Dogwood Coffee: Riding the Third Wave

There's a new coffee bar in Uptown. This is news, you ask? Yes, it is. In November, Greg Hoyt opened Dogwood Coffee in Calhoun Square, across from Kitchen Window in the space formerly occupied by Starbucks. The differences between the previous chain tenant and this new local installation are dramatic. The space is light and airy, with reclaimed wood fixtures locally sourced and built. The menu is small, and there are only a few baked goods. Yet with a selection and execution this good, I didn't miss a thing. In fact, I found myself already planning my next trip back.

We're in the Third Wave of coffee, Hoyt tells me. The first wave was coffee as commodity: canned ground or instant coffee in every pantry. The second wave was the Starbucks phenomenon: a coffee shop on every block with a huge selection of espresso drinks and baked goods. The Third Wave began around 2002: coffee purveyors moved away from blends and syrups toward an understanding of coffee akin to that of fine wine, chocolate, cheese, or beer. Instead of a commodity, like wheat, or a branded product, like a cup from Starbucks, each cup of coffee could be traced back to a country, a region, a farm, and even the seeds from which it grew.

Dogwood Coffee Shop is the culmination of Hoyt's ten-plus years in the coffee industry. He worked in a chain coffee shop before starting Bull Run, a wholesale coffee roaster that supplied fine local restaurants, country clubs, Lunds, and Byerly's. On a buying trip to Rwanda, Hoyt met some of the people whose Third Wave principles would influence him on the path to opening Dogwood: representatives from Stumptown, the pioneering coffee shop in Portland; Counter Culture Coffee; and Intelligentsia in Chicago. Around 2006, Hoyt cast about for ideas to move Bull Run into the retail market. Through his experience as a coffee wholesaler, he'd become familiar with the aforementioned Third Wave. A coffee's origin should be conveyed, not hidden, and the intricacies of flavor celebrated -- not roasted out of them, blended with other beans, or drowned in flavored syrup. In the end, Hoyt says, "it's about not compromising anything." Serving the coffee doesn't just mean selling it, but also doing justice to it as a unique and valuable resource.

Hoyt found an ideal partner in Rustica Bakery when the bakery outgrew its old space in south Minneapolis. Just before Thanksgiving 2009, Bull Run Coffee and Rustica Bakery opened in Calhoun Square, with exquisite artisanal coffee drinks prepared by rigorously trained and highly skilled Bull Run baristas, alongside eye-catching, mouth-watering Rustica baked goods. Rustica owned the lease on the Calhoun Village space, and Bull Run built out the coffee space and ran that part. The partnership with Rustica worked so well, it became clear that Hoyt's dream of an artisan coffee shop was done incubating, so Dogwood got its own space and Rustica got its own coffee team.

In September, Hoyt sold his share in Bull Run, which remains primarily a wholesale coffee supplier, and spun off Dogwood. The wholesale arm of Dogwood supplies coffee to local restaurants including Piccolo, Victory 44, and the soon-to-reopen Heidi's. Hoyt's mission with the new retail location of Dogwood Coffee is to convey complexity in a single cup of carefully sourced coffee, skillfully prepared and beautifully presented.

If any of this sounds expensive or complex, Hoyt is quick to dispel that notion. He holds free "cuppings" on Thursdays from 6 to 7 p.m. No reservations are necessary for a tasting of coffees very similar to a tasting of wines; drinkers evaluate coffees based on characteristics such as sight, smell, and taste. Hoyt and his team at Dogwood did cuppings when they considered buying different batches of coffee, and as a method of quality control. It made sense to bring it out of the back room so the public could learn about the coffees too.

As with the coffee beans, the other items at Dogwood Coffee -- the tea, chocolate, soy, and cow milks -- are sourced based on quality. The milk for the cappuccinos and lattes comes from Autumnwood Dairy in Forest Lake, Minnesota. The team from Dogwood did blind tastings over six weeks to find the best match for the taste profile of the espresso. It's no coincidence, says Hoyt, that sustainable practices in production of coffee and other items yield better products. By working closely with coffee importers, Hoyt can get to know which small farms use sustainable practices though they might not have the same certifications as larger farms can. He can also access microlot batches deliberately cultivated on a small scale, which results in a single-origin coffee direct to the coffee drinker, still something of a rarity in the coffee industry.

Dogwood and other local shops are making artisan coffee experiences less rare all the time. "This is where it gets fun," smiles Hoyt, as he talks about the current and future Twin Cities coffee culture. Peace Coffee, in the vanguard of the local shift to the Third Wave, recently opened its first shop, which Gabriela Lambert wrote about in her article The New Peace Coffee Shop Combines Fair-Trade Ideas with Great Coffee and Food. Other Third Wave coffee bars around the Twin Cities include Kopplin's and Quixotic in St. Paul, and the Angry Catfish in Minneapolis. Interestingly, the community is not one of rivalry, but of cooperation. Andrew Kopplin has been a close advisor as Dogwood has taken off, and many of the baristas from the different shops are friends who visit each other at work and hang out after hours. Its these professional baristas, Hoyt tells me again and again, who are absolutely critical to the success of the Third Wave coffee shop. "They do the work," he says. "They are the artists. I just run the business."

Kristin Boldon is a frequent contributor for Simple, Good and Tasty, who also writes for the Eastside Food Cooperative's newsletter on health and wellness, and for her own blog Girl DetectiveHer last post for us was "Impossibly Delicious Pumpkin Desserts for Thanksgiving."