Tuesday, August 6, 2013

But We Don't Talk About That Anymore

Bill and I were talking the other day about our respective times working in coffee shops in the late nineties and early aughties. This was, we now know, during the Second Wave of coffee--which people today tend to shorthand as meaning Peet's and Starbuck's, though at the time the places we work served brews from places Chatz and Trieste.

We were discussing the kinds of extra-caffeinated drinks we used to make. They had names like the Fog Lifter, the Corpse Reviver, and the Depth Charge. The wakening properties of coffee were much discussed. Sleepy students and (first wave) dot-com-ers would shamble in and order these concoctions with an air of sleepy bravado, cracking jokes about how they wished they could get coffee on an intravenous drip.

Then, more recently, we got the Third Wave of coffee--artisan places like Blue Bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel, Sightglass, Bicycle, Stumptown, and Phil's. And I'd been chatting a while back with my coworker who has, in her time, worked in Third Wave coffee shops.

She had mentioned the verbiage people who work in, and patronize, such new coffee places use--about respecting the true flavor of the bean as a fruit, with adjectives to describe subtle differences in flavor so copious and colorful as to rival those used in wine tasting.

And it suddenly occurred to me that the differences between how people talked about coffee during the Second Wave and how they talk about it now during the Third Wave are nearly identical to the differences in the ways people talk about drinking alcohol in their twenties versus their thirties.


Like the Second Wave coffee drinkers nattering on about the sheer caffeinated power of coffee to wake them up, twenty-somethings talk openly about the intoxicating powers of booze. In both cases there's a frank admission that basically a drug is being used for it's person-altering properties.

But thirty-somethings and Third Wavers feel it's more adult and sophisticated to discuss esoteric matters of flavor, sourcing, and creation. Not that they don't also get drunk or woken up, respectively. They've just decided it would be deeply uncool to cite those effects as the reason for their consumption.

As a person in her late thirties who drinks her fair share of fancy Third Wave coffees (somewhat embarrassingly, this post is illustrated by all the instagrams of coffee I've taken just in 2013), I am very curious to see what attitude toward our subtly-flavored legal drugs emerges in the forties / Fourth Wave.

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