The next time you are in the mood for a fresh cup of coffee, you may be inclined to go to a household name like Tim Hortons or Dunkin Donuts. But there is an ever-growing “third wave” of coffee houses all across Buffalo that are waiting for you to experience them.
These third-wave shops, including a growing coffee house in the heart of Allentown called Caffeology, look to turn coffee brewing on its head, and show you an entirely different way of getting your caffeine fix.
Hamada Saleh, the proprietor of Caffeology, has made it his life’s work to figure out the perfect cup, and his passion may indeed inspire others to follow what they love.
“I was working as an investment banker for the Union Bank of Switzerland, but my passion was always coffee,” said Saleh. “I loved running shops while in college, but I was also working at HSBC while in my master’s program (receiving a master’s degree in applied economics from the University at Buffalo).
“I eventually realized that (a normal job) wasn’t fun anymore. I was sitting on my back all day, it hurt my back, and I needed something more active that went with my love of coffee.”
So Saleh quit his job at the Union Bank of Switzerland and began working at a Starbucks in Connecticut, right outside of New York City. He eventually decided to move back to Buffalo to learn how to brew coffee while he looked for a place to open his own shop, which he did in October 2015. Although he had saved enough to cover his startup costs and the first six months of operation, he found he still needed to borrow money.
“I wish I knew the costs going in,” he said. “I could have allocated a little bit more money and borrowed less.
“It’s like any business--you still haven’t built your name, and customers have to get to know you,” Saleh continued. “I had to borrow six months' rent. Today, we’re two and half years into operation, and I don’t have to borrow anymore. I’m just paying the bills.”
Although he had a definitive course for his business, he credits much of his early successes to the Buffalo area and its affordability.
“The living wage (in Buffalo) is closer to the minimum wage, and rent wasn’t too high,” Saleh said. “When you’re in Connecticut, it’s like Long Island or New Jersey; the rent prices are exorbitant. I thought if this doesn’t work, that’s fine, at least I can afford a loss.”
For some, third-wave coffee may sound complicated or expensive, but Saleh feels it is the best and most natural way to enjoy one of America’s favorite beverages.
“Third-wave coffee is basically getting the roasted beans from the farmer to the cup in three to seven days,” Saleh said, noting that other coffee shops typically brew after three to six months. In addition, Caffeology uses seven different brewing methods for its coffee beans, depending on caffeine extraction and acidic levels. Barometric pressure and humidity come into play, as well, as does the time it takes to brew. Saleh said that he works with other local third-wave coffee brewers through a coffee consortium that enables them to share their experiences and best practices.
Saleh noted the importance of marketing and brand awareness for a business like his, and how difficult that can be to manage when he is working nearly 70 hours a week. He said that business owners often think theirs is a 40-hour-per-week job, but that doesn’t take into account the behind-the-scenes administrative work.
But he loves what he does, and has hopes to expand into a second location, as well as convert his business into a co-op, because “we all work as a team here and it’s important for us to have that team mentality,” he said. He also hopes to learn more about roasting, so that he can be a part of the process from start to finish, and hopefully, someday, brew the perfect cup.