Vacuum sealing started America’s coffee craze in 1900. Espresso and coffee shops made a scene nearly 70 years later. Now, baristas talk like sommeliers at mod tasting bars resembling chemistry labs. Experts call it the third wave of coffee.

By Timothy Meinch
December 29, 2017
Madcap Coffee, Grand Rapids

The heart of the third wave of coffee lies in the beans: where they grow and who harvests them. Brew method matters, too. You're more likely to choose from pour-over or drip than black, cream or sugar. The aim is more mindful coffee drinking. Slow down, learn a little, and you'll taste the fruity zing of a Kenyan versus the plum or chocolate notes in a Guatemalan. Intrigued? Check out these third-wave hubs, where the learning is accessible and the coffee is memorable.

Madcap Coffee, Grand Rapids

Madcap Coffee, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Madcap caught national attention for its Varietal Series in 2011: several unique bean varieties bundled in individual tins and sold together for home brewing. The kicker is that they all grew on one farm. The concept highlights the dynamic flavor diversity in beans.

"Coffee is actually a fruit," says co-founder Trevor Corlett. "Just like grapes and apples, there are a plethora of varieties grown." Don't miss Madcap's three shops serve coffee flights to highlight flavor notes.

Oddly Correct, Kansas City, Missouri

Oddly Correct, Kansas City, Missouri

This minimalist coffee-purist mecca spells out its philosophy on a terse menu: "Coffee offerings are served without milk or sugar." So, don't even ask where to find the half-and-half. Pretentious? Well, maybe. But consider it a nudge on how to savor the most unusual cup of black coffee you've ever tasted. Roasted in-house, one from Burundi has hints of limeade, cola and white wine. Don't miss The letter-pressed paper coffee bags, designed by owner Gregory Kolsto.

Fox in the Snow, Columbus

Columbus Coffee Trail, Columbus, Ohio

This string of coffee destinations (22 and counting) was charted to educate. At One Line, learn how brewing style affects flavor. (Fall in love with the ceramic Hario V60 cone or Chemex's glass pour-over carafe? You can buy the gear here.) Fox in the Snow forgoes WiFi-and a business phone-to promote interaction in its sunny gas station-turned-cafe. Don't miss Four stamped stops on a trail card earns a T-shirt, plus a legendary caffeine buzz.

One Line, Columbus

Kickapoo Coffee, Viroqua and Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Caleb Nicholes came from the boutique wine industry. TJ Semanchin studied sustainable development in Latin America. In 2005, the two opened a wholesale roastery in tiny Viroqua, anchored in fair compensation and supreme beans. They waited 10 years before opening cafes in Milwaukee and their hometown. Like many new roasters, they visit farms and use hyper-personal trade to counter exploitation of small farmers. "We have to truly identify the value of this product and the folks providing it," TJ says. Don't miss Kickapoo set a minimum price guarantee for its farmers last year at more than twice the market rate.

Ipsento, Chicago

"The loudest slurper is the most professional coffee taster," educator Amy Moore says to nine customers hunched over, spooning coffee into their mouths. Ipsento's two cafes and roastery host weekly coffee classes and a monthly cupping event-the purest form of coffee tasting, with loose grounds in the cup. Pay attention and you can detect some of the 800-plus aromatic compounds in coffee. That's nearly as many as in wine. Don't miss Custom doughnuts made for coffee pairing, such as peach tea glaze and lemon zest.

Kickapoo Coffee, Wisconsin

Journey to the Land of Coffee

Arabica, the coffee species most of us drink, is native only to a small region of Ethiopia. A common legend holds that around A.D. 800, the shepherd Kaldi saw his goats leaping and dancing after eating a certain red berry in the forest. Kaldi tasted the fruit, felt a surge of energy, and shared it with Sufi monks to help them pray all night. You can still find Arabica beans growing wild today in Ethiopia.

The Complex Case for Light Roast

Madcap's Trevor Corlett explains why you might want to reconsider buying dark roasts.

Unroasted Premium coffee roasters buy green beans from farms that hand-sort for quality. Just as with wine grapes, flavor changes based on climate, soil and elevation.

Light Roast The lighter you roast, the more bean flavor and character is preserved. You'll find more acidity and brightness. As for caffeine? Dark or bold doesn't change the kick.

Dark Roast Roasting dark often masks low-quality beans. Sugars are caramelized, but also burnt. "You're covering up what's naturally inherent to the coffee," Trevor says.

Espresso bean, you say? Not a thing. The coffee term refers to fine grinding and the brewing style, not the type of bean.