From visionary action to reactionary handling / Starbucks forced into its own third-wave

The success of Starbucks, with its founders Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker, prompted Howard Schultz to pay them a visit in 1981. He was curious as to why that company kept ordering an unusually high amount of plastic cone filters from his Swedish employer, Hammarplast. In 1982 he joined Starbucks as director of marketing.

On a buying trip to Italy in 1983, he was impressed by the country’s coffee culture. His wish to popularize the serving of espresso based drinks in centers for social gathering had begun. Schultz approached his employers with the idea of moving Starbucks in that direction. Up to this point, Starbuck was a successful supplier of specialty coffees to a growing number of coffee shops, and their founders showed no interest for Schultz’s idea. As a result, he chose to leave the company to build his own business based on the Italian model. Having found the necessary investors, in 1986 he founded Il Giornale and, before long, its success attracted the Starbucks founders. They sold him the Starbucks retail business in 1988 and acquired Peet’s Coffee and Tea, focusing on selling coffee specialty seeds. The Il Giornale business model was then named Starbucks and the expansion began.

While living in Boston, my interest for coffee was ignited after a couple of visits to a Mexican restaurant in Harvard Square. Although I was new to the taste, I felt the need for places in which to relax and socialize outside of a restaurant setting, but in New York and Boston, with the exception of a couple of book shops with coffee, the only alternative was a number of chains similar to Dunkin’ Donuts and Dinners. Thanks to the Mexican restaurant, I knew coffee could be much better. The emergence of Starbucks was a welcome treat, for they provided a different approach to coffee brewing and their lounge atmosphere provided the social frame I yearned for.

Through the success of the first four Starbucks localities, a nourishing bed for coffee culture had begun and Seattle was becoming a Mecca for specialty coffees and the coffee shops, known in the industry as the “third-wave”. Today, many of the third-wave coffee companies have their roots in Seattle and Portland and are the same companies that have forced Starbucks into what I see as their very own third-wave phase in 2015 – the Starbucks Reserve.

Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

The world of coffee lovers owes Starbucks great gratitude for their revolutionary beginnings dating back to 1971. Like no other they motorized and energized the caffeine industry with specialty coffee and made us aware of the importance and joy in expecting more from a coffee drink than a mere cup of Joe for our morning dose of caffeine. But with their success grew their hunger for power and soon they began exercising their power on their competitors, causing anger and protests in the 90’s. Their love to detail became a love for profit.

Noticing in 2010 that in London their exceptional La Marzocco machines from Italy had been replaced by the Swiss-made Mastrena superautomated coffee machines, gave me sufficient signs as to the direction in which they seemed to be going: namely, away from the production of high-end coffee drinks made by well-trained baristi. They were shifting from their first-wave (making detail-oriented servings) into their second-wave (for the sake of mass and speedy production). With Mastrena machines having being installed in most of their shops since 2008, the barista became irrelevant. Their employee serving coffee does not need to understand a machine, nor the way coffee reacts to pressure, water and temperature. A barista just pressing buttons, stops being a barista. There is no tamping and no porta filter handling.

While globally we have witnessed the third-wave of coffee for the last 20 years, the Starbucks Reserve shows that the original company has just reached their internal third-wave. The brand new shops are being introduced with siphon machinery; small batches are being praised anew; cold-brewing has become the centre of their advertising and the new machines resemble much more the design of more classical espresso machines.

In the western civilization, the coffee culture is generally divided in three waves. The first could be seen as the coffee pots of the mid-twentieth-century found in Dinners, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chuck-full-o-nuts and the like, while the second refers to the changes that Starbucks brought about through specialty coffees in the 70’s, and in the 80’s with their lounge-like coffee shops. Through the work of various individuals that were not satisfied with the Starbucks understanding and vision of coffee, the third wave developed, spreading from Seattle and Portland into Brooklyn and the rest of the country. Simultaneously the third wave manifested itself in cities like London, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Copenhagen and many others, as well as in Australia and New Zealand (just to name a few). Around the world baristi (known as baristas in English) began working religiously to develop drinks, machines, brewing methods, coffee blends and also ideologies about the politics of and around coffee.

