What does it take to be a "3rd Wave" cafe? Read this post and find out what some of the best in Seattle are doing.
On December 6th, a group from Fratello Coffee and Slayer Espresso met in Seattle for 1 day. In this 10 hour day we visited, reviewed and tasted a lot of amazing products. When originally planning this trip to we had 2 goals. The main purpose of this trip was to visit the Slayer Espresso's studio to witness their break through in brewing technology and to experience their ability to develop new characteristics in its espresso brewing techniques. It is too new for me to talk about this, so I won’t......
Our second purpose was to educate ourselves with a few of the great Seattle “3rd Wave café’s” and to bring this knowledge back to Calgary to help our café’s in elevating their skills in offering excellence to their customers. With the knowledge of new competition coming to our back yard we felt that this was the best way to help prepare our clients for what the new standard of running a café will be, and what it will take to compete on these new levels. We know that many people don’t have the time to fly to Seattle/Vancouver them selves, so we decided to bring Seattle to them. My next plan is to do the same thing for Vancouver.
14 cafes were chosen, all different and all excellent in what they are doing. This tour consisted of Chris and Jason Prefontaine, Eric Perkunder, Trent Breitkreutzt and my self. I decided to document this trip, but please keep in mind that I am not a journalist, I am a professional coffee cupper and roaster, who simply loves coffee. The views below are my opinion only!!
Below are some notes and observations I made while visiting these great cafes. I hope that this will be helpful in setting a new direction for those cafes that are looking to improve with what they are currently doing everyday.
Victrola – established 2003
Victrola is a relative newcomer to the Seattle coffee scene. Victrola’s two cafes are focused on serving extremely well-prepared coffee, whether brewed or as espresso.
Brewed coffee is prepared using traditional French press pots and served in 1.9 L airpots. Hot water for brewing is pulled from a tower, which is set to 190 degrees. This supply of water is also used for Americanos.
While we were there, Victrola was serving an Ethiopian Harrar coffee, which didn’t have a lot of character to it. The coffee was lacking a lot of the acidity and sweetness that Harrar can/should give you. I am sure this was due to the low brew temperature of the water. Higher temperatures would have helped to extract those characteristics I crave from really good Ethiopian coffees. Still there is nothing like French press to accentuate the body and fullness of brewed coffee.
It was interesting to learn that the store has not had a conventional coffee brewer for two years now. Before that they used larger volume filter brewing systems. Once the decision was made and implemented to use exclusively French press, we were told that it didn’t take very long for their clients to prefer this method of coffee preparation and service.
In the espresso department, Victrola uses a 3 group Synesso machine (formerly Treuh) and 2 Mazzer Major espresso grinders. All espresso-based milk drinks are finished with a latte art flair. The barista here are obviously well trained and highly skilled. Although the presentation was good, I found that the cappuccino I had was a little sharp in the finish even though it was beautifully prepared. Their espresso roast is very light which seems to be the new “normal” practice in Seattle. Perhaps there brew temperature or grind was slightly off.
Victrola roasts their own coffee. As you sit in the café of Victrola’s Pike Street store, you can see their 12 kilo Diedrich roaster through huge glass viewing windows. Victrola has a very clean and (apparently) well organized roasting facility. I understand they learned roasting technique from David Schomer (Caffe Vivace).
Victrola offers free public cuppings on Wednesdays for clients. In store cuppings are becoming a popular feature at many roaster owned cafés in town, which I am hearing was motivated by Stumptown’s Seattle debut 3ish months ago.
Victrola also sells their whole beans to the public. And, the one I took note of was the #20 lot of COE Costa Rican El Patio being sold for $12.50 per half pound. Victrola is very focused on coffee. Food is clearly secondary in their thinking and the offering is minimal. The café on Pike wasn’t over run with POS material and logos promoting their brand. Coffee was served in white paper cups, which were hand stamped with their logo.
One thing I liked--Victrola had a nice Christmas tree up to celebrate the season. Very nice café with a very minimalistic design. Very clean lines, with large windows floor to ceiling so the lighting was great. Nice jazz music played in the background inviting you to stay around.
