The parody of the “third-wave” coffeehouse experience goes something like this: You step to the counter while some know-it-all hipster who can’t wait to get off work for band practice takes your order. Ask for a drink like some Starbucks simpleton and expect plenty of eye rolls.
The third-wave set tends to treat a quality cup of joe like a rarefied glass of Dalla Valle cabernet sauvignon. Most acolytes of this artisanal coffee movement say the optimum water temperature for brewing is between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Dark roasted beans are generally frowned upon by these single-origin enthusiasts, who bemoan any attempt at stripping coffees of their nuanced flavor profiles. A little room for half-and-half or sweeteners? Sacrilege. Whipped cream? Outright heresy.
But are the third-wave coffeehouses in Sacramento havens of elitism? Or can uncompromising enthusiasm take on a more magnanimous form, as it has with our area’s craft brewers? To find out, The Nosh Pit conducted a little experiment with three third-wave coffeehouses by placing Starbucks-like orders. Here’s what happened:
This cafe helped kick off the third-wave coffee trend in Sacramento, and seemed like a probable place to get sent packing to Starbucks with this high-maintenance order.
The cashier sported a trucker hat tilted oh-so-slightly to the side and a nose ring. A picture of Norm Lopez, the chunky midtown cat who has emerged as a local hipster celebrity, was posted behind the counter.
I asked the cashier if she could make this tongue twister of an order. She replied with a quick and easy “Yeah.”
The barista was meanwhile busy filling other drink orders. When it came to mine, he clarified with another staffer that this drink should have light foam. He then assembled my drink with more deliberation than I expected.
The final result was a tasty and warm – definitely not hot – soy vanilla latte. The barista even drew a leaf into the small amount of foam. Success!
Chocolate Fish has emerged as a prime choice for local epicures in need of a caffeine fix. This local roaster and cafe has partnered with some of Sacramento’s top chefs to produce coffee-themed dinners, and introduced the area to nitrogen-infused coffees.
It doesn’t list its coffees as light, medium or dark roast. Customers are guided through such flavor descriptors as “creamy body” and “honey-like finish.”
But can Chocolate Fish make a mocha frappuccino with extra whipped cream? “We don’t make blended drinks here,” said the barista, adding that whipped cream was also a no-go. “But I can make you an iced mocha.”
The barista said this without casting off any sideways glances or bad vibes. But was there a threshold to his friendliness? I said I like my coffee drinks extra sweet, and asked if any flavored syrups could be added to the iced mocha.
“We have vanilla and caramel,” he said.
A second barista got to work on my order. Within a couple of minutes she called out in her cheeriest customer service voice, “Caramel iced mocha!”
The two baristas even thanked me for coming as I walked out with caramel iced mocha in hand.
Count Temple as one of Sacramento’s most esteemed third-wave coffee roasters. Temple topped Coffee Review’s list of “Top 30 Coffees of 2013” for its Ethiopian Yirgacheffee, a bean known for its floral aromatics and supremely smooth taste.
We’ll sample that some other time. The cheery barista with blue-streaked hair asked for my order and gave me an empathetic “ouch” look when I asked for a non-salted caramel mocha.
She said Temple doesn’t have flavored syrups, but could make me a Thai mocha with condensed milk instead of whipped cream. She didn’t cringe when I professed my love for sweet coffee drinks.
She walked from behind the bar to deliver the drink and said, “Hope you like it! It should be nice and sweet.” And it was.
The final verdict
These coffeehouses were a perfect 3-0 in being helpful and serving Starbucks-styled drinks with zero attitude. Sure, this was a small sample, but Sacramento is certainly on the right track as a (coffee) customer-friendly city.