third wave coffee
The most recent cultural phenomenon in the history of the coffee industry and consumption. Comes after the first wave of coffee, which included “growing coffee consumption exponentially,” and the second wave of coffee, which began to “define and enjoy specialty coffee.”*
Purchasing coffee due to its “origin and artisan methods of production.”**
A movement aspiring to produce the highest quality of coffee possible at every level while pleasing and intriguing the coffee consumer.
Popular slang for “a cool place to hang out in the city.”
The new third wave coffeehouse and event space in Henderson, Tennessee.
There’s not many places in West Tennessee where you can get a bonafide flat white, the way they make them in New Zealand or Australia. A flat white, in case you were wondering, is a coffee drink made with milk and espresso. Typically it differs from a latte in that the milk is more velvety in texture and it’s smaller in size overall, which produces a bigger coffee to milk ratio. We have a more “Americanized” version of the flat white available at Starbucks in Jackson, but the flat white that originated in New Zealand and Australia is different. It’s only one size, and it’s not customizable.
I can’t tell you what the real flat white tastes like because I’ve never had the chance to taste one. That’s why when I found out that a coffeehouse near Jackson makes a flat white that was approved by actual customers from New Zealand, I got pretty excited. The fact that this coffeehouse is a locally owned and operated business in Henderson, Tennessee—population 6,245 circa 2018—made me even more impressed.
Robin and Matt Bernard started UrbanHouse - The Venue with the help of their family, friends and other supporters over a period of years. While I became aware of this new coffee place/event venue a few months ago, the 120-year-old building near Freed-Hardeman University had actually been around as a catch-all space for much longer.
“We purchased the building in 2007,” Robin explains to me as we sit at a wooden table in her venue. “We have, through a series of renovations, brought it to what it is today; it’s just taken a long time. We opened it up to the public in July of last year, as an espresso cafe, but it is also a venue.”
Prior to the coffeehouse opening, Robin, her husband, and her daughters had used the building for their photography and art classes, a meeting place for friends and family, and even a few weddings. In fact, the original purpose for buying the building had been for Robin’s photography business. However, after being offered a full-time gig as a lead singer for a Christian rock band, Robin pursued her music career before focusing on her plans for the building.
“My husband encouraged me to take the singing opportunity,” Robin explains. “I did that [professionally] until 2012 and freelanced after that. In the meantime, we were still working on this building—this beautiful space—recreating it.”
Once Robin had more time to work on the building, what is now UrbanHouse - The Venue began to slowly form. The name itself came from a fun conversation with friends, where they found the term “UrbanHouse” from the Urban Dictionary online as a “cool place to hang out in the city.” This is what Robin wanted for her event space: somewhere that people could gather, have fun, make connections, and also enjoy excellent coffee.
After years of traveling to bigger cities like their hometown of Memphis to purchase specialty coffee, Robin and her husband recognized a need for this kind of product in Henderson. Robin had been studying the trends in coffee for some time. She appreciated how coffee shops and roasters were changing the industry in places like California, Australia, and New Zealand, and she wanted to create a third wave coffee house in between Memphis and Nashville—the first of its kind in West Tennessee.
But what is third wave coffee, in context? When you study the history of coffee, you’ll come across the “waves,” or the different ways in which coffee has been produced and marketed throughout the years. I don’t claim to be an expert on coffee history, but a greatly condensed version includes three major waves:
First wave coffee was essentially coffee that could be brewed in a pot at home and included brands like Folgers and Maxwell House. The taste and quality may not have always been the greatest, but they were serving the consumers’ perceived desire for convenience and mass production.
Second wave coffee resulted when customers began asking more from their product—better taste to go along with the convenience and different kinds of drinks (like espresso-based concoctions). An interest in where the coffee beans came from began to emerge. Starbucks opened its doors in 1971 and became the face of second wave coffee; they served freshly roasted beans and talked about the different countries of origin that the beans came from. Other companies like Caribou Coffee worked to unite a fast, easy service with coffee that could not necessarily be made at home.
Third wave coffee is a return to form. The product of the coffee itself takes first priority over consumption and convenience. Coffee is an art and should be appreciated slowly, in the proper context. With third wave roasters and coffee shops, the customer can actually trace their coffee back to the farm in which it originated. They can, in some cases, actually meet the roaster of their beans. Third wave coffee is not about convenience or marketing; rather, it relies on the high quality and individuality of the product itself to please the customer—and it’s working. Coffee businesses like Intelligentsia and Stumptown have been successful in adding depth, transparency, and craftsmanship to the industry (and they make good money selling their products).