Caffe Vita – Capitol Hill location and main roasting facility.
Caffe Vita is all about coffee as cuisine. They count Chef Tom Douglas among others as coffee devotees.
At their café, Vita serves both brewed coffee and espresso. Brewed coffee is prepared French Press style, and served from airpots. The cafe does have a Clover on the back bar which is so new it has not yet been installed. Once the Clover is set up, they will continue to brew larger volumes of coffee using the French press pots (and served from thermals). Vita will use the Clover to brew single estate coffees by the cup.
On the day we were there, Caffe Vita was serving the Brazilian Carmo Nero de Minas coffee, which is from the Sul de Minas region of Brazil. This is Brazil’s main coffee growing region.
Caffe Vita supports a community in this region with its profits and has chosen to work with a coffee farm that insists on not using temporary help. All workers are full-time which means the farm needs to find work for many people during the growing season. However, during harvest, it is easy to employee these people.
For espresso-based beverages, Café Vita uses a 3 group Syneso with 2 Mazzer Rio grinders. The barista’s were very friendly and welcoming. They offer a small selection of Monin syrups as well. Their espresso was very good and was roasted to a medium/full city profile. It gave full bodied mouth-feel with a smooth/creamy finish. This style of roast seems to be the “old style” of Seattle espresso’s and not as light as what is found in many cafés. I personally prefer this roast profile to a lot of the new stuff we sampled. The cappuccino was the perfect temperature, had a nice heart on it, and was prepared in such a way that you could really taste the espresso through the milk. You could still taste the acidity and body of the espresso, which is nice.
Other than coffee/espresso this café has very little in the way of other products. They serve a limited offering of tea, retail a small selection of home brewing equipment, and there are a few pastries to go with the coffee. I didn’t notice any smoothies or other distractions from their focus.
Caffe Vita’s roasting facility can be seen through the glass windows at the back of the café. They are using what looked like a 70 kilo Probat for all roasts. As noted earlier, Vita works with many of the executive chefs in town and has started to increase its wholesale business in restaurants.
Currently Vita has 5 locations in Seattle. The East Pike store happens to be one of my favorite cafés in Seattle. The lighting inside has a “caramel” type coloring and the walls feature some great art. The skateboards on the wall, and the characters enjoying their coffee in the café environment, give this location a very “underground” feeling. I just loved it.
Stumptown has two locations in Seattle, and we went to both-- one right after the other. This café and roasting facility has built a great reputation, because of their work in Portland.
Stumptown started in Portland many years back, and established a physical presence in Seattle only 3-4 months ago. Duane, the owner, is originally from Seattle; however he chose to start roasting and building his business in Portland.
Duane and assistant Aleco carry out all green purchasing activity. They both travel from 8-10 months a year. They work very closely with the regions they buy from to ensure they source the highest quality coffee. Some attention is paid to the growing and harvesting practices shown by there suppliers. Duane and Aleco are also mindful of the working conditions of the farmers and workers in these origin markets. This attention to detail shows once you try the product.
When you first walk into Stumptown’s cafe you can’t help but notice the small, elegant profile of the La Marzoco Mistral 3 gp EE. The staff greets you with smiles and engages you cheerfully. You will not find any negative attitudes or “coffee snobbery” from the knowledgeable members of this team, who were able to answer all the questions I posed to them about coffee regions and taste profiles.
Today I got to sample the #1 COE Colombian from 2007. This coffee was amazingly sweet and clean with hints of orange zest, vanilla and nutmeg. After this pot of French press was gone, I also tried their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Wondo Co-op which was better than the #1 COE Colombian (in my opinion). This Wondo gave hints of Lavender, jasmine, orange, cherry and licorice candy. Amazingly clean and sweet with a creamy/buttery body.
While I loved the brewed coffee varietals I sampled, I wasn’t as fond of the espresso. Stumptown’s Hair Bender espresso blend is a lighter roast, which has a very bright flavor. The lingering finish was clean, but a little sharp as it cooled. This profile really stood out in the macchiato with was artfully presented with a rosetta.
