Riding the Third Wave: Milstead & Co.

Image of Milstead Coffee

“Every night for the last week they had rehearsed “Ha-Ha Hortense!” in the Casino, from two in the afternoon until eight in the morning, sustained by dark and powerful coffee, and sleeping in lectures through the interim.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, from This Side of Paradise

You may not know this, but the development of coffee culture is defined in waves: First Wave, Second Wave, and Third Wave.

The first wave was the era of instant coffee. First patented by a New Zealander named David Strang in 1890, American companies like Folgers and Maxwell did not starting selling instant coffee until after World War II. Instant coffee was fast, cheap, and that was about it. As technology changed, the quality of instant coffee improved, but only up to a point. Even the best freeze-dried couldn’t compete with the taste of fresh brewed coffee.

This brings us to the second wave of coffee. Starting in the 1960’s with places like Peet’s Coffee And Tea and later with Seattle-based Starbucks, these places turned Americans onto the superior flavor of fresh brewed coffee and espresso based drinks. In the second wave people began to know about regions their coffee came from and to expect different flavors from say, a Colombian coffee to a Sumatran.

In the wake of the exploding popularity of Second Wave coffee, those particularities became of more interest to consumers and producers. In the 1990s people started approaching all aspects of coffee production as an artisanal chain. This became the Third Wave. Interest was now not just which region the beans came from, but which farm. Conscientious consumers wanted organic beans purchased from farmers for a fair price, then expertly roasted in small batches. The beans needed to be ground right before use, and brewed using sophisticated methods designed to bring out the best in that particular bean.

All this gets us to present day Seattle and Milstead & Co. coffee shop. Located off North 34th Street in Fremont and with a lovely view of the Aurora Bridge, it is the quintessential Third-Wave coffee shop.

The menu is simple, focused, and almost unanimously caffeinated. They don’t offer any decaf coffee or espresso, but they do have a few herbal teas that are caffeine free.

Milstead is using very new methods to brew its artisan roasts, usually with a Clever or AeroPress. My coffee was brewed with an AeroPress, a method created by Alan Adler in 2005. It’s a simple device that solved the problem of brewing coffee fast enough to keep it from getting bitter, but strong enough for a flavorful cup.

I am still dipping my toes into this coffee purist world. Normally I stick to mochas, but I ordered a small cup of their special offering, this one from Intelligentsia. You don’t have to be a coffee guru to tell the difference between the pre-ground beans bought at a grocery store and small batch roasted beans. This coffee is smooth, almost tart, not bitter or burnt. I still use sugar and cream in my coffee (I’m not there yet), but I savor the gift that Third Wave coffee has given to me, and anyone else lucky enough to wander into Milstead. We’ve come a long way from freeze-dried instant coffee, and I for one am grateful.

Milstead Coffee

770 N 34th St
Seattle, WA 98103
Weekdays 6am-6pm
Weekends 7am-6pm







Norway And Coffee by Trish Skeie


2 thoughts on “Riding the Third Wave: Milstead & Co.

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