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The local coffeehouse scene rides the third wave
The coffeehouse landscape of Chattanooga is on the brink of a major explosion. The third wave of coffee culture is surging in—and the levees don't stand a chance. "Chattanooga has been stuck in this wave of coffee culture in which people are spending four to five dollars on a cup of coffee," says Andrew Bettis, part owner of Copacetic Coffee. "What we are trying to do in the third wave is make that value a bit more defined." Five coffeehouses in town are on the forefront of the revolution, with two more, Make Coffee and Brash Coffee coming to Walnut Street and Warehouse Row, respectively, this year.
One of the earliest arrivals on the Chattanooga coffee scene, Greyfriar’s looks and feels today much as it did back in 1996. Laptops grace coffee tables strewn with books. Wooden tables, whimsical art, exposed brick—the standard outfit. Greyfriar’s is one of few places in town to roast their beans in-house. Ten feet away from the cash register in a back room looms a giant red roaster, and at the helm, Kevin Ricks. Ricks has been at Greyfriar’s for four years, and is the master roaster and manager. “Over the past two years there has really been a boom in shops opening up around town,” he says. “People are asking more pointed questions, [like] where do I get the beans from, or how they can re-create their coffee experience at home. There is a growing respect for what we are doing in the coffee industry.”
Greyfriar's has offered French-pressed coffee since the early days, and has been offering pour-overs for the past year and a half. Smack-dab in the middle of the tourist area, even with the new boom of progressive coffee shops it holds fast with its regulars alongside the tourist traffic. In the summer, it is a wonderful place to sit and watch the world turn before hitting any of the downtown destinations, like the Tennessee Aquarium. Greyfriar’s is also open until 8 p.m. on the weekends, making it easy to stop by and fuel up for the nightlife.
In the tiny town center of St. Elmo is Pasha Coffee & Tea, which is under new ownership. “I worked here for two years and then I moved away for awhile, and came back in August when I bought the shop,” says Pasha’s current owner Matt Skudlarek. “Pasha is kind of like a living room for the whole neighborhood—with high-end coffee gear. I love this neighborhood.” It is this love of neighborhood that gives Pasha its charm. That, and the delicious Bongo Java coffee. Says Julia Hunter, Skudlarek’s girlfriend and a regular customer, “The whole staff works really hard to care about every single customer and give them the best experience they can.” A group of seven 20-somethings sits near the door, talking loudly while studious businessmen type away in the back corner. “The clientele is always changing,” says Skudlarek. “I just want to provide a friendly atmosphere with great products. We’re here for the people who want to stay and hang out.”
Pasha also keeps up with trends in coffee culture. “We’ve changed a lot of our gear around in the past two months to follow more of the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) standards for espresso and coffee preparation, introducing people to the third wave,” Matt explains. “There are basically three waves of coffee culture. The first is when coffee initially came on the scene, historically, and then there’s the ’90s-era of coffee, which was focused on super-strong, really dark coffee, and that kind of morphed into a quick-in, quick-out model of coffee, like the Starbucks model, which was a ‘get the customer out the door’ mindset. The third wave, which is what we’re based on, is focused on the science and the basic elements of the coffee.” By this, he means the very basics: the beans and the water. “We don’t serve any blends at all. It’s all single origin. We have three different Ethiopian coffees, depending on what’s in season, instead of just ‘here’s a dark coffee, hope you like it.’” Skudlarek feels the coffee landscape of Chattanooga is climbing to new peaks, and he strives to keep up. “If you want to open a restaurant or coffee shop in Chattanooga,” he says, “you have to have something really really good.”