Stumptown’s facility on 12th has tow levels. Upstairs is the café. Downstairs is a training and cupping center, and eventually there will be a roaster installed as well. When we toured the downstairs area, I noticed they had a small group inside a closed cupping area. The group was viewing a video presentation on picking and processing of coffee.
This level of training (including the culturally informative video we glimpsed) is mandatory for all customers. It is informative as well as practical and includes extensive espresso training.
Their roasting isn’t currently done at this location; you can’t help notice that their two roasters are well on their way to being installed. One roaster (I’m guessing it was a 5-8 kilo) is the one that Duane started with, before Stumptown was Stumptown. The second was a larger (30 kilo I’m guessing) Probat. Again in this area you found no arrogance or attitude among the staff, only an easy approachability.
Finally we learned that Stumptown on 12th holds free cuppings for their clients and the interested public every day. We didn’t get the chance to join them but I hear it’s very informative and not at all a cupping-lite sort of session. They get directly into the sophisticated cupping style taught at Cup of Excellence competitions.
Stumptown on Pike – Stumptown’s second location gave the same impression as the store on 12th. It is much smaller and doesn’t have the roasting facility attached, but when you walk in, all you see is coffee. If it isn’t coffee, they don’t do it. Both locations are very clean with very simple design. Nothing is cluttered up with posters or tent cards trying to advertise what they do. Basically you walk in and you know.
Ruby’s Barbershop and TattooThis is a barbershop beside Stumptown. When you walk in you see something that you have never seen in a barbershop before. Very edgy design, and hard to explain with out seeing the photos. Chris Prefontaine had to take a break and get a trim. He was told that Ruby’s and Stumptown do/did a lot of hiring together and hope to open more locations that are attached.
Vivace Espresso Roasteria – Established 1988
David Schomer is the originator and God Father of latte art and professional barista skills in North America. He is internationally renowned for his opinions on espresso roasting, brewing, and preparation. David has published several books and produced a number of videos, which aim to share his discoveries and educate anyone who is interested. David Schomer is also a world-class espresso equipment geek. He had experimented extensively over the years and was one of the first to recognize the importance of brew temperature stability in the preparation of consistently great espresso.
Café Vivace has three locations in Seattle. We visited his most famous, the iconic Denny Way store. Sadly, this building is being torn down to make way for Seattle’s new undeground light rail. However, a new Café Vita will open on Broadway sometime in May 2008.
Vivace have two Synesso 3 group espresso machines. We got to the store at lunch time. The place was packed. And a line stretched out the door and beyond. You only find espresso at Café Vivace. You won’t ever see a French press or Clover brewer here, because brewed coffee has never been on the menu. Vivace is all about espresso.
I find that people either love or hate the coffee they roast. There is very little middle ground. I find that the ristretto espresso they pull is too short and is often sour and harsh when compared to what I typically enjoy. This style of espresso really stands out in cappuccino and macchiatos. All milk-based drinks served at Vivace are prepared with amazing latte art. These baristas are obviously well trained. What I do like is that all espresso’s “to go” are still served in porcelain cups and encouraged to be consumed at the bar.
A quick snap shot of Vivace’s history shows:
· Roasting in 1988
· Latte Art in 1993
· Experiments with pressure adjustments in 1993
· Experiments with temperature brewing in 1995
· His first published book in 1996
· His first “perfect pour” in 1999
· And his introduction of PID control for temperature stability in 2001
Trabant – 1309 NE 45st – Established in 2003
I am a high quality roaster from Canada, so the first thing I notice when I walk into a café is the coffee they are using, especially if it’s Canadian. Trabant is (currently) supplied by 49th Parallel out of Vancouver. They switched recently from Intelligentsia, which is still “present” in the form of an Intelligentsia’s coffee display rack….now filled with 49th Parallel coffee.
When asked why they switched, the barista, Jonathan, wasn’t exactly sure. He assumed because 49th is closer, and mentioned how they got a lot more attention from them. Both Jonathan and Alexis enjoyed having fun with us and didn’t mind joking around with a bunch of wired guys from Canada. This easy-going approach seems to be the wave in Seattle now, a market that has known its share of prickly coffee snobs snapping at customers from behind the counter.
