Culture Watch: Third Wave or Blurred Wave?
It starts with a glimpse into coffee’s live and wild Twittersphere…
Kevin Roden is a distinguished councilman in the Texas city of Denton, home to the University of North Texas. Mr Roden (@kevinroden), an erstwhile foodie and founder of ThinkDenton.com, posed a question via Twitter to Ritual Coffee Roaster’s competition barista (and noted good-guy) Kevin “Tex” Bohlin. Mr. Roden asked, “Is there much of a line between the skills of a barista and those of a bartender? I like when the two merge.”
The question was a reply an earlier Tweet from Mr. Bohlin about his guest shift at the San Francisco Mission District bar Thieves, where Tex sold “adult” versions of his SWRBC signature beverage to help fund travel to this month’s USBC. That question began an interesting Twitter conversation, drawing in current Southwest Regional Champ Jared Truby, of Verve Coffee Roasters. Since Twitter can be super hard to follow, we’ve manufactured a transcript:
Kevin Bohlin: Mixology is pretty fascinating and there is definitely the same element of being a bar man, but I can say that a line is much easier.
Jared Truby: Will the barista ever be recognized as having a superior skill set to a bartender? Cause I believe we work a lot harder for less money.
Kevin Bohlin: The context makes a difference, in dive bars they make two-three times the tips of the best baristas just pouring shots and beers.
Jared Truby: Exactly, and in busy upscale bars even more. Their hours suck more than ours but the money can be a living. Who gets them going? Us.
Kevin Bohlin: Some upscale bars here in SF have a comparable knowledge, skill, and craft but baristas have more variables to master. Of course they are paid even more. . . this still has a lot to do with consumers assumptions, values, and expectations.
Jared Truby: I just think baristas have a lot more to do in their craft. Bartenders have more to memorize.
Kevin Bohlin: Good point, good baristas are knowledgeable, skilled, adaptive, taking/informing orders as well as crafting the drink and good service.
Napolean (SF-area barista, or perhaps a historical dictator tweeting from the grave): On top of those variables we are repeatedly criticized for our customer service and bartenders seem to get a free pass.
Jared Truby: Service is what we are about though. Service is synonymous with coffee. If we are criticized we we probably aren’t good. I find it weird that service is a problem in our industry at all. And a little sad that it’s even a topic. Give good service. Be nice people.
At this point, the conversation gets a little less transcript-worthy and a little more Twitter-wonky, but valid points were made, and it’s a conversation worth exploring further. So if you’ll allow us some editorializing…
The extra-specialty coffee movement feels like it’s stuck in an awkward phase. The public treats the craft bartender with more respect than they do the craft barista. It’s easier for a dive bar to get a new bar manager, develop a new bar menu, and build an entirely new base of clientele. People seem to “get” that. But for a coffee bar to make the switch from poor quality coffee and sugar smoothies to a progressive roaster, brew bar program, a well-maintained espresso machine, it’s still harder to communicate this new dedication to quality. It’s a struggle to reach the consumer…
Tex and Truby have touched on something we’ve been thinking about for a while. We don’t think we’ve ever truly been in the “third wave” of coffee. We’ve really been in kind of a “blurred wave”, a coffee culture identity crisis. We’ve spent the last decade groping for meaning, while tremendously improving quality. Until we as an industry identify ourselves in a way that is embraced and adopted by the consumer, the same way that craft cocktails and name-brand bartenders have, we can never achieve that true “third wave” status.
Your hard work and dedication is key; this is a good fight, with both local and global ramifications. Conversations like this one we found on Twitter are important. Figuring out a way to communicate this culture on the Today Show, and to folks like Kathy Lee Gifford, Anthony Bourdain, and Conan O’Brien, and Councilman Kevin Roden…that’s the next step.
Comments are open below.