Just a few months ago I began seeing several signs pasted on Starbucks shops throughout New York, announcing “small batches”, “cold-brewing” and “single varietals”. Now I understand why. They have decided to catch up with the international third-wave movement and have seen that those companies respecting coffee are making money as well. At the New York Coffee Festival, last month, they presented a stand with siphons and small Vietnamese, Hawaiian and Ethiopian batches.

Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

At Starbucks – second-wavers and best known coffee servers of the globe, at Dunkin’ Donuts – well-known US-American chains, and at Stumptown, Blue Bottle, La Colombe and hundreds more that form the third-wave: everywhere you will find thousands lining up for a cup of coffee every single day. It shows that our palate choice is truly a matter of taste. However, being more demanding on an individual level will very likely show us that we might have been naming our taste prematurely. Quality is not truly a matter of taste.

A Siphon station at the Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
A Siphon station at the Starbucks Reserve stand / New York Coffee Festival, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4

Coffeehouses ban smoking / Coffeehouses ban the house

The London Coffee House - grounded in 1754 / Philadelphia, PA / Foto: public domain
The London Coffee House – grounded in 1754 / Philadelphia, PA / Foto: public domain

On an intercontinental level, for the past five-hundred years, the cultural centre of humankind has been the coffeehouse.

16th Century – The first coffeehouses began operation in Mecca and Constantinople.

17th Century – This new social model built on popularity in cities like Venice, London, Amsterdam, Boston, Paris, New York, Hamburg and Vienna.

18th Century – Reaffirming their importance in several cities and spreading to new ones, Philadelphia, Prague and Berlin got their own.

19th Century – It became self-evident that this was the best social frame for the world to gather, as even more spread further into all continents.

20th Century – During the first decades one of the most important coffeehouse cultures of the world was flourishing in Vienna and its vicinity. However, towards the middle of the century, the dynamic had subsided. I am not aware of any coffeehouses that opened after the Second World War. This is the time where coffee became the motor for a much faster and disconnected society than for those where the coffeehouse had served as a homogeneous, multi-cultural and multi-class nucleus. At this point the coffee shop model became commercialized and spread rapidly throughout the world.

As we evolve in various areas of our society, the functionality of the coffeehouse has kept its main attraction – Coffee. One needs not wonder. But, while our understanding and appreciation for coffee has increased immensely in the past thirty years, our understanding and attention for our social and intellectual needs have diminished. Today the coffeehouse is not so much competing with other coffee spots, but with the changes in our society and their difficulties finding a model Continue reading “Coffeehouses ban smoking / Coffeehouses ban the house”

Letting Coffee Smoke since 1948

Ichiro Sekiguchi started his Kissaten (coffeehouse) in 1948. Ever since he has been roasting everyday – except Sundays. In May of 2014 he turned one-hundred years of age.

This is dedication. This is experience. Determination. Clarity. Longevity. True sharing.

Café de L'Ambre, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan / Leica D-Lux 4
Café de L’Ambre, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan / Leica D-Lux 4
Café de L'Ambre, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan / Leica D-Lux 4
Café de L’Ambre, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan / Leica D-Lux 4


Details of an old Elektra for true Espresso

Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4
Elektra Espresso Machine / Shangri-La, Toronto, Canada / Leica D-Lux 4

Cáscara – The Drink you know, but do not know

We seem to find new and newer ways to enjoy coffee. We humans are diligently looking to invent or produce new things again and again. But, although going from espresso brews to hand dripped to siphon might be a pleasing growth in our array of possibilities in the coffee world, coffee has even more to offer than the modern industry is selling. There has been coffee wine and there (still) is the brewing of the coffee berry, not the toasting of the seed. In South America it is known as ‘Cáscara’, the Spanish word for peel. In Yemen, where it is an old tradition, it is known as Quishr, or Kishr. The fruit is dried without the seed and gets hot water poured over, like tea. This form of preparation and the light color seems to be the reason some like to call it tea.

Whenever I visit Blue Bottle Coffee in Chelsea, I look forward to a little glass of the brew of the coffee fruit.

