Words by Sunny Zaman
In the same manner a sommelier views wine, roasters, baristas and fans of third-wave coffee focus on source regions, brew methods and palate building. Rory Van Grol, owner of Ugly Duck Coffee, says being a coffee proprietor is a combination of “being open mentally first” and maintaining a “balance of reading people and reading yourself.” Many in Rochester’s coffee community have worked together and learned from each other. Rory ran a pop-up shop while working at Joe Bean Coffee Roasters (NOTA) before opening his brick-and-mortar last summer. Ugly Duck is tucked onto Charlotte Street in the East End—a neighborhood seeing considerable growth.
Rory attributes the influx of entrepreneurs and creatives in Rochester to the city’s economy, citing low-cost-of-living as a reason people move and stay here to make things. He carries herbal teas from the local Happy Earth Tea—being sure to have something to offer non-coffee drinkers—and some baked goods from Red Fern and Scratch Bake Shop.
The shop’s identity is ostensibly informed by Rory's roots in skate culture; the logo graphically communicates a sharp and elegant personality; the interior design is deliberate and implies community. In the mornings, generous sunlight washes through inviting windows, inspiring the atmosphere of a vivacious city proper. The espresso bar at the far-end of the shop’s single counter sits low, at table height, encouraging conversation with Rory’s rotating three-person staff. Cast along the short hallway to the bathroom, wall hangers stand by for upstate, goose- down winter coats and messenger bags. Nestled at the very end of this hallway (before your right turn into the washroom) is a community wall, peppered with magnets pinning fliers, floating above handbills for film screenings, concerts and yoga classes. The couple of common tables encourage conversation with other freelancers. At the end of the largest one, a prominent wall evolves several times a season to feature different local artists. All of the furniture is moveable and designed locally by Staach. The menu features the footnote “Filter Coffee, Not People.”
Video produced in collaboration with our friends at Floating Home Films.
After oil, coffee is the top traded legal commodity in the world. While its derivation (even the name, coffee) remains largely ambiguous and undocumented, its birthplace is considered Ethiopia. Since its embrace along The Silk Road, coffee and coffee houses have integrated their way into societal infrastructure. Modernity made cafes on-fashion, growing in popularity among fashionistas, starlets and intellectuals in large, European cities like Rome, Paris and Vienna. After its centuries-long international journey, roasters and coffee houses opened up shop in America. Industrialism codified commodities with an ordinary accessibility; instant coffee at home and powdered coffee sent to soldiers in the trenches. Though, as baby-boomers grew, so did their downtime, which helped usher in a second-wave in the 1970s. People began to embrace coffee with a more active relationship in the home via auto-drips and pull-presses, which birthed the chains that have become pervasive along the North-American highway—Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Tim Horton’s.
As Chris Clemens wrote in this article for Boomtown Table, third-wave coffee harbors the process of “taking a green coffee bean harvested in a faraway land and carefully mastering its transformation into the coveted brew.” Rory’s relationship with the coffee he decides to carry begins at its source; with the farmers or roasters it originates from and their own passion for coffee and cultivation. He’s sure to connect with roasters who have a relationship with the (often small) farms their coffee comes from, in addition to appreciating flavor profiles. In this way, third-wave has become like modernity’s endearing pastiche of coffee culture, embracing its intersectionality at tradition, diaspora and globalism, celebrating the coffee bean as a fundamental part of the human experience.
“Coffee is people,” Rory remarked several times. “I want to make people feel better than when they came in.”