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Who's on First & the Evolution of Coffee
In one of the most recognized comedic skits of the 1900’s, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello have a hilarious exchange as Abbott explains to Costello that the men who play for his baseball team are named Who, What, and I Don’t Know, thoroughly confusing him in the process. Great skit! Yet, what does this have to do with Coffee?
In many ways coffee can be just as confusing. There are many different styles and eras of coffee. In her circa-2003 industry-defining article, Trish Rothgeb explains the first three waves of coffee. The first wave is known for its canned, pre-ground, mass-produced coffee, as many of us drank growing up. When envisioning the first wave, think “The best part of waking up is folgers in your cup,” and picture your granny’s percolator on the back of the stove.
Who’s on first? Folgers and Maxwell House.
The second wave of coffee is seen as a reaction to the first and began in the late 1960s. It is in the second wave that artisan-style coffee began to come to fruition–think sourcing great coffee and then roasting it to a French Roast. The second wave brought specialty coffee mainstream and introduced words like “latte” and “barista” to our vocabulary. It was really the second wave that made what we do now in coffee possible by building a culture around coffee.
What’s on second? Peet’s and Starbucks.
Yet, there were some who did not like 20-oz. cappuccinos and caramel macchiatos. Their aim was to do everything the artisanal way and move to a lighter roasted style of coffee that allowed the unique character of each coffee to shine through in the cup. This third wave is characterized by direct sourcing and a focus on sustainability as well as a simple approach to drinks–menus often don’t offer syrups, and cup sizes may end at 12 oz.
I Don’t Know? Stumptown and Intelligentsia.
Some say there is another coffee wave emerging. This wave will be different from all of the rest and has not yet been entirely defined. The common theme is, “you’ll know it when you see and taste it.” So why do these waves matter?
In the last part of the skit, Abbott tells Costello that I Don’t Give a Darn is playing shortstop. When thinking about these terms it is easy to say, “I Don’t Give a Darn, just sell me great coffee.” Yet, built in that statement is the desire for great coffee. Excellent coffee, like everything well-done, takes practice and constantly evolves.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter Who’s on first, What’s on second, and I Don’t Know is on third. What matters is our aim and vision for coffee. What will leave a lasting impact is our goal for excellent coffee, responsible sourcing, and environmental and economic sustainability. Even if we do not care about the definition, coffee lovers will fuel a fourth wave, a fifth wave, a sixth wave, etc. These waves mean that we are constantly improving in every facet of coffee. If we are to get there, we must continually evolve how we source coffee, how we roast and prepare it, and our environmental and economic impact. Whether you’re drinking first, second, third, or are way out in left field: I think we can all agree to that!
“Who’s On First” available at: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor4.shtml
Ms. Rothgeb’s articles is available at: https://timwendelboe.no/uploads/the-flamekeeper-2003.pdf