In 2002, Greg Lefcourt was working in a small cafe in Santa Barbara, serving up lattes that he’d barely been trained to make, never mind not knowing what temperature is best to pull shots of (God forbid) espresso at.
No one really knew all the things that we do now about coffee—latte art didn’t even exist,” he explains.
Today, Lefcourt is the Director of Retail Operations at Ozo Coffee in Boulder, where, for the last seven years he’s not only come to master pouring foam murals, but he has also become proficient in everything from proper milk steaming techniques to the specific farm in El Salvador where the beans he grinds come from.
Like all good movements, coffee, too, consists of waves, and the Third Wave is exactly what Lefcourt and Ozo are a part of. The newest trend in java pushes people to consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff like, say, wine. Or, as Lefcourt puts it: “We decided that we were going to take it [coffee] to the point of making it a craft as opposed to just cranking out drink after drink.”
This might seem a little laughable at first—coffee is coffee is coffee, right? Well, it doesn’t have to be; and that’s what craft coffee lovers and roasters aim to teach.
As far back as 1982, the Specialty Coffee Association of America was formed to spread awareness that special geographical climates produce different flavor profiles, and that furthermore, there are “proper” ways to roast and brew them. Elevation, season, even the hour that the beans are picked, prove crucial to how your morning cup tastes. Seeing coffee as an art form means recognizing that every single actor in the chain of production—from farmer to brewer—matters.
The practice of this new, craft approach to coffee began on the coasts. Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco exploded with the Third Wave in the early 2000s, and it’s since trickled its way inland to places like Kansas City, Chicago, and, well, all over Colorado. You might have noticed an inundation of coffee shops that don’t just serve you a cappuccino—they proudly flaunt the farm that the beans came from, the time period within which it should be enjoyed, and two important words: Fair Trade.
“Our commitment to direct sourcing with farmers and the whole sustainability mission was really important from the beginning,” says Tara Cross, marketing director for Allegro Coffee in Thornton. Craft coffee roasters like Allegro make a habit of giving back to and taking care of the farming communities that produce their coffee. As a result, these roasters’ bags get to wear the Fair Trade seal of certification—letting consumers know that farmers in Nicaragua, Kenya or Ethiopia are getting the wages they deserve. Most roasters also look after the farms in additional ways too, such as Allegro’s work to improve roads in those communities, and even provide worker housing and healthcare.
“We need to help sustain our supply of great coffee, so the more that we can support the growers, it ensures their future—which ensures our future,” Cross explains.
Like coffee rock stars, buyers and roasters travel around the world to their farms up to nine months out of the year, sourcing, tasting, and keeping relationships with the farmers alive. Coffee roasters are adamant that this dedication and care are noticeable in the end product. “People are getting hip to the fact that you don’t have to settle for bad coffee anymore,” Lefcourt says. Not to say that you’ll take one sip and recognize that you’re drinking a Guatemalan roast grown at 5,000 feet in the shade, but you will appreciate a truer, bolder taste.
The combination of intimacy with the product, and mutually-beneficial relationships with farmers, distinguishes specialty coffee as being a truly organic labor of love. Which makes it fitting that it should find such a niche in Boulder County. “This area is the leader in craft brew, right? And a leader in the field-to-table movement. So it [craft coffee] fits the lifestyle,” reasons Cross.
We’re surrounded by good people who believe in supporting local, wholesome products—principles embodied by the Third Wave. So it’s only appropriate that we find ourselves in the midst of what is quickly becoming a craft coffee Mecca.
Allegro Coffee can be found in Whole Foods stores nationwide, allegrocoffee.com. Ozo Coffee is located in Boulder at 5340 Arapahoe Ave.; 1015 Pearl St. and 1898 S. Flatiron Ct. #110, ozocoffee.com