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Surfing Coffee's "Third Wave"

New East Bay cafes take their coffee very seriously. Some say too seriously.



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In the end, beyond the bells and whistles, coffee geeks — whether they self-identify as third wave or not — are just like any other kind of geek. They have that unbridled enthusiasm for their particular arcane field of expertise, coffee being no different from punk rock or computers or sci-fi flicks. The owners of these new East Bay cafes love chatting about coffee — they'll talk your head off if you give them half the chance. They want to know what makes coffee good and how they can make it better. They want to know all the minutia. For many of them, coffee dominates their waking thoughts.

Blue Bottle's James Freeman counts himself among those who dislike the third-wave label, though his company, which he started in 2002, paved the way for many of the "new-school" cafes in the East Bay. (He is, in that respect, an elder statesman of this movement.) But Freeman is excited to see a vibrant coffee scene emerging in the East Bay — and to see that coffee is being talked about seriously and enjoyed deeply.

For Freeman and, one suspects, for most folks who have dedicated their lives to making coffee in what they believe to be the right way, it still comes down to the simple pursuit, at the start each day, for that one delicious, perfectly satisfying cup — a cup that, even for a skilled barista like Freeman, might take three or four tries to get exactly right:

"But there are times, glorious times, when it just comes out and looks perfect and tastes great," Freeman says, his expression beatific. "No matter how old I get, the enjoyment of those mornings is not diminished, which is kind of a lovely thing. I don't see getting tired of something that's really brilliant any time soon, you know? ... It's like this little miracle."

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