Robin believes in third wave coffee as the best wave yet, as she emphasizes,”There was a need for third wave coffee. The craft of coffee is that third wave movement. We’re artists, and we love making sure the coffee is quality.”
Not everyone lives and breathes the history of coffee, though. Maybe they just want a latte and don’t care where the espresso beans came from. The workers at UrbanHouse, however, are happy to introduce their customers to how they craft third wave coffee. There’s no judgement of what you order, but don’t walk into UrbanHouse expecting a 24 oz. cappuccino (which is traditionally far too big for that drink type) or a Starbucks-style flat white. The baristas will offer you instead the more traditional drinks, in their original sizes, without the customizations. For those of you with a sweet tooth, though, rest assured: they do offer creative, seasonal drink concoctions, too.
“The community has welcomed us extremely well,” Robin muses. “But it’s also a learning curve, to understand what specialty coffee actually is: not just second wave coffee, but third wave coffee shops. And so that’s the beauty of bringing something that the larger cities have to a small town. [We’re] ‘seed-to-cup,’ so we take care of the farmers even in a bad season; they still get paid. Every cup of coffee has about 100 beans that are picked by human hands.”
Robin wants to use the specialty coffee, which UrbanHouse receives from the famous roaster and retailer brand Intelligentsia, to connect with her community. Because the coffee is certainly different than something like Folgers (first wave coffee) or Starbucks (second wave coffee), Robin hopes that UrbanHouse will foster a learning environment. By drinking an ethically sourced, specially made drink from UrbanHouse, customers can begin to understand the nuances of where their coffee comes from and how it is made. Something Robin firmly believes in is “doing your homework,” and she has the barista training from a school in Texas to back up her coffee knowledge and experience.
Robin was able to put her education to the test when she served some guests from New Zealand. They asked about getting a flat white, and Robin listened to their descriptions of how they, as New Zealanders, expected the drink to be made. Robin crafted the beverage herself, and she was delighted when they enjoyed the flat white and compared it to the ones back home. It’s a great satisfaction to be able to recreate something from another country accurately, especially when it means helping a customer feel more at home. Because Robin did in fact complete her “homework,” she is ready to provide Henderson with the quality coffee that her community deserves.
The menu at UrbanHouse is small due to this drive for “quality over quantity.” They make their own cold brew, and Robin’s husband makes their popular cinnamon rolls from scratch. They offer unique food and drink items that other places in Henderson don’t offer, so that they are not in competition with them, such as their avocado toast options and variety of grilled cheeses. Robin wants the Henderson business owners and artists to support and complement each other, which is exemplified by the local art that UrbanHouse displays on its walls, giving artists a chance for their work to be appreciated in a public forum. UrbanHouse also hosts a local musician each month so that they can share their songs with others.
For Robin, it’s her higher calling as a believer in God that inspires her to care about the community and helps her find new ways of connecting with them. This could mean hosting a church group in the building on Sundays, the recently trendy and fun “goat yoga,” or a couple’s first steps as husband and wife. UrbanHouse is many things to many people as the building exists to stimulate and support the community.
What’s next for UrbanHouse? “If God allows, there’s more to come,” Robin assures me. For now, the building will continue to undergo renovations to make the space able to serve even more community members, with plans for a drive-thru and a back room area. Her daughters and crew at UrbanHouse are constantly learning more and putting their knowledge into action, so ideas for expansion and other locations could be in their future. But Robin knows that “Henderson is [their] A-game,” and she plans to invest as much as she can into the local area: “You just get a plan of action, and then you go with the next dream.”
UrbanHouse - The Venue is located at 113 South Washington Avenue in Henderson and is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. and Saturday from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. To learn more, visit their website launching soon.
Originally from Medon, Tennessee, Olivia Chin is the Circulation Manager at the Union University Library. Her best Halloween costumes (so far) have been David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. Her favorite hobbies include drinking local coffee, reading true crime novels, and going to emo concerts with her husband.
Photography provided by UrbanHouse - The Venue.
*“The History of First, Second, and Third Wave Coffee.” Craft Beverage Jobs. 17 April 2017, https://www.craftbeveragejobs.com/the-history-of-first-second-and-third-wave-coffee-22315/.