I just paid $5 for a cup of coffee without anything else added to it, but i’m not angry about it. In fact, I walked 10 minutes out of my way to get here and i’m excited to try it. No milk, no chocolate, no syrup, just water over ground beans through a Chemex filter.
I’ve been a food and restaurant fanatic (you could call me a “foodie”, but I would not like it) for a long time. Last month when prepping for a trip to Portland, for the first time ever my “food” scouting focused more on coffee shops than on restaurants.
I followed this Eater list like it was a treasure map and gleefully trekked 5, 10, 15 minutes out of the way to find brown treasure brewed by Portland’s oft-bearded baristas.
When I got back to New York after the trip, I to deal with the tough realization that I had become much maligned too-good-for-Starbucks guy. Sure, in a pinch I could still survive a cup of the world’s most annoyingly prevalent joe, maybe even slightly enjoy it if it was a Clover brewed Guatemalan, but I was more likely to trek 5 minutes on a 95 degree day to find the Blue Bottle in the basement of Rockefeller center. I embraced my newfound madness and ordered a Chemex pot and filters for home use. As I gleefully paid $5 for a cup at Saint Frank Coffee a week or so later I couldn’t help but wonder, what is the end game here? How far can we push this coffee as an artisanal good obsession.
After doing some web research I found that the new brand of $5/cup bean junkies we referred to as coffee’s “Third Wave”.
The first wave was the mass proliferation of coffee as caffeine delivery brought on in the 19th century by Folgers and maintained by diners throughout the US.
The second wave was the acceptance of the fact that you could charge $1 more if your coffee didn’t taste like complete crap and $2 more if you add a shot of something and add “-ino”. Second wave was primarily ushered in by Starbucks and Peet’s.
The third wave embraced coffee as an artisinal good. It sources from individual farms and not countries, embraces both the roasting method and brewing methods as important process to deliver a perfect cup of coffee.
In the third wave shops your barista can tell you about your cups floral or citrus notes as the pour water over your beans from their Hario V60 Bu0no.
There have been rumors of a fourth wave. A couple offshoot groups have claimed to offer fourth wave coffee with coffee as a tasting room, or extreme precision brewing services. While the parameters haven’t been tightly defined, and may never be (what’s the difference between $100 wine and $10,000 wine?) it’s likely that a fourth wave of $10-$20 a cup coffee will eventually emerge.
When will this evolution stop? I’d like to propose we skip to the end game, fifth wave coffee. Fifth wave coffee accepts that coffee is in fact the devine being and embraces that fact. Fifth wave coffee doesn’t come with a price, we happily donate a percentage of our wealth for all the gifts we reap from coffee. Fifth wave coffee takes us to a new spiritual level and brings us together as a community before work each day. The fifth wave barista not only teaches us of the flavors of coffee but also of the role of coffee in our lives. The fifth wave barista was there when the beans were baptized but is willing to sacrifice some beans knowing they will move on to a better place.
The teachings of fifth wave coffee help us understand the role that coffee has played in our lives. Ask yourself, of you greatest professional achievements, how many occurred before you had coffee and how many after you’ve had coffee? When you were all alone studying through late nights in college, coffee was the only one there to pull you through (once you gave up adderall). All the important dinners in your life with family and friends end with coffee.
When we lose sight of our devotion to coffee we are punished with anger and headaches. Fifth wave coffee teaches us that coffee will forgive us by fixing those negative reactions with a single cup. Fifth wave coffee demands that coffee be written as Coffee.
As more and more people adopt and embrace their local third wave coffee shops, I invite you to look further to the end game and think about becoming a fifth wave devotee. Now that my eyes have been opened I can fully embrace the future and hope to someday be cremated and placed in a Chemex on the mantle as I move on to a better place (likely Guatemala).