Caffeine is arguably humanity's most beloved psychoactive drug, and coffee is its most favored form. A strong case can be made that tea is more ubiquitous and equally refined, and while chocolate, mate, kola nuts or cassina pack a hell of a buzz, no other form of caffeine delivery system inspires the level of obsession and artistry that is brewing a great cup of coffee. Coffee is many things: artistic, stimulating, expressive … but in the wrong hands, it is a drug of inequity and exploitation; grown in mass quantities, it is as harmful to its point of origin as bananas, sugar and oil. But there is a new wave of coffee shops and roasters that aim to free coffee consumers from participating in a outdated, archaic system.
"When farmers can no longer grow coffee, a way of life that has been sustained for generations is lost, setting off a cascade of miserable consequences, including accelerated urbanization in producing countries," God in a Cup scribe Michaele Wiessman writes. "Coffee lovers lose out too, for it is these small shareholders, rather than the world's large plantations, who grow many of the world's best coffees."
While the third wave coffee movement has been gaining momentum since the early 1990s, Santa Fe has been slow to adopt the trend. First on the scene was the Betterday Coffee Shop (Solana Center, 905 W Alameda St.,
780-8059), featuring the brews of Portland, Oregon-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters; in 2013, Iconik Coffee Roasters opened its flagship Lena Street Lofts location (1600 Lena St., Ste. A2, 428-0996), branching out over the years to a second location (at Collected Works Bookstore at 202 Galisteo St.,
988-4226) and a thriving wholesale business with local restaurants as well. Since then, a handful of new roasters and shops have sprung up elsewhere in the state as well, notably Albuquerque's Prismatic, which roasts in-house, and Deep Space, which sources its house coffees from Colorado's Sweet Bloom and Arizona's Presta Coffee Roasters. Similar to the rise of microbreweries in the beer industry, third wave coffee is the fastest-growing segment of the coffee industry (which grosses roughly $74.2 billion a year) and shows no sign of slowing.
Which brings us to Sky Coffee (the little adobe right across from the water tower at 1609 Alcaldesa St.). Sky occupies a premium spot. With brick walls and a tin ceiling that lend a rustic feel to the space, the interior is airy, light and minimalist. This multi-roaster coffee bar has been open just shy of five months and features a rotating selection of beans sourced from small-batch roasters, all selected by director of coffee and godfather of Santa Fe's third wave coffee scene, Todd Spitzer—with help from Violet Crown Cinema founder Bill Banowsky—who also brought us Iconik and up-and-coming Baca Street-area coffee shop and eatery Opuntia (922 Shoofly St.). Sky's sources include the requisite Iconik roasts as well as offerings from Ruby Coffee Roasters and Máquina Coffee Roasters. The latter is a microroaster based out of Pennsylvania which focuses on cultivated relationships with growers and delivering accessible, approachable expressions of small-batch roasted coffee, while Ruby, based in Nelsonville, Wisconsin, delivers a kind of coffee with a direct point of origin. To think: A pound of fully washed Ethiopian Guji Uraga comes lightly roasted from an operation based in a town of less than 200 people.
Sourcing and roasting the beans is only half the battle. The other half is brewing and serving it. As is par for the course with coffeeshops of this ilk, the espresso shot has to be the correct weight and tamped out perfectly, while the pour has to be well-timed and the
water has to be the right temperature. The steamed milk used to make a pretty, swirling design atop a latte isn't just for aesthetics; it's a sign that the barista has prepared the milk and espresso in the best way possible. The beans are ground to order, the shots are small and everything behind the bar can be no more than two weeks old (and frequently is younger than that). There are pastries on hand from Dolina Bakery (402 N Guadalupe St., 982-9394) with plans to expand the menu selection sometime this spring—but for now, quality coffee is the focus. Certainly, the crux of the altruism, the lofty ideals and the obsessive attention to detail that categorize the third wave all hinge on constantly improving the level of quality inherent in a good cup of coffee, and Sky certainly delivers in that respect.
I had the pour-over ($4), which is drip coffee made from freshly ground beans in a kalita dripper, featuring the roast of the day (Máquina's Colombian Finca el Mirador.) There are pounds of coffee available for purchase as well. But it isn't all about obsessing over the small details.
"Third wave isn't always about roasting light coffees, but rather different roasting profiles and signatures for the drinks to appeal to a wide variety of palettes," Spitzer says. "I think Santa Fe itself can and will support more third wave roasters, each doing their own original take on the craft. Sky Coffee is one company exploring this idea."
1609 Alcaldesa St.
8 am-6 pm daily