It was nice to see another café in Seattle so dedicated to the Clover brewer, especially one offering a wide selection of quality coffees to brew on it. On our visit to Trabant, the following coffees were being offered:
· Brazil Sul De Mina (the largest growing area of Brazil). This is prepared on the Clover using 34 grams for a 12oz coffee.
· Brazil Daterra Opus
· Nicaraguan Prodecoop COE #8 which is prepared using 30 grams for a 12oz coffee on the Clover
· Guatemalan El Injerto COE #1
We sampled the Brazil Sul De Mina, which tasted fairly good. However, I found this offering to be a strange pick for Clover brewing, as this region of Brazil is known for coffee with clean body and a well rounded character. Coffee exhibiting these characteristics can be brewed just fine with the Clover. However, the Clover really shines when the varietals are complex or highly idiosyncratic. The Brazilian cup was clean and had a soft body, but not a lot of character.
We also tried the Nicaraguan Prodecoop COE #8. I found this coffee much better. This varietal has a citric orange acidity with milk chocolate undertones, very sweet, though lacking an impact with the aroma. The finish gave a slight resemblance to hops/stout found in beer which distracted me a little.
The Clover coffees today seemed to be disappointing compared to the complexity and body found in the other French Press coffees, we sampled. I found the coffees Trabant prepared on the Clover to be a little too clean and thin tasting.
For their espresso offerings, Trabant uses the Epic espresso blend from 49th. They prepare this on their 3gp La Marzoco Linea espresso machine, which modified like a Slayer to be temperature stable. Trabant offers a large selection of Monin syrups for customizing drinks. It is noteworthy that every milk-based espresso beverage is prepared with latte art.
Every barista at Trabant must go through 6 months of training before serving the public espresso based beverages. Trainees graduate from preparing brewed coffee on the Clover to becoming full-fledged baristas. We found this funny as most cafes have a hard time keeping staff that long to begin with. Both baristas we met were obviously passionate about coffee and enjoyed their work.
In view of the specialty coffee focus at Trabant, I found the single Fetco brewer a little out of place in this Third Wave Café. We then found out that they do not even offer coffee out of this system. The drip coffee program was phased this out 3 days after getting their Clover. The Clover system was installed in April of this year and now use the Fetco for a hot water system for Americanos.
Trabant is a very cool café filled with a younger crowd. Every person in this place was studying or working on a computer. Ironically, the light blue colors and plain concrete flooring match the colors of 49th bags perfectly. Light Jazz music played in the back ground creating a very casual and inviting atmosphere, a great place to stay and enjoy your coffee.
We also visited their second downtown/Pioneer Square location later in the day. This café is unique—it is a work in progress and offers espresso and Clover brewed coffee. The bar was bare other than these two pieces of equipment and a couple of grinders. The walls are white with a few pieces of art. When we were there (at 6pm) the café was virtually empty, so it seemed far less lively compared to the energy of their University location. This was probably due to the fact that it is the only cafe in the area open in late. Most others close at 4pm during weekdays.
Both Trabant cafes are completely focused on coffee, and had very little food/snacks to choose from. They did offer a few items you could purchase (travel mugs with their logo, some beans, Bodums and other little gadgets, but that’s it).
Café Allegro – Established 1975
Café Allegro trades on the fact that they are one of Seattle’s very first espresso cafés. They have a large sign outside declaring that this is “Seattle’s Original Espresso Bar”. Our stop at Allegro was quick and unscheduled, so we didn’t have a chance to try their coffee.
However, this café was packed. People everywhere accessing free wi-fi on their computers. The atmosphere was very much like a study hall in an old library, an appropriate vibe, I guess, in view of the fact that the University of Washington campus is about fifty feet from their front door.
Equipment-wise Allegro has a four group La Marzoco Linea and a La Marzoco Swift espresso grinder. Behind the machine is a huge selection of DaVinci syrups which seem to distract from the rest of the café’s feel (which is very authentic to espresso).
We weren’t greeted with smiles or even a hello from the staff which was strange when compared and contrasted to the service we received at all the other stops that day. Café Allegro’s espresso is roasted and private labeled by Brown’s Coffee.
