Artisanal Brands Brew America's Third Coffee Revolution

Stumptown, Grady's and others bring an ultra-gourmet touch to the bean scene.

— -- You’ve heard of artisanal cheeses and craft beers, but a new food trend is brewing, one that involves a cup of coffee so exquisite it needs the finest beans, scientific measurements and an expert pour into a pre-warmed cup.

At least the brew masters at Stumptown Coffee think so.

“We like to say we’re peoples’ spirit guides with coffee here,” said Nick Herman, the manager at Stumptown’s West 8th St. location in New York City.

Stumptown is one of the leaders in a booming movement of coffee brew masters hoping to revolutionize the way we drink a cup of Joe.

Folgers set the stage in the ‘60s for the first wave of mass-marketed American coffee, then Starbucks launched a second wave in the ‘90s with their menu of specialty coffee made to order. They added new words like “venti dirty soy mocha chai” to the American vernacular.

Now, a so-called “third wave” of coffee brewing is on the rise, with artisanal brands like Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia and Stumptown bringing an ultra-gourmet touch to the bean scene.

“There’s a beauty to coffee I think maybe… that the American consumer didn’t have [before],” said Stumptown Coffee President Joth Ricci.

Their customers are hip, young, and willing to shell out extra cash for a taste. Stumptown Coffee, which is based in Portland, Oregon, sells their coffee for as much as $6 a cup.

“It’s the same with a high-end bottle of wine, or that great cheese, or that great steak,” Ricci said.

Stumptown Coffee is now worth an estimated $52 million, according to industry experts.

Stumptown’s scouts select the finest beans from around the world and ship them to their Brooklyn roaster to be roasted to perfection. Those beans are then shipped to wholesalers, or to one of their nine retail stores to be brewed.

Industry experts believe gourmet coffee could be the future of American consumption.

“People are prepared to pay up for an experience now,” said IBISWorld senior food and beverage analyst Andy Brennan. “There’s definitely a snob factor at play within third-wave coffee, and they’re quite proud of this.”

Brennan is from Australia, where the artisanal coffee movement has already conquered about half of the market in major cities like Perth and Sydney. He thinks American consumers are following suit.

“The type of coffee you drink is really becoming a statement about who you are, what you represent, where you come from now,” he said. “This is been one of the biggest trends within third-wave coffee. People don’t necessarily want to drink at Starbucks anymore, because it’s seen as generic.”

While Stumptown execs said they don’t think Starbucks is “too worried” about their company, there is a rivalry percolating among the third wavers. While Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia are Stumptown’s biggest competitors, some smaller businesses are gaining ground. One such brand, Grady’s Cold Brew, is eschewing the high-end coffee shop model and going D-I-Y.

Grady Laird, Dave Sands and Kyle Buckley are the brains behind Grady’s Cold Brew, a company that’s finding success making gourmet coffee for the masses on the cheap and made cold. Their product is a low-key, do-it-yourself brew that costs as little as $1 a cup.

Based out of a humble warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Grady’s says their coffee is “New Orleans style,” a chicory-infused coffee concentrate recipe that’s meant to be diluted with milk. You can purchase it pre-bottled, or buy “bean bags” to brew overnight in your fridge.

“I wasn’t the biggest fan of coffee shop culture. I didn’t always find coffee shops to be comfortable,” said Grady Laird, the company’s namesake. “I thought they were a little bit stuffy a little pretentious, it just wasn’t where I really wanted to enjoy a cup of coffee--where I did want to enjoy it was at home.”

“We always say you don’t start drinking warm beer or hot juice in the winter the same where people will kind of get used to drinking iced coffee year round,” he said. “It’s going to be really normal to see people doing it year round.”