- By Jill Yanish
Move aside, craft beer. There’s another artisanal brew in town, and it’s revitalizing an age-old beverage.
“Craft coffee,” a rather new term in the industry, refers to the pursuit of making a cup of high-quality coffee, while also engaging consumers in the story of the coffee — from the origin of the beans to how it’s brewed in your local coffee shop.
Like the rise of microbreweries, craft coffee shops are springing up throughout the U.S. These shops roast coffee beans onsite, experimenting with bringing out different flavor nodes to make a cup of black coffee taste more nuanced.
One such shop is Peace Coffee, in Minneapolis, Minn., which distributes its coffee primarily throughout the Midwest. CEO Lee Wallace says the growing trend means customers are paying more attention to what’s in their cup. “People are less just thinking of coffee as a bolt of energy,” she says. “People are more intentional about their coffee, rather than drinking just what comes out of the gas station pot.”
Boomers Pioneering the Way
It’s no surprise that boomers (and Gen X’ers) are the largest coffee consumers — 69 percent of 40- to 59-year-olds drink coffee daily, as do 76 percent of those 60 years and older, according to a survey by the National Coffee Association. Just 41 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds have coffee every day.
It should also come as no surprise that boomers are on the forefront of craft coffee. “We’ve been doing this since the ‘90s,” says Wallace. “We have a really solid base of people who have been interested in the things we’re doing and were founding supporters, and those are people in that [boomer] age demographic. They helped us get off the ground.”
If you haven’t jumped onboard the craft coffee craze, here are four things you need to know:
1. Approach it as a culinary experience. Did you ever think of black coffee as tasting boring? Think again. New York’s Counter Culture Coffee’s expert Erin McCarthy, the 2013 U.S. Brewers Cup champion, says that coffee, if done right, can taste like many different things. “I did a coffee tasting where we tasted plums, chocolate, pineapple, lemongrass and caramel,” he says.
This revolution of crafting the perfect cup of coffee has been dubbed the “third wave” of coffee. McCarthy describes the first wave as coffee’s proliferation in the U.S. and the second as the introduction of specialty drinks from chains like Starbucks and Caribou.
The third wave, Wallace says, is about finding that “sweet spot” when roasting, which takes precision to fully develop the sweetness of the coffee without burning the natural sugars in the beans, making it a true culinary art.
2. Learn the story. Gone are the days of coffee solely used as a jolt of energy. It’s now commonly being viewed as an experience, where people are learning about what’s in their cup.
Craft coffee is about relationships, Wallace says, with coffee farmers, importers, roasters, baristas, co-ops and consumers. The third wave of coffee makes transparent these relationships, as well as the roasting and brewing philosophy behind every batch.
Craft coffee shops, like Stumptown Coffee Roasters based in Portland, Ore., are making it easy for consumers to understand their coffee. Each coffee they roast comes with a story — where it comes from, the relationship between Stumptown and the coffee farm, etc. It even includes pictures of the production process.
3. Use the barista as a tour guide. While the coffee names can be unfamiliar and even exotic, such as Finca El Puente and Idido, don’t be afraid to be adventurous and try something new. Rely on the barista to help you pick the right cup for you.
“I think the best thing a coffee consumer can do is to think about what kinds of flavors they are into, instead of asking their barista, ‘What’s good?’ [You] could say, ‘I tend to like coffees that taste like chocolate and nuts. Do you have anything like that?’” McCarthy suggests.
4. Coffee is good for you, so drink up. Recent studies conclude that your daily cup of java does more than perk you up in the morning.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently found that coffee, which is the top source of antioxidant polyphenols for Americans, is tied to overall longevity. Contrary to previous findings, the NIH concluded that coffee is associated with neutral to reduced risk for cardiovascular problems, like atrial and ventricular arrhythmias.