Starbucks – University District
We had to stop by one Starbucks today, and it was a very quick stop. It’s amazing how “un-authentic” Starbucks feels after being in all these other independent Seattle based cafes. However, it was amazing how busy it was inside. Starbucks is popular. What was strange is that 90% of the customers had blended drinks, iced drinks, soda’s or water. I only saw 1 or 2 people with a coffee or hot espresso drink. So Starbucks is popular but for more than just the coffee.
The staff was great, and was shouting orders over the music and conversations through out the café. This was the first café we went to today that had danglers, posters and “loud” marketing through out the café. Whole beans bags of coffee, board games and espresso machines filled the shelves and made for a “busy” feeling through out the café.
No beverages were purchased today…
Solstice – Established in 1993
Solstice began as a coffee cart in 1993. It has come a long way since then. The café we visited in the University district opened in 2000. This is a great establishment, offering a fun coffee venue for students to hang out and study alone or in groups. The menu invites you to stay all day. In addition to coffee, there is a wine and beer list. This being the holiday season, the Solstice was festooned in Christmas lights, giving the traditional environment a warm, festive feeling.
Solstice is not a roaster. They use coffee from a local roaster named Lighthouse. They prepare their espresso beverages on a 3 group La Marzoco Linea and two Mazzer grinders. Despite the excellent coffee presentation, coffee seems to be a secondary focus to food and liquor selections. When we first walked in, you could smell food, not coffee.
Solstice brews all their coffee using a French Press. Today the barista “thought” they were brewing Ethiopian but he wasn’t sure. All coffee is brewed and then kept in a thermal server to be served when ordered. Like so many high-end, high-volume independent Seattle café’s, Solstice does not use filter brewers to make coffee.
As is so often the fashion in Seattle these days, the to-go cups where plain white Solo style cups. However Solstice does not stamp their logo on these.
The espresso I had was pulled perfectly and had an amazing crema. The cup was clean, bright and sweet. However it gave a sharp aftertaste as it cooled. This sharpness also came through in the macchiato. The macchiato was also pulled perfectly with a latte art flourish. The barista’s were obviously very skilled, and showed their pride as they worked. They were very friendly and did their best to answer our questions.
Also of note, Solstice offers only a very limited selection of Torani flavorings.
Zoka Coffee – University location
The University store is Zoka’s third and newest location. This is 3000+ square foot mega-store. Despite its massive size, the cafe was filled virtually to capacity. A clientele of graduate and undergraduate students sat around tables, drinking coffee, studying together, and comparing notes.
Zoka prepares espresso on a visually striking, custom-painted four group La Marzocco FB 70. As you might guess this machine is painted in a beautiful UW purple—admittedly a very unusual color for an espresso machine, but right-on for a clientele that is 90% Huskies. In front of this machine is the award their barista received for achieving second place in the North West Regional Barista Competition. Behind this, on the back bar was a single U3 brewer using the cloth filters which are designed to give more body and character in the cup. This type of brewing technology may remind one of Artigiano in Vancouver and some of the older Peet’s Coffee locations in California.
Zoka promotes their coffee selection in store. Well-produced, informative brochures describing coffee origins and highlighting specific farms are within easy reach.
Zoka has a larger food selection than the other cafes we visited. Sandwiches and other food is prepared on a pannini grill with nice presentation. The food offering does not make the bar look cluttered or overly busy. The macchiato I had was clean and soft due to the amount of milk used in the cup. The milk hid the character I was looking to find in the espresso.
Zoka offers traditional flavored espresso beverages, the kind that many Third Wave cafes eschew or play down. Zoka displays a selection of DaVinci syrups for this purpose. The café also serves smoothies and tea.
At the back of this café, there is a second bar, which is set up with a 2 group La Marzocco GB5 and a Linea. This bar is used for teaching and training. When we showed up a few of the staff were preparing a coffee cupping class for staff and customers. This is a regular event and is free to the public. I was excited about this as I got to spend a week with Jeff Babcock the owner of Zoka while doing the Bolivian COE competition this year. Jeff told me about their twice weekly cupping classes, so found this to be a treat.
