Sunday, February 25, 2007

Progressing The Third Wave... ?

I'm sure there will be people who will read this and think, "Oh God, this has been beaten to death... give it a rest!".

In this case, it's about the title description of this particular blog, and my own questioning of whether it's appropriate.

Let's recap.

1st wave: People are drinking coffee. It's the norm, and life in these United States has never been the same since.

2nd wave: People are introduced to the phenomenon known as "Specialty Coffee". Essentially, the notion that coffee has a gourmet side. Starbucks flourishes, and the Italian word for milk becomes common terminology in regards to coffee in the average household.

3rd wave: Quality is king. People are taking this "gourmet coffee" thing seriously. Microlot artisan roasters begin popping up, the SCAA, the BGA, the Roasters Guild and everyone involved become key figures for the "new" niche industry in which the art and science of quality coffee begins. Among these trends is the triple basket, the naked portafilter, microfoam, latte art, and the infamous ristretto.

Here's the dilemma. The 3rd wave was described by the industry as the time in which we "let the coffee speak for itself.". What I see is something else. I see taking a coffee, and forming it to fit the concept of what quality coffee, at the time, is accepted to be.

I notice a new wave of progress within this "3rd wave" niche community. Updosing is the new old-school. Light roasting is making its way back to just in front of the curve. Last but not least, the growers are in the game, playing ball with the rest of us. Many would argue that this is all part of the 3rd wave.. sure. For a few, but it wasn't in the volume or growth of what I would personally call a "wave".

Tiny farms are being rewarded for their hard work through the efforts of coffee auctions such as the Cup of Excellence, and others are taking notice. The concept of "Quality as the primary means of success" has trickled down to the earliest stages of the chain.

And beyond that, single origin espresso is no longer exotic. It's almost the norm for great baristas everywhere. Light roasts enhance the work of the grower, and allow the coffee to really showcase what it is, before the flavors of the flame over-ride the dizzying array of non-coffee flavors present in the green. Green coffee flaws, while still present, are MUCH easier to avoid for people like me. You just have to know where to look, and there is an increasing number of options popping up.

There is the formation of a group within this niche of people advocating quality, and more importantly, absolute honesty in the cup. While those really pushing this practice forward have been called "young guns", its practice is most accurately defined by one of the oldest guns in the North American Specialty Coffee Industry.

There is also the formation of a group of home espresso enthusiasts with a strong tendency to make everything technical and scientifically complex, to the point of, in my opinion, diluting the artistry and basic skill involved and associated with the craft.

The only problem I see, is that the 3rd wave has not finished its initial progression, and yet, here is a 4th wave forming in its crest.

Here in Lubbock-land, the 3rd wave is almost non-present.. and you can just forget about the idea of a 4th wave.

While I think that my part of the country could use a healthy helping of 3rd wave mentality, I'm not sure I should imply that I am helping to progress the third wave, especially since I have a tendency to side with the "young guns" in the search for green quality and absolute honesty in the cup, and constantly progressing towards what appears to be a wine-model approach to coffee in the green state... even the notion of "vintage" coffees.. the same idea, but far from the same practice.

There has not been a stopping of motion between the 2nd and 3rd waves. It seems to me that it was one big motion, just a change of direction, or a vector shift.

At what point does the 3rd wave end, and the 4th wave "begin"? Here's a thought.. when did the second wave end... Now, when did the 3rd wave begin?

It's just not that simple.

Case in point, is it time for a change of the title description? According to a "State of the Industry" report (thanks to Henry Patterson for sending me the link) , we(you know.. the "young guns") are a pretty good ways in front of the curve.

Not that the report is indicative of where the quality niche actually lies, but it's a reference to where the nation as a whole places itself at this moment in time. Apparently, Lubbock is a good 10+years behind.


Jaime van Schyndel said...

That's some serious soul searching Jason.

email me what's up.

Michael Trevino said...

I can see your point Jason. I may not be in Lubbock (which I've started becoming very fond of lately, as you know! [/sarcasm]), but I am in an area that is a few years behind the power curve on many things.

I Nick wanted to inspire change by using the term "Wave". I think it was supposed to be as if a great surge of change was comming. When in reality it's really just ripples from big splashes that are this "Wave." The big splashes being the Vivaces, Stumptowns and Intelligencias of the world.
These big splashes cause great change around them that seemed wave like, when these waves finally get to us in BFE they lose steam and seem more like ripples and have no power. So many places are still just starting the second wave while the leaders are now pushing the third wave to it's limit.
I hope we caused a decent sized splash in our area, you may be on the cusp of doing the same in yours Jason.