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Appetites: 'Third wave' of coffee evolution brings new level of artisanship

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Peace Coffee
Peace Coffee Shop head barista Jackson O'Brien poured this example of "latte art" Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 in Minneapolis. The Heavy Table's James Norton considers the cafe part of a "third wave" of coffee shops that carefully roast their beans and can brew coffee on demand, one cup at a time.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

The revolution in local food has a potable component — craft brewing and locally roasted coffee are rising in popularity, not just in the Twin Cities, but also in other parts of the state, such as Duluth.

James Norton from the Heavy Table is here to tell us more.

MPR News: How is the food and drink scene evolving up in Duluth?

Norton: There's a lot going on up on the North Shore. Fitger's has expanded its empire to include a lovely spot in the old city hall called Tycoons Alehouse and is planning another expansion into the city's Canal Park tourism district.

Canal Park Brewing is set to open and provide a craft brew experience right there, as well.

And I recently met with some brewers who are pushing the next wave of Duluth-area brew. Ken Thiemann of Borealis Fermentery, who spent four years building his own energy efficient, Belgian monastery-inspired home and brewery with straw bales and plaster, and Byron Tonnis from the ambitious and well-financed, Bent Paddle, a new million-dollar-plus startup that will be brewing and canning about 50-times as much as beer as Borealis puts out when they open in mid-2013.

The Bent Paddle guys have deep brewing experience at Barley John's and Rock Bottom, two Twin Cities-area brew pubs, so I suspect they'll back up their ambition with a quality product.

MPR News:And it's not all beer, right?

Norton: Right. I met with Eric Faust from the Duluth Coffee Company. He has been micro-roasting beans and working with restaurant accounts for the past couple of years and has just now opened an elegant "third wave"-style coffee cafe on Superior Street in Duluth. 

Eric Faust
Duluth coffee
Courtesy of James Norton

MPR News:  When you say third wave, what do you mean?

Norton: Think of diner coffee and Folgers as first wave: sweet, a bit nutty, often watery or characterless. Starbucks really typifies the second wave: higher prices, dark roasts; specialized coffee drinks, many of them very sweet or flavored.

Third wave is parallel to craft beer or artisan cheese. The beans are roasted much more carefully. The cups of coffee are often brewed on demand, one cup at a time. The roasting is often much lighter to show off natural flavor notes of the beans. There are a lot of interesting methods used to brew: Chemex, pour-over, or French press, for example. You'll often see latte art, not just as a "wow that's cool" thing, but as a sign that the milk was properly frothed.

MPR News:  What are some third wave cafes in the Twin Cities?

Norton: There are plenty around, to greater or lesser extents. I think of DogwoodKopplin's, the Peace Coffee Cafe, and Bull Run, but that's not an exhaustive list. Go to any of those places and ask them about their roasting and brewing philosophies, and they'll have detailed, thoughtful answers for you.

MPR News: Will this approach fly in Duluth?

Norton: That's exactly what Eric's going to figure out. He's still offering cups of coffee from a press pot so he can serve people in a hurry. He's doing a specialty flavored latte of the week, which pleases folks used to Starbucks. But he's doing things like making his own simple syrups, in house. Last week he did a cardamom honey latte, which sounded amazing.

James Norton is editor of the online food magazine The Heavy Table. He has authored several books about the regional food scene, including "Food Lovers' Guide to the Twin Cities" and "The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin."  Follow him @chowsupertaster.