We cupped five new coffees being introduced in their café:
· Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Organic Fairtrade
· Rwanda UCAR – MIG Cup of Gold #5
· Rwanda UCAF – MIG Cup of Gold #2
· Nicaraguan Wiwili
· Honduras Finca El Filo COE 2007 (not sure of the ranking)
While our group joined this cupping, we didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing the coffee due to our tight schedule and already over caffeinated blood stream. Five of the Zoka staff also joined us, and were led by Kim Cross who graciously encouraged us to attend.
My favorite cup was the Yirgacheffe which gave a finish similar to peaches. Very clean sweet cup of coffee. My second favorite was the Rwanada #2 which had Green tea characteristics and an orange citrus acidity. Jeff was fortunate enough to join the Cup of Gold tasting competition this year with a select few other roasters (I believe they were Stumptown, Allegro, being some others). I have been told that this competition was a “trial for the upcoming first COE competition” being held this August 2008.
Zoka’s a great set up, a café with a very fun atmosphere.
Caffe Fiore is an independent café with three locations in Seattle. Their coffee is supplied by Caffe Vita. The coffee the use is exclusively organic and is custom labeled for them, as Fiore. Fiore coffee is also available as a selection from Vita as wholesale or at their cafés.
Fiore is one of my personal favorite café’s in Seattle. The mill work, custom-made ceiling lights and back lit menu boards give this café a very high-end traditional look—classy not fussy. The plain brick walls and large windows warm up the atmosphere and take advantage of the natural light from outside. When you look out the windows you see several hundred new condo’s under construction, which should make this café busier than it currently is. Café Fiore will become the neighborhood café for the residents of these new Ballard townhomes and condos.
We were greeted and served by a single Fiore employee and from what we could tell the only person on duty. Linnea worked her butt off the entire time we were their preparing all drinks, collecting money and cleaning up. I was very impressed with the friendly attitude she had while doing everything.
On their bar is a 3gp La Marzoco Linea and 2 x Mazzer Rio espresso grinders. You will not find a coffee brewer here. Brewed coffee is prepared French Press style. This coffee is brewed, put into a thermal server and poured when required. Today they offered a Sumatran. Not a lot of information was given about the specific beans used, or farms from which they are sourced. All you are told is that it is an Organic Fair-trade product (as are all the other coffees they serve). I didn’t get to sample this coffee. However, I did taste an Americano, which was clean & sweet. The drink was well-prepared, but didn’t have a lot of body to it. The water used was also extremely hot. If the temperature was lower, and they used less water, it would have been a much better drink. The macchiato was also a little milky and wasn’t poured with a latte art floret. My recommendation would be to make these drinks a little stronger, so the espresso reads through and stands out more.
Café Fiore also offers a small selection of food, Monin syrups (for flavoring your in-house beverage order) and Numi teas. The menu here is very simple, which is typical of all the great cafes we have been to. They do not clutter the walls, menu’s or tables with unnecessary marketing and POS material advertising specials and seasonal products. They focus on the same stuff each day and ensure they do a good job at that. Their to-go cups are plain white paper with a simple stamp of their logo. The only real “branding” was on their travel mugs. All and all a great café.
Zeitgeist Coffee – established 1997
The atmosphere in this café was our favorite in Seattle, bolstered by a location in the heart of Pioneer Square, Seattle’s oldest district. They have not done renovations for approximately 5 years, but it doesn’t show or even matter. They have created a timeless design, which should last for many years, a classic look. The 25ish high foot ceiling and massive windows gives the café an impression of being larger than it really is. The natural wood work and exposed brick give the impression that this café has been around for many more years than it actually has (11 years).
On their bar is a Linea 3 group EE and a GS 2 4 group. The GS machine is not a paddle version, though the GS 2 model was originally offered in a paddle version. Their La Marzocco paddle machine is off being refurbished, so the GS is a substitute. On the back bar is a dual Fetco brewer and two dual portion grinders for their regular coffee. Their coffee is roasted and private labeled by Hot Top Coffee roasters, however they say it is their own blends and roast profiles.
