As promised. This is not the “text” of my talk per se as I didn’t speak from notes at all, but as I was preparing the talk I wrote some of it out. As well, the powerpoint slides that are the screenshots below look, if I do say so myself, a lot prettier than what the TED people transformed them into, but the content was the same so no harm there. Now, my presentation will be up on youtube at some point and I’ll direct you there. Meantime, here’s what it looks like on paper:
A question I have to answer first concerns just what the “third wave” is, since it’s evolving from a concept only used and understood among the subculture of coffee aficionados to one used as a resource for the marketing of coffehouses and coffee roasters. It’s not just a marketing gimmick, however. The “third wave” is a CHAIN OF RELATIONSHIPS that comprises field-to-cup actors: direct-trade growers to roasters to shops employing baristas who are well-trained and who deploy equipment designed to get the best from the bean, to connoisseurs who cherish the label of “coffee geeks.” If a shop is using beans purchased from the lowest bidder with no idea of their specific origins, roasted in a way that masks those origins, with poorly-maintained equipment or push-button superautomatic espresso machines that belong in self-serve airport lounges and not cafes, uncaring staff, terrible coffee, and a clientele who cares more about the speed with which their latte is assembled than the drink itself, then that’s not a third-wave shop. Being third-wave is itself not about self-identification or about some of its more obvious trappings, like an expensive La Marzocco or Synesso espresso machine or beautiful latte art; third wave is about the entire network that goes from the farm to the cup.
So “third wave” describes and defines a set of relationships that are economic, or related to commerce, but I’m a sociologist concerned with lived social interaction and so my interest in the third wave is with that topic. One place to observe the third wave as it concerns social interaction is in the coffeehouses that are one of the links in the third-wave chain, and I have an image here that perfectly encapsulates the third wave social scene:
This is from a very cool coffeehouse in Berlin, in the very hip area known as Prenzlauer Berg, and it’s moreover a coffeehouse that subscribes pretty much to the third-wave principles I outlined earlier. With regard to social interaction, an obvious noticing is that this looks like a happy encounter between staff and customer, and yes, those sorts of lively discussions are typical in third wave coffeehouses, where customers and baristas share a passion for coffee, among other interests of course. But there are other players here, and they’re the equipment and the built form of this space. The design and the equipment FACILITATE social interaction. For example, the lovely espresso machine that you see here is a Synesso Syncra, a Seattle-built machine that is not only beautiful, pricey, and made to produce great espressos and cappuccinos; it’s also “low profile” to allow face-to-face engagement with customers. This description is clearer if you consider this scene from a Calgary Airport location of Starbucks:
As you can see, those huge, tall superautomatic espresso machines not only take any artistry away from the baristas; they also block and separate encounters between customers and the employees. This sort of scene is more typical of what might be called “second wave” coffeehouses, and that’s not only a term for describing chain versus independent coffeehouses. Sadly, lots of independent coffeehouses comprise scenes like this. And lots of independents serve coffee that is completely horrible.
So, you might be wondering if the scenes that I just showed you exemplify those in a cool, progressive cities like Berlin and an uncool, sprawly, auto-centric, conservative city like Calgary. In point of fact, the third wave has seen its most widespread expression in cities in Scandinavia, in the Pacific Northwest in the US, in Vancouver and Victoria here in Canada, and in Australian and New Zealand cities; all of these are famously progressive with good urban design and, in general, cultures that would seem to embrace a cafe culture. What about Calgary?
Well, going back a few years, the scene was poor. This interchange on the coffeegeek.com Western Canada forum pretty much describes it:
So that was 2003. But today, things have changed, even in this supposed backwater of a city. The tide began to turn in 2004 when Wade and Georgina Semograd opened Big Mountain Coffee on 8 Street Southwest, near Mountain Equipment Co-op (a space that has since morphed into Bumpy’s), and suddenly Calgary coffeegeeks could get a perfectly-composed cappuccino, with latte art atop, made with custom-roasted and not OVER-roasted beans (in-house!) in a space that was not their kitchens. Since then, the scene has exploded beyond anyone’s expectations. Here’s a timeline:
Now, to be fair, some of the shops, or new locations of these shops, have not yet opened. But to be fair as well, I don’t list the 16 locations of Good Earth Coffee and Bakery that, I would say, absolutely belong in the third-wave ranks with improvements in their coffee program over the last year or so (this includes the absolutely vital step of printing roast dates on their coffee packaging so that customers know when the coffee was roasted- if a cafe doesn’t do this, it’s not third wave, full stop). So Calgary has gone from one third-wave shop in 2003 to almost FORTY by the end of 2010. That’s something to celebrate.
Moreover, these shops provide and exemplify the social setting that I described earlier at Bonanza in Berlin, full of conversations and pleasurable sociability but also encouraging of interaction, of community, including employees in the mix as well. This shot of the new Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters cafe in Marda Loop is a good illustration of this sort of social form:
So coffee times are good here and the third wave is firmly entrenched in Calgary. But, you might be thinking, if the third wave has 40 cafes in Calgary, then a city like, say, Berlin must have HUNDREDS by now.
Nope. Not even close. In fact, my first encounter with Bonanza was in 2007. In 2009, a year ago this week, I returned to Berlin, and Bonanza was still the only third-wave cafe in that city of almost 4 million, more than triple the population of Calgary. In Canada, Calgary has more third-wave cafes than do Toronto and Montreal COMBINED. Montreal and Toronto, together, have almost eight times the population of Calgary- 9 million versus 1.2 million. Calgary not only has a “good” coffee scene: Calgary is a WORLD LEADER in the third wave.
So, why Calgary? And what does this all mean for culture and community here?
Well, I came to project via study of shopping mall security and there read all sorts of critiques of postmodernity and planned space. Calgary is a new city with comparatively little history that can’t benefit from the head start (for Montreal, that’s a head start of centuries; for Rome or Tokyo or Paris, of millennia) that other cities had and so all of these critiques should apply especially well to it. We’re too young and only became “urban” too late NOT to be sprawling, suburbanized, auto-centric, all of the “radiant city” stereotyping. But despite this obvious and very evident handicap- the city’s vintage- we’re doing absolutely amazing things in resurrecting and at the same time modernizing (and improving!) a traditional venue for sociability and for old-fashioned sensual experience. This is, I’d argue, precisely BECAUSE of our lack of history and, in coffee, the lack of a long-standing and cherished tradition around it. We have no history and so we’re free to make our own.
With further respect to this “why Calgary” question, we can’t ignore the work of pioneers like Phil Robertson and Sebastian Sztabzyb, of Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, or of Les and Ottilia Jaworski of Kawa Espresso Bar, but I also think that their story reflects a local entrepreneurial ethos that inspires invention and not only in the realm of coffee. This spirit is one that we should cherish and cultivate; it’s part of the same spirit, the “why NOT here” attitude that’s made Sled Island, the Calgary International Film Festival, the High Performance Rodeo, and yes TEDxYYC the amazing things that they are. We can never re-create Montreal here as anything but an obvious imitation, and a tacky one at that. But we have resources here that, when tapped, create things like our coffee explosion. We need to take that spirit, one that exemplifies the things we do well, and make the future of this city as good as its coffee.