Caffeinated Commonwealth

Virginia makes the coffee scene

A perfectly crafted latte
Photo credit: Adam Ewing

If you’ve ever woken up one morning and found yourself wondering “Am I taking coffee too seriously?” then clearly you have never attended a round of the U.S. Coffee Championships.

Because, yes, there is such a thing as the U.S. Coffee Championships.

At the regional U.S. preliminaries hosted in September by Blanchard’s Coffee Roasting Company in Richmond, 23-year-old Ryan Moser of Richmond’s Brick & Mortar pulled a couple of espressos on a gleaming stainless steel La Marzocco machine. Were his flavor descriptors accurate? Was there a round and full-bodied mouthfeel? Was his espresso “served in a 60 to 90 mL vessel from which judges must be able to drink as required without any functional detriment to their ability to score accurately”? Moser had seven minutes to produce two espressos and two “milk beverages,” with a panel of clipboard-bearing judges scrutinizing his every move, ready to render their verdicts on matters painstakingly outlined in the barista competition’s 24-page guide to rules and regulations: flushing the group head, harmonious espresso-milk balance, proper usage of cloths.

Welcome to coffee’s “third wave.”

Virginia’s third-wavers, who regard coffee as equal parts calling and career path, want you to know that coffee has a story

If the first wave was, broadly speaking, the rise in coffee consumption fueled by major brands like Maxwell House and Folgers and focused on convenience (pre-ground and instant) and affordability, then the second wave marked the growth of coffee as a specialty beverage and consumer experience—think Starbucks, second wave’s most recognizable, world-conquering brand.

The third wave, however, is all about the coffee itself. The emphasis is on quality, economic equity in the global market, mutually beneficial direct-trade relationships between growers and roasters, single-origin beans, lighter roasts, more complex flavor profiles, brewing innovations—and, of course, the rapidly proliferating small-batch roasters and craft coffee shops found anywhere there’s a handful of 25-year-olds with tattoos and Instagram accounts.
Read the story in Virginia Living.

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