Grant, the barista working the evening we were there was a pro. He has been at the café for 5 years and knew his way around a traditional-style espresso machine. While watching him make shots, I noticed that he wasn’t afraid to throw away a shot that didn’t meet his standards. He expertly made some adjustments to the grinder, and pulled it again. I was a little surprised that after all of that, we didn’t see latte art on the cappuccino we ordered. I was also a little surprised by the amount of foam we received. It was drier foam, not the wet foam more desirable and popular these days. That being said, you could taste the espresso in the drink and could tell it was a nice drink. The espresso was smooth with a rich full body. Their espresso roast wasn’t as light as many placed sampled today, which was a nice change.
The food preparation was very nice here. The sandwiches looked very appetizing and were prepared on pannini grills. The other food selections were also healthy and included granola and yogurt selections.
Café Umbria has a lot of history behind it. The owners were the original roasters for Torrefazione Italia Coffee, a brand positioned by parent company Seattle’s Best, as the high end product. When Torrefazione sold its company fully to SBC, which then was bought out by Starbucks, Café Umbria was born.
Cafe Umbria’s café is a beautiful, high-end, and lovely café. It is also unapologetically, Italian. You will find no cues here from the burgeoning Third Wave movement. The look and feel of now defunct Torrefazione is felt throughout Café Umbria’s decor (color tiles, made into Italian designs, etc…). The Italian cakes, gelato and fancy baked goods offered here are straight from Italy as well.
Strangely enough this was the first café we went to today which didn’t have a La Marzoco or Synesso espresso machine—nor were the machines on the front bar. And, the two semi-automatic Nuova Simonelli Aurellias were defiantly placed on the back bar, ala Italia.
Café Umbria being Italian in inspiration serves granita as well. It prepares this on a two-bowl Bunn machine. Brewed coffee is prepared on large Dual Fetco Brewers. There are no Clovers here, and the only chance you would ever have of seeing a French Press here, is if they renamed it the “Italian Press”. To me Umbria was a blast to the past, a very professional and well done “2nd Wave” café.
I didn’t try any coffee, as I was VERY WIRED due to the other 20ish drinks I had before this stop—so no comments on this, other than to note that you count on the fact that the roast would lighter.
What an amazing day. We saw a lot of cafes, and tasted a LOT of coffee. One of the amazing things was that I didn’t taste 1 dark roast coffee, also interesting was that the only place that even offered one was Starbucks.
The new 3rd Wave movement is going to be focused on quality. Quality of everything they do. Sourcing fresh roasted coffees, typically from roasters who are focused on sourcing the best coffees they can find (many practicing direct trade methods). These coffee are very fresh and typically have a “roast date” on the bag. More and more barista’s are familiar with their roaster as well as the types of coffee they are offering. The best barista’s could give you information about the regions, roast profiles and sometimes even the farms that the coffee was sourced.
The equipment used is designed for incredible accuracy in heat stability and steam pressure. This equipment is designed to be used by professional barista’s, not just some kid looking for a job. The normal practice for these professional barista’s is to serve milk based beverages with some sort of late art.
The design, look and feel of these cafes is very clean, and simple (less is more). They let the coffee speak for its self. They do not have loud promotions, branding, marketing or POS material of any kind, usually plain brown paper bags for coffee, and plain white paper cups with their logo stamped on the side (this is done by the barista’s during slow times). They aren’t promoting other beverages of any kind if they even offer other drinks. You would need to ask them if they had tea, smoothies, etc….You aren’t going to 3rd Wave cafes for a smoothie, chai or blended espresso drink, you are going here for a perfectly poured espresso.
Finding a “drip”, or filter coffee is hard to find. Most cafes are using a French Press and their clients are very happy about that. Very few had a brewer, and even fewer had a Clover. We found this strange, but will not be surprised to see more of this equipment appear over the next year or two. I already know you will see more Clover brewers in Vancouver.
To compete in this ever changing market, you will need to improve the quality of all your products (cup of excellence coffee’s etc…), improve the training for your baristas, focus on coffee and espresso and simplify your stores. Do this before your competitors do and you will win.
Russ Prefontaine, Fratello Coffee Co