Quishr or Cascara, served at the Siphon Bar from Blue Bottle Coffee, Chelsea, New York, NY / iPhone 4
Quishr or Cascara, served at the Siphon Bar from Blue Bottle Coffee, Chelsea, New York, NY / iPhone 4

About the Evolution of our taste of Coffee

It is certainly not that coffee has changed in the last 500 years. It is not that coffee should be thankful that we have been mixing it the last two decades with sugar, salt, spices or even sirups, so it becomes a better and diverse taste.

No, coffee – as the seed it is – has not really changed at all. It continues to give back what the earth and environment where it grows, give to it. It has always been that way.

The evolution has happened in us. We have somehow managed to pay much more attention to the qualities within a seed of coffee, to the importance of how much sun and how much shade it grows under. And we have been paying more attention to our palate.

We are paying more attention to what has always been there – the complexities in nature. This is how a list has been put together under a coffee that make many people think, this is a cocktail that includes coffee.

As just a random example, this Aragón Coffee from Guatemala has within itself an array of taste notes that read like an exotic garden.

It is – however – just coffee.

Drunk at the Cafe Grumpy, W 39th Street, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4
Drunk at the Cafe Grumpy, W 39th Street, New York, NY / Leica D-Lux 4



From Melitta Benz to Carol Ann Rice Rafferty / The Need for Paper Coffee Filters.


With great joy I herewith – once more – make my readers and the coffee world aware of a unique way to handle coffee – physically, as well as based on intention.

We could thank a Lady who several decades ago in the beautiful East German city of Dresden, was looking for ways to get rid of the unpleasant feel of coffee grounds in the mouth. The best thing she could find to solve her problem was the paper her son used in school. This gave birth to what we know today as paper coffee filters and inducted Melitta Benz into the Coffee Hall of Fame.

One hundred years later, another Lady has very different reasons to use Paper Coffee Filters. Carol Ann Rice Rafferty intends to achieve mental and physical health through the design and use of dresses made out of paper coffee filters. The importance of her work is now being honored through the inclusion in a new book by Gene McHugh. In “500 Paper Objects: New Directions in Paper Art“, McHugh has included Carol Ann’s “Dressing Gown for Feminine Warrior #2“.

“Dressing Gown for Feminine Warrior #2” by Carol Ann Rice Rafferty

“My wearable art garment showcases the juxtaposing of tension between weighty subject matter verses feather light materials. It’s made as “Body Armor”. I created the fabric from used coffee filters silk screened with images of aggressive cancer cells.  The filters are sewn together then constructed into a wearable garment complete with a zipper.”

“After I was diagnosed with breast cancer I began researching art pertaining to breast cancer as subject.  To my dismay I could not locate art created by the artist herself.  The art I could locate was always an outsiders response a friend or a loved one who suffered or died from breast cancer.”

“It is important to me to create art as a personal response to my experience with breast cancer.”

Carol Ann Rice Rafferty


A Coffee Sunday / Blue Bottle Coffee, Chelsea, New York / July 21st2012

Today will be a Coffee Sunday.
I am on my way to the Siphon Coffee Bar in the Chelsea branch of the Blue Bottle Coffee Company.

The following awaits me:

Chelsea Menu
Siphon Bar, July 2012

Abakundakawa C.O.E. (Rwanda) 7.75
hibiscus, honeydew melon

Fazenda Santa Inez (Brazil) 7.75
hazelnuts, dried figs, tangerine

Amaro Gayo Washed (Ethiopia) 7.50
Blackberry, nutmeg, dark chocolate

Amaro Gayo Washed (Ethiopia) 6.75

Brioche Toast
Served with American Spoon Black Raspberry Jam and Vermont Creamery Butter 6

Mini-cookie sampler 3.5

A full selection of pastries from our espresso bar is available, including cookies, parfait, and granola.

Yunnan Gold (Dian Jin) 4.5
Jade Oolong 4.5
White Silver Needles 5


Flesh Koffee (Cáscara, Quishr)

The evolution of coffee has witnessed many stages, some of which we do not even know today, but from writings. One has luckily continued to be used throughout the centuries and is becoming increasingly popular in the western world of coffee. In South America it is known as cáscara (peel), while in Yemen it is mixed with spices and called Quishr or Kishr. The fruit flesh (pulp) is dried out and later infused in water, just like tea leaves. Yesterday I FINALLY was able to experience this coffee and its taste at the Blue Bottle Coffee in Chelsea, New York.

