Posted by Bethany Warren on 18th Mar 2014

Craftsmanship + The "Third Wave"

This week's CoffeeTalk is a bit of a continuation of our recent discussion of Specialty Coffee- another aspect of it, if you will.

"Third Wave" is a term that gets thrown around in reference to retail coffee shops, and most of us would consider ourselves part of that movement, but can we define it? And if we decide we identify with the movement, how does that change anything?

Again, we're dealing with some pretty nebulous terminology, and you might not like this answer, but here we go.

"Third Wave coffeeshop": you know it when you see and experience it.

staff photo

This is how the retail side of the coffee industry responds to what "Specialty Coffee" started in the growing, trading and roasting links of the chain. Third Wave shops will be very intentional in how they source their beans, how they store, prepare, and probably market them too. The coffee will come from a roaster committed to quality. Below are some other indicators: these aren't all necessary, but if you find a shop with some of these qualities, it's probably waving at you for the third time. 

The shop:

understands its coffee

has a personality (either intrinsically or barista- and customer-driven)

doesn't have to involve hipster baristas, but totally can (skinny jeans and huge-rimmed glasses not required)

pronounces espresso with no "x" (unless ironically)

is community-oriented

brews manual methods (because they want to bring out the best potential of each origin or roast they have, and realize that one method doesn't work for all of them)

does not pre-grind beans

has well-trained in the espresso craft

has menu items that serve to support, not hide the main product (it's coffee)

What are some other things that might get a cafe labelled "Third Wave"? Let me know your ideas in the comments. There are lots more!

third wave sighting: huge-rimmed glasses and manual methods!
third wave sighting: huge-rimmed glasses and manual methods! 
I'll bet he ground that coffee less than 30 seconds before brewing too.

Here's another thought: some would say that some shops in the world have moved beyond the Third Wave and into another classification entirely. I'm not sure they even know what to call themselves, but it's more barista-driven and bean-focused than your typical neighborhood shop. They are the trend-setters, the competition baristas, and the drivers behind the very minute changes of technique and philosophy that sometimes make their way to the community places.

What we strive for in our cafe is a balance between the ever-technique-improving and the community-serving. We'll try new things out and maybe even develop new techniques, but if they don't work in our neighborhood context, or don't really improve anything, it's not a change worth making.

For example: tamping technique. We started one way, but did lots of research, trial and error, and tasting. We settled into a technique that is generally accepted as "it", along with our own variables, that we teach all our baristas and use consistently. As new intricacies come down the industry pipeline or as our own ideas, we'll try them: if they improve our espresso, we'll incorporate the change. If not, at least now we know a little more about how espresso works.

distributing those grounds like a champ
distributing those grounds like a champ

This brings me to one of the most important aspects of any third wave coffee bar: craftsmanship. Your coffee shop cannot fit into the above context without an understanding and appreciation of craftsmanship.

(now it's getting serious!)

There are so many aspects to this conversation: how we as a culture view work, the value we place on different kinds of work (and how we treat people based on the value we assign to their jobs), how we view education as it relates to the person and their actual work, etc. (my husband is a college professor and coffee roaster and I manage our cafe which right now staffs highly educated people- we think about this a LOT). We're not going to get into all of that, as important as it is to our underlying management philosophy. What we will get into is that we can recognize in ourselves and those we see around us that we perform better at work (and want to) when we feel a sense of ownership and pride in the product leaving our care.

There's a lot to know as a barista (this goes for roasters too).

here's me when I was just learning the craft

Besides all the store policies, customer's regular orders, how to work that POS system, where the extra syrup pumps are kept, etc, they need to be a craftsperson. Coffee is a craft- it uses manual processes done with concrete, raw products that result in a beautiful thing that can be greater than the sum of its parts. The only aspect involved in the process that can add more greatness to the already amazing parts: that human barista. The hands, ears, nose and personality that make each drink. Your coffee can't improve after it's picked, a farmer once told me. So it's up to everyone else along the line to preserve the quality the farmer worked so hard to bring out of the ground, and the barista is the last line of defense between the story you want to tell and the story the customer actually hears. Despite all the other things to know and remember as a barista- the drink we hand to the customer, in the end, must be good. And baristas who understand that they are valuable craftspeople are more likely to create good drinks.

This means we as owners and managers need to equip our roasters and baristas and develop them into craftspeople. Respect them as people and their work as valuable (they'll respond in kind). Allow them to develop farther than your training went, young grasshopper (perhaps within a framework you've set).

There are other benefits here besides better quality: like better employee retention, good attitudes, better care of your equipment and space, and less waste. We here at Kiva Han Coffee are further developing the training we offer to you and your baristas- an intensive program that can help start off or develop your baristas in many areas of their work. More on that later, but for now, consider your own shop's story, and how your coffee and baristas work together to tell that story. Need to rethink your beans to start off? Start here

In order to pull off a successful operation, we need vision and direction from the owners. As an owner, I can set the "story". I can give my baristas the tools and training and resources to tell that story. I can set up a place that looks and feels like third wave. But it's up to them, when I'm not around especially, to want to tell the story I told them, and make it their story too. Then it will not only look and feel, but smell and taste third wave and beyond.

my cafe's annual "our story" brainstorming session from a couple years ago. We think about who we are, who we can or should be, and how to get there, as a group of owners and baristas.
my cafe's annual "our story" brainstorming session from a couple years ago. 
We think about who we are, who we can or should be, 
and how to get there, as a group of owners and baristas.

I'll leave you with a quote from a book we recommend to craftspeople, and the people that employ them. 

“The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world. But the tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away. His well-founded pride is far from the gratuitous “self-esteem” that educators would impart to students, as though by magic.”
Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work