “Who cares if it’s from a Chock Full O’ Nuts can, a jar of instant, or a glass pot that’s been sitting on a hot plate at the diner so long that you could stand your spoon at a perfect 90-degree angle from the bottom of the cup? Coffee is coffee, right? What’s with all this single-origin fair trade stuff, and what difference does it make?”
Quite a lot, actually. Bear with me a moment while I make the case for third wave coffee roasters and little out-of-the-way coffee houses that just drip with charm. It’s worth it, believe me.
Your average cup of coffee is to coffee what a freshly-baked loaf of bread is to the stuff on your supermarket shelves. Both will do the job, whether the job is being a support system for a significant portion of pastrami, the platform for your kids’ PB&J, or just a little something to butter and enjoy with your soup. If your concerns are utilitarian, a mass-produced loaf of Wonder Bread will do just as well as a lovingly prepared loaf of ciabatta just out of the oven, so hot that it burns your fingers and the butter pools haphazardly instead of spreading evenly. But when it comes to taste, there’s no contest. You may not have the time, money, or inclination to bake a loaf of bread, or pop down to the corner bakery every time you want a sandwich. But when the taste matters to you, you find ways to shoehorn those trips into your routine, even if it’s only an occasional treat.
Coffee is much the same way. There are times when Folger’s, or Starbucks, or a quick cup o’ joe from the grease truck on the corner by your office are all you need or have time for. But let’s extend that bread metaphor for a minute. That loaf of Wonder Bread is mass-produced and cuts a few corners, and for good reason. Lots more people buy mass-produced bread than higher-end artisinal loaves. Some like the taste, while others just need the convenience or the long shelf life. The average coffee producer (and the consumers that keep them in business) has many of the same concerns. It’s all about making enough product for the masses who buy that product in huge quantities (and who like the convenience and the shelf life).
Guess what? It doesn’t have to be that way.
Just the same as some bakers, brewers, butchers and chocolatiers pay painstaking attention to their craft, the last few years have seen a renaissance in coffee that’s elevated the roasting, brewing, and even drinking of coffee to an art form. Like beer brewers, Third Wave roasters have changed the game by careful attention to each step in the process.
And the results speak for themselves. Leave aside the fact that Third Wave coffee is becoming a booming business. The reason for its success comes down to one simple thing: taste. This isn’t just “coffee,” where you judge whether or not you like it based on whether it’s too weak or too strong, or has more or less of that coffee taste. Close your eyes a second (we’ll still be here when you get back), and picture a cup redolent with the flavors of dark chocolate, apricot, hibiscus, hazelnuts, or Merlot. Picture the velvety texture of each sip, and the subtle scents that tease your senses. Those subtle flavors you’re tasting? They’re not from a bottle next to the espresso machine, and they’re not the result of an industrial process. That’s an experienced roaster carefully sourcing the beans and roasting them to perfection, after which a barista grinds the beans fresh, and makes sure that all the variables from the brew process to the weight of the beans and the amount of water are carefully considered, all so you’re getting the best cup of coffee possible out of the best beans available.
I hear the skepticism creeping in. Why is this guy waxing rhapsodic over coffee, of all things?
I get it, believe me. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll reach for the first thing that’s handy, whether it’s an off-the-shelf iced coffee “fresh” out of the can, the big ‘ol container of Folgers, or even Dunkin’ Donuts in a styrofoam cup. My time, like yours, is finite. There’s only so many hours in the day, and much as I’d love to, I can’t spend every last one of them mooning over the perfect pour-over.
But that’s the rub. If your day is that short, your time that limited, then you owe it to yourself to carve out a bit of it for the simple things. If that means taking a few extra minutes for coffee brewed in a Chemex and served in a cheery ceramic coffee cup, then do it. Enough in our lives is already rushed, thoughtless, and mass-produced. When life looks like that, even something as simple as a few extra minutes of mindfulness with a good cup of coffee ends up being a small act of rebellion. And we love our rebels. Especially if they have good coffee.
Don’t just take my word for it. Even if you live a long way from New York, LA or San Francisco (or Minneapolis, Seattle, or Austin), odds are better than even that you’re a stone’s throw from a small cafe that roasts their own beans and honors the art and craft of fine coffee. Still no luck? Head on over to our Shop page and pick up a bag or two of our coffee beans. No grinder? No problem. Get your hands on some of our fresh-ground coffee packs and see what you’ve been missing… the right beans, ground the right way, shipped, brewed and drank fresh. You’ll wonder where this coffee has been all your life.
Postscript: this is a response, of sorts, to Murray Carpenter’s “In Defense of Terrible Coffee.”