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Grounds Rules

Because the quality of coffee is so important to specialty coffee shops, some may place restrictions on how creative customers are able to get with certain orders.

Monica Craddock
Chelsi Fisher
November 29, 2017

According to coffee enthusiasts, we are in what is called the “third wave” of coffee drinking. This “wave” is characterized by the desire of specialty coffee shops to serve the highest quality of coffee possible. To attain this level of excellence, many specialty coffee shops have returned to the basics by making coffee a more traditional way.

Many “third wave” coffee shops have brought the focus back to making coffee and coffee beverages the more traditional way — like a strictly 6-oz. cappuccino, for example. Once the roast is perfected (usually on the much lighter side of the spectrum) these shops then craft smaller beverages with much less sugar (if any) like lattes, espressos, americanos, and more. In stepping back a little from being in a strictly business mindset, many companies have become more community focused and more aware of the coffee and who is working to create it. In the same mindset as “farm-totable,” there is now the “seed-to-cup” ideal behind specialty coffee.

“Coffee shops are now a cultural destination and are very accessible,” says Samuel Smith, coffee manager for the Pioneer Woman Mercantile in Pawhuska. “There is an integrity and transparency to the very specific way of making coffee and of who makes it, where it comes from and who is brewing it. There is also a strong intentionality behind brewing, extracting, and following recipes and guidelines to get the strongest quality.”

To attain the highest quality of coffee, there must be intentionality in every aspect of making each drink. Specific coffee farms with certain beans are used. Specific roasting profiles and roasters are used. Ensuring that you have quality equipment is important. Hiring and training people to be skilled baristas, who can use every factor that goes into the coffee to their advantage to ensure the best product, is essential. In gathering all these factors, the oldest recipes are used to ensure a good foundation for the quality of each drink.

Taking on a few European origins, a traditional latte is a single or double shot of espresso topped with frothed milk. Another traditional drink, the Americano, is also a shot of espresso topped with hot water. Of course, there is the espresso, which is a if very flavorful and potent version of black coffee that has been condensed to only 1 or 2 ounces and pulled from the espresso machine under 9-10 bars of pressure.

Using specific coffee parameters as a baseline ensures quality. The reason a cappuccino is made as a 6-ounce coffee drink, rather than a 16-ounce version you might find at Starbucks or the like, is not to skimp on the amount, but because the amount of milk added to the espresso, creates a more harmonious balance. The challenge is not just to learn how to make a cappuccino, but how to best showcase the espresso with the steamed milk. You want to have the best beans, the best roast profile and the best frothed milk to create the best or most harmonious version of that drink.

Because the quality of coffee is so important to specialty coffee shops, some places may place restrictions on how creative customers are able to get with certain orders. The second wave of coffee introduced to us the accessibility of regular coffee drinks as well as other delicious drinks that may be larger and sweeter than those found at a specifically specialty coffee shops. But in the third wave, however, there are guidelines to drinks to make them specialty so, at these locations, it may be not be feasible to request a 20-ounce caramel decaf macchiato.

To a barista, a macchiato is a drink originating in Italy meaning “marked,” as in an espresso that is “marked” with a small amount of cream. Also, the Cortado is a 4-oz. beverage originating from Spain and meaning “cut,” translating to “cut” with steamed milk. Both of these drinks feature 1-2 ounces of espresso and a small or cream, each containing only 4 ounces.

Something to also keep in mind is that there are graders of coffee (called Q-Graders) that actually letter grade the coffee beans, and there are people in charge of quality control to taste the finished product as well. What is known as a “cupping score” determines what makes coffee specialty. Similar to a wine tasting, there are cuppings in place to taste test the coffees from each region. There is also the variable of how to roast and how to serve coffee differently depending on where the coffee originates from.

A lot of coffee shops have specific roasteries to roast their beans, which can roast them to the best quality. Those beans are also made into coffee drinks to get the best quality of drink per each region. For example, an espresso may be made with beans from a certain area and a regular black cup of coffee may be made with beans from somewhere else. All of this to ensure that you are being served with the best version of each drink.

Baristas are very proud of the work that goes into each drink and that pride becomes their responsibility and desire to let the average non-versatile-coffee-drinking-joe know what kinds and styles of beverages they have and what they can make for you in regards to what you normally like to drink.

“You don’t want to lecture anyone about what they are ordering. It does help us, as baristas, to clarify for people what we have versus what they want,” says Smith. “Someone may order a macchiato but may actually want a latte or a drink with certain syrups in it, and that becomes fun. A skilled barista can pull a quality shot of espresso easily, but having the concoctive tendencies to mix a drink for someone with multiple ingredients becomes a welcomed challenge.”