When the Coffee Wallah’s Daughter Crossed Over to the Dark Side

sara with coffee

The coffee wallah’s daughter . Photo lifted from Amazon.com

In my last post I wrote about my adventures of being a coffee wallah on the Wild Rivers Bicycle Tour.  I noted optimistically that sharing coffee with others is a “cultural ritual” that helps create social bonds. What I didn’t mention was that there can be a dark side to this cultural ritual.  I learned this from our daughter, Sara, who has a long-standing interest in coffee.

uc santa cruz slug

Go slugs!

Her interest started after she graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1993 with an English lit degree and she had landed her first job – as a barista at Peet’s Coffee in Berkeley (for years I would tell my undergraduate sociology students that Sara’s experience meant that there was hope for employment for those with liberal arts degrees).

peets coffee original.jpg

The original Peet’s in Berkeley

Little did I suspect that later, as the food editor for San Francisco Magazine, she would write an article that turned the coffee world on its head.  I suppose that’s a bit overstated, but she did yank some chains.

In her ground-breaking piece (pun intended) Sara admitted to her early infatuation with what was labeled as the “third wave” of the coffee movement (which followed the “second wave” when Martha & Bros. and Peet’s arrived on the coffee scene).  The third wavers maligned the second waver beans, such as Peets’ Major Dickason’s, “as over-roasted and the brew as elementary.”

Blue-Bottle-coffee barista

This Blue Bottle barista may have been trained to have the “nose of a drug-sniffing dog.”

As Sara writes, the bean masters behind these upstart “third wave” companies (Blue Bottle, Ritual, Four Barrel, etc.) had one mission:

“to roast their coffee beans so lightly that one can detect in their flavor profile a place of single origin… If you can’t pick up these nuanced flavors yourself, the baristas, who are trained to have the nose of a drug-sniffing dog, will do it for you—identifying the perfume of the inside of a banana peel or the notes of a yellow raspberry.”

I must admit that having a nose of a drug-sniffing dog was well beyond the skill level of us Wild Rivers Cycling Tour coffee wallahs.   We were having enough trouble insuring that more liquid than grounds ended up in the cups.


Photo by Peter Belanger.   From Sara’s SF magazine article “Coffee Gone Sour.”

Plus, it’s somewhat ironic that the official Wild Rivers Tour coffee was Peet’s Major Dickasons, which was maligned as “over-roasted” and “elementary.”  Tell that to the early morning “walking dead” cyclists craving their morning fix!.

Major D coffee

Peet’s “over-roasted” and “elementary” coffee.

Despite Sara’s infatuation with the third wave coffee movement, she reluctantly realized that she really didn’t like the coffee.  She found it sour and puckering.  But she continued to give it the benefit of the doubt because it supposedly was “interesting.”

She wrote:

“Not wanting to be considered intellectually soft, I decided to give ‘interesting’ coffee one final college try… But as I sipped it, I felt my face scrunching up into an undeniable winch.”

Ultimately, she bought some coffee beans from a purveyor that prefers darker roasts, even though it was “déclassé” to prefer dark those days.  The next morning, she claims, “I used them to make my usual cups, and with one sip, I experienced relief, a hazy sense of joy, like I’d just kicked off my Louboutins”.

She had moved to the dark side.

(For your enjoyment, here is a link to Sara’s “Coffee Gone Sour”)




  1. sara deseran says:

    Having just returned from Italy where every drinks espresso, which takes all of three sips to get through, I will say that I also prefer a nice cup of American-style coffee (French press is my preference) in the Heath mug presented in the photo above (as my parents know I have very particular ideas about a coffee mug–it must be small, the handle not too big so your finger can comfortably wrap around it, and the interior must be white so you can see the color of your coffee). I like to have something to sip on until it gets cold at which point I throw it in the microwave for a hot second to rewarm it. Speaking of déclassé!


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