Several times I read about this coffee having the taste of prune juice, but it apparently depends heavily on the type of coffee used and also on its preparation. My cáscara was very much like a well rounded fruit tee. Clearly fruity, not at all sweet, although the coffee flesh is dried in its very ripe state.


Cáscara (South America) or Quishr (Jemen) are the dried out pulp of the coffee fruit that are infused in water to obtain a very different coffee.
The different coffee, the infusion with the pulp of the coffee fruit

India Coffee House / An Article by Isabel Putinja

After having obtained joy from this find, I wish to share it with the Coffee Dramatist readers and with that, most surely multiply my joy.

Isabel Putinja spends much of her time writing about her culture and her surroundings. A couple of her articles address a special Coffeehouse concept found in India. These Coffeehouses serve not only a coffee with a demanding approach based on tradition, but they are owned and operated by coffee worker co-operatives. Even for many of us, who perhaps will never visit these parts of the world, it is inspiring to see how throughout the planet the coffee industry is not only contributing to the economy, but also to the culture behind and around it. Most of all it is satisfying that also on the political level much progress is being achieved.


Coffee House Waiter/Server

Like the Calcutta Coffee House, Bangalore’s own India Coffee House on MG Road is one of the city’s historical landmarks. It’s part of a nation-wide chain of coffee houses run by the Indian Coffee Workers Co-Operative Society of which the Bangalore chapter was established in 1957.

The India Coffee House, ran by a Coffee Workers Co-operative Society (Street View)

As part of my personal protest against coffee chains like Café Coffee Day and Barista, which remind me too much of very similar chains in other parts of the world, I try to frequent independent cafés which usually also happen to have more character and ambiance. The India Coffee House definitely has lots of both and stepping through its door is like stepping into the Bangalore everyone reminisces about. Though I have visited it several times since I’ve been here, I haven’t gone as often as I would have liked to. If I had known that it wasn’t going to be around forever, I definitely would have visited much more often. Now that there’s news of its imminent closure, I’m truly sad that this Bangalore landmark will soon disappear into dust and probably make way for one of those horrible glass structures which are slowly taking over the city’s landscape. The face of MG Road is also changing at a fast pace… in the past few months many old buildings have been torn down and trees have been chopped down to make way for the metro which will permanently scar this major artery.

I was at the India Coffee House not too long ago… on a Sunday morning in December. The downstairs section was full as it often is, so we headed upstairs via the narrow outdoor passage and stone staircase. From the front window I had a good view of MG Road which is almost treeless now. There was only the trunk remaining of one of the huge trees and a worker was busy sawing its last remaining branch… A sad sight.

Inside the café, patrons were busy having breakfasts of omelettes and dosas. The waiters serving them were dressed in their trademark India Coffee House turbans and uniforms, elegant but completely filthy. I sipped at my coffee and nibbled at my dosa and remembered that I don’t like their coffee or their dosas – you can get better South Indian filter coffee and crispier dosas at any of the city’s many sagars and darshinis! OK, so the coffee actually isn’t great, the café is more than a bit shabby and the toilets are definitely a no-go area, but all these things do not matter. These are just minor minus-points which I’m willing to easily overlook because I don’t go to the India Coffee House for the coffee. I go for that old-world ambiance and to get a feeling of how Bangalore once was, in a place that probably hasn’t changed for the past 50 years.

The Coffeehouse Guests

There are reports that the lease has now expired and the café will be either renovated or demolished by the owner of the property. It may move to another location if a suitable one is found, but of course the original atmosphere and setting will be difficult to recreate. The India Coffee House will close its doors at the end of the month. I think many of Bangalore’s inhabitants and visitors will mourn the loss of this favourite haunt.

Also in India a Mirror is welcomed in a Coffeehouse for some extra elegance

Photos: India Coffee House.

* Reblogged with kind permission of Isabel Putinja and originally published in her blog India Outside My Window *