December 28, 2015

Blending Third Wave Coffee with Second Wave Expectations


“Can’t you see I’m in a rush?” The customer snarls at me.

My smile dissolves; my fingers come to a halt over my Acaia scales.

Then the insults get personal: “I mean, what sort of computer is that anyway?”

Deep breath. Count to three. Should I rush their coffee?

No. Don’t think like that. I’m sure they’re just caffeine deprived; they don’t mean what they’re saying.

My fingers press the power button on the scales; ACAIA glides across the screen. The extraction will be weighed; they can wait an extra 30 seconds to receive the coffee in its highest form. This is Third Wave coffee.

This is Third Wave coffee in a small, rural town.

Lee este artículo en español Combinando Café De Tercera Ola Con Expectativas De Segunda Ola

Acaia scale

Acaia scales make brewing a joy. Credit: @coffeealchymists

Third Wave Coffee, Second Wave Expectations

By and large, consumers these days are more knowledgeable and more interested in the story behind the cup. Thus the injection of the Third Wave movement into our coffee culture; it’s the transition from consumption to an increasing appreciation for the origin of the coffee.

The depth and rapid growth of this movement is exciting – yet it hasn’t reached everyone. Particularly if you live and work in a small, rural area (like us at Coffee Alchymists ), you’re going to have to blend your Third Wave passion with serving customers who haven’t quite caught up with the influx of science or just genuinely don’t share the same passion for the beautiful brew.

SEE ALSO: What Should You Do if a Customer Wants Bad Coffee?

Being a coffee snob isn’t an option. If our customers aren’t happy, then we aren’t doing our job properly. Every day we ask for feedback from our customers. We bounce our ideas back and forth with them; in fact, a lot of our ideas even come from them. This concept is the core of our business.

Slayer espresso machine

Our Slayer machine: a message of Third Wave inspiration. Credit: @coffeealchymists

The Education Challenge

You see, our passion is Third Wave coffee – and our mission is to spread it. Like most coffee roasters, we want to help people to appreciate the inherent qualities within different coffees that farms and roasters slave over to bring through the cup. That means we have to reach out to those people who aren’t in the Third Wave. Who may not have ever experienced it. Or even heard of it. (And in our town, that’s a lot of people.)

open portafilter espresso shot

The beautiful Third Wave espresso. Credit: flickr, Scot Schiller, @schill

I remember one day when a lady came in, eyes lit up, pointing enthusiastically at our Chemex glass. “That’s a really nice vase you’ve got there,” she told me. “Where’d you get that?”

She didn’t actively dislike Third Wave coffee; she just had no idea about it. This is the moment when I realised the key was education – not active dislike of Third Wave coffee; just a lack of knowledge. And so education has been a keystone of our espresso bar: it is the guiding principle to how we do things and how we excite our customers.

And it works – slowly. People are beginning to learn about us and what Third Wave means.

“That’s the specialty coffee roasters over there.”
                                 “Don’t look them in the eye – they can tell we’ve been drinking decaf.”

photographing coffee

We love when our customers get excited by their coffee experience. Credit: @coffeealchymists

Doing that means balancing our wants as finicky ‘scientists’ with the wants of the customer. Only in this way can we ensure both that they’ll try our coffee and that their experience of our coffee will rise beyond what they’ve tried before. For the ones that are willing, we like to challenge them to expand their coffee experience.

Coffee beans and coffee cherries

From coffee cherries to roasted beans is only half the journey. Credit: @coffeealchymists

The Struggles – And the Successes

Despite our gradual success, there are certain areas we struggle with more than others.

Getting people to understand that coffee “isn’t just coffee” – that you are drinking a complex beverage that has undergone an extensive process affected by so many factors – can sometimes seem impossible.

Acaia scale and chemex

Offering single origins and different brewing options accentuates the inherent characteristics of the bean. Cedit: @coffeealchymists

And sometimes, it can really get you down. Especially when it comes to sugar. Yes, sugar: that dreaded enemy of specialty coffee. To have a Geisha coffee threatened with it is… stressful, to say the least.

I mean, imagine Michelangelo unveiling his masterpiece for the first time to get a response like: “We love what you’ve done here with the chapel ceiling; all the angels and the touching fingers look really cool, buuut… there’s a lot going on… I mean, to be honest, it’s looking a little serious up there.”

That’s what people asking for sugar in their expertly brewed Geisha feels like.

refractometer and cupping
Coffee is a science. There’s a reason behind every minute detail of the production and brewing. Credit: @coffeealchymists

We pleaded with people stood next to our one sugar bowl, “Please, just try it first; if you can’t drink it without sugar, that’s fine, but pleease just try it before you put it in.”

In fact, we’ve even been tempted to put a label, “Bowl of Shame”, on that sugar bowl. Would the negative effect of shaming them be worth the positive effect of less ruined coffee?

latte art cappucino

A beautiful cup should never be threatened with sugar. Credit: @coffeealchymists

Yet we know it’s all a matter of education. If we keep persisting – slowly, kindly – then people will learn.

And it’s true; it has happened. Seeing people go from three sugars to none, albeit gradually, has been a victory for us.

It’s a sign that it’s working. We are accomplishing our mission of bringing our passion to others – even in a small, rural town.

Feature Photo Credit: @coffeealchymists

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