If you want a good cup of coffee in Edmond, there are an incredible number of choices.
You could stop by Ellis Island for a Cubano and maybe have a glass of wine afterward. You could sample a mocha at All About Cha, sip a latte at Aspen or get an espresso at Coffee Tree. You could stop in for lunch at Cafe Evoke and sample a nice Ethiopian single-origin. And, of course, that’s not even counting Starbucks.
But it’s easy to forget just how new most of these options are. Only a few short years ago, Edmond didn’t have much of a coffee scene to speak of.
Jason Duncan, founder and former owner of Cafe Evoke in downtown Edmond, said Edmond’s coffee scene has occurred in waves.
“There was a wave before us. There was a small wave when we opened that we were a part of. And now we’re seeing another wave, and watching it happen is incredible,” Duncan said.
Cafe Evoke was the first real “third wave” coffee shop in Edmond, and one of the first in the greater Oklahoma City area. Third wave coffee refers to a view of coffee as something that can be savored like a fine wine, with different characteristics to be expressed based on the roast and the terrior –or unique flavor — of the bean. If you’ve been to a shop that offers a pour-over, Chemex, V60, or some other hand-based, non-espresso offering, you’re in a third wave coffee shop.
Java Dave’s was the main coffee shop people knew if they lived in Edmond in the 1990s or early 2000s. It had a wide variety of coffee, but all were drip brewed, and it didn’t have much in common with the shops that would open later. Then came Starbucks.
“People forget the significance of a brand like Starbucks saying ‘Edmond wants to drink great coffee,” Duncan said. “A lot of the conversations we can have are because a company like Starbucks went crazy and spread the word.”
Starbucks started to change minds and open people’s eyes to tastes they might not have realized were out there. And with the advent of Coffee Slingers in Oklahoma City, the metro market was about to get its first taste of a new generation of coffee shops.
Third wave coffee comes to the OKC metro
As food critic Jonathan Gold put it back in 2008, “The first wave of American coffee culture was probably the 19th-century surge that put Folgers on every table . . . the second was the proliferation . . . of espresso drinks and regionally labeled coffee. We are now in the third wave of coffee connoisseurship, where beans are sourced from farms instead of countries, roasting is about bringing out rather than incinerating the unique characteristics of each bean, and the flavor is clean and hard and pure.”
Coffee Slingers was the harbinger of a new wave of coffee shops, Duncan said.
“I’d argue Coffee Slingers paved the way for everything we’re seeing today. In cycling someone has to take the headwind, and they did that for a lot of us,” said Duncan. “Elemental was around at that time. We were around as a catering company and worked hand in hand and with Slingers, too. But we worked together.”
When Slingers opened in Oklahoma City’s Automobile Alley, Elemental rapidly followed in Midtown. The Duncans moved back from Montana around the same time and were hunting for a place to open their own shop. They had been running a coffee catering business that was doing well and building relationships with the local roasters and shop owners who laid the groundwork for Oklahoma City’s coffee scene. And that was the direction they were looking.
“Here’s the truth,” Duncan said, laughing. “I grew up in Edmond and left after high school. I didn’t think I’d ever be back to Oklahoma for one, but especially Edmond.”
But when they started looking for places to build their brick and mortar shop, Edmond turned out to be the right choice.
“The guy who owns this building was an old friend. He was trying to get me to use this building in Edmond. I said ‘Evoke’s not an Edmond company. Our style’s not Edmond. We’re not Edmond.’ It took me a while to swallow what this kind of coffee place meant for Edmond. But I learned quickly that every community needs a place like this.”
Evoke hit the ground running. And it hasn’t stopped since.
Community through coffee
The success of shops like Cafe Evoke, All About Cha and Aspen Coffee changed attitudes and helped open the door for newer owners, people who might not have created shops in Edmond without that. People like Wayne Sun, owner of Coffee Tree.
Wayne’s not originally from Oklahoma. He hails from China. He emigrated to the United States to go to school in New York, but made his way to Oklahoma to fulfill a dream he’d had for a while.
“When I was little, I had a passion to own a coffee shop,” he said.
Those early third wave shops had to give each other a ton of support to survive. They were changing attitudes together and sharing resources. But independent shops like Coffee Tree followed in their wake, finding their own niches. Sun doesn’t know any of the other owners. He’s not tied into the coffee scene in the same way Elemental, Slingers or Evoke were. But Edmond is now a coffee town.
It doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges. “The hardest part of getting it off the ground was money,” he said. “The second hardest was sourcing beans. You really need to choose the best beans.”
Even though you might think these shops are all competing against each other, they all have their place in the fabric of Edmond’s coffee scene.
“I walk by Ellis Island, and I see people I’ve served plenty of coffees to. We’re finding choice. People don’t want to drink the same thing every day,” Duncan said.
And that’s what Edmond has now: choice. There’s a variety of different coffee shops, all serving their own variants and spins on similar drinks. And Edmond residents can choose the one they like the best.
“We’re making coffee for our neighborhood,” Duncan said. “Not for Deep Deuce or Automobile Alley or downtown Portland. When it comes down to it we’re a coffee shop for our neighbors, and we make coffee for them, not anybody else. What does Edmond taste like?
“It tastes like Edmond wants it to taste like.”
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About David Brandon
David Brandon is a longtime Edmond resident who loves exploring new places around his hometown. He’s a freelance copywriter and devotee of the written word, spending many of his off hours reading and writing. He’s also an amateur musician and loves both listening to and creating music. A diehard Oklahoma City Thunder and general basketball fan, David blogs for Daily Thunder about the NBA salary cap and other basketball news. Catch him on Twitter for NBA thoughts.