Third Wave Coffee: An Education Model

I take coffee seriously. Anyone who truly knows me, knows that my coffee standards are high. Some even say ridiculous. But that's just because I've tasted really good coffee. I know coffee shouldn't be bitter. I know coffee shouldn't smell foul. I know that coffee has more tasting notes than wine. And since I know all of these things, why should I settle for anything less?

And so it's made me think... education is progressing much like coffee.

First Wave Coffee: Folgers

"The best part of wakin' up is Folgers in your cup." Everyone knows this line, which reflects Folgers desire to get coffee in the hands of every person. First wave coffee is all about getting coffee into every home for as cheap as possible. In fact, their company bio says,

"Its principal product was bulk-roasted coffee, which was delivered to grocery stores in sacks and drums, and was stored in bins to be scooped out for customers."

This bulk-roasting strategy allows them to reach a wide client base quickly and cheaply. Further, they even believe they're creating a great-tasting product. "

The company developed a "taste standard" for its best coffee, and each shipment of green coffee beans received the cup test so it could be assigned its proper role in producing Folgers Coffee."

This is just like cheap, one-size-fits-all education. Standard curriculums promise to help reach every learner. And honestly, it does some good. It does give every student the right to Free and Appropriate Public Education. The government even has an "education standard" by which to measure its products, just like Folgers.

This first wave is still consumed (both in coffee and education) by thousands of people every day. And thousands of people even like what they're consuming. But if you've ever tasted third wave coffee, you know Folger's is actually disgusting. If you're like me, you have to spit it out. I, like many in the world, know there's something more. And that's where second wave coffee comes in.

Second Wave Coffee: Peet's and Starbucks

In the 1960's a new wave of coffee entered the scene, shaking up how Americans viewed coffee. As

Noah Sanders explains,

"Tired of terrible coffee and keen on what could come from well-roasted, well-sourced beans, Peet focused his efforts on small batches of artisanally roasted beans. Peet was the inspiration for a little company called Starbucks and its founder Howard Schultz, who in turn brought terms like "espresso," "latte," and "americano" in to the American everyman's lexicon."

These are the coffees that many people drink today. In many ways, carrying a Starbucks cup is a status symbol, a sign that you can afford expensive coffee drinks. Many think that the more complex order you give, the more you know. The side of your cup is marked up with your order and your name, showing just how "personal" this cup truly is. The beans are better than what was experienced in the first wave, but in truth, all of the flavorings mask much of the bean's flavors.

Similarly, education has received a "second wave" through the use of technology in the classroom. Many classrooms throughout the country are moving to 1:1 environments. These 1:1 environments are often flashy status symbols, just like a Starbucks cup. iPads get the brunt of this critique as they are often seen as a tool that allows information consumption instead of information creation. Many "high tech" classrooms give students the power to do worksheets on a piece of technology. And while this is fancier, the technology is just masking the poor flavor of the teaching strategy.

The second wave has great intentions and many people live and die by their ability to carry it around in their hand. It looks "flashy" and grabs the attention of people throughout the country. But all the flash is just disguising the true taste of the bean. And this true taste is what has people flocking to third wave coffee.

Third Wave Coffee: Verve, Ritual, Intelligentsia, Stumptown

Third wave coffee, also known as specialty coffee, is an art. It all starts with the beans. Specialty coffee cannot be without the perfect bean roasted in the perfect way. These shops focus on building direct relationships with the coffee farmers, many of whom are less known. They go so far as to taste beans from a variety of the different plots the farmer owns, all in hopes of finding the perfect bean. It's roasted in small batches with a lighter roasting style, in hopes of allowing consumer's to experience the full taste of every bean. Each cup is hand-crafted for the drinker. The espresso isn't automized, but rather crafted individually, with precision. It's then perfectly combined with milk; a sign of a beautifully combined drink is its beautiful latte art. Regular coffee is brewed by the cup with exact bean to water ratios. These shops contain few, if any, bottles of flavoring. Instead, they hope to brew coffee in such a way to let the true flavors stand out.

This is the type of educational philosophy I can get behind. Each lesson is an art, individually crafted for the learners. It starts with a concept (bean) and strives to build relationships as it artfully shares that concept with others. The creation is an art that allows you to see the concept for what it truly is. It isn't masked with flavors, but it's all about the flavor of the concept itself. It recognizes that the first way isn't necessarily the right way. Instead, little changes can influence the product in big ways. Although technology is needed to brew the perfect learning experience, it's not about the technology; it's about the learning. It's more than just a jolt of energy; it's an experience, an art. Yes, it may take a little bit more time to learn in this way, but the students will gain more skills such as collaboration and exploration that prepare them for a life of learning.

I have loved seeing how thoughts on education technology have changed already in the past three years. I love watching people wrestle with big questions about which tech tools to use and how to integrate them most effectively. In particular, I've loved the focus on crafting an experience for each individual group of learners. I love the focus on relationships while still giving a deeper understanding of the concepts. I look forward to seeing how both coffee and education will continue to adapt to the world around it. It's an exciting world to be a part of.

Still drinking Starbucks and ready to join the specialty coffee world? Here are some of my favorites: 

  • Bellano Coffee | Santa Clara, CA - This is my go-to shop. They serve Verve and Sightglass coffees. Go on Saturday morning for crepes or on Sunday morning for french toast. 
  • Verve Coffee | Santa Cruz, CA - They have three distinctly different shops in Santa Cruz, but they're all great. Ninety Percent of the beans I consume are roasted by them.
  • Blue Bottle Coffee | San Francisco, CA - SF has a plethora of specialty shops, but Blue Bottle is my favorite. I love the environment of their shops, and they have fantastic coffee. (While you're in SF, check out Ritual and Four Barrel as well.)
  • Intelligentsia | Chicago, IL; New York, NY; & Los Angeles, CA - Fantastic company history and amazing coffee. 
  • Madcap Coffee | Grand Rapids, MI -  These people make Grand Rapids cool. I only wish I knew about specialty coffee before I moved away from G-Rap.
  • Noble Coffee Roasters | Ashland, OR - Amazing logo, great coffee, and the perfect addition to this Shakespeare-loving town. I love their little walk-up window and the shop itself. 
  • Too Many Places to Name | Seattle, WA - I enjoyed a great little coffee-crawling weekend up there a few years ago. Check them all out (but maybe not six in one day like I did).