Third Wheel Coffee

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By Henry Springall.

In 2012 I was living in San Jose—the same town where I grew up, working at a coffee shop after a failed attempt at college, and my dad was my boss.

For some, working at a coffee shop is just another paycheck. This can be true of any job; but the strong social environment and the fun of working with an espresso machine was at the time, for me, as good as it got. Still, after 5 years, I was ready for a change.

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When you have a lot of close relationships with your regulars, you tend to notice when new faces start to frequent the shop. Two new faces in particular caught my attention: those of Diane, a soon-to-be climbing gym manager, and Markham, the Operations Director of Touchstone Climbing. Upon further inquiry, I learned that they would be holding interviews at the cafe for this new place opening up down the street. This place? The Studio, Touchstone’s newest climbing gym.

I didn’t know much of climbing and the surrounding community at the time. A friend had taken me bouldering in high school and I knew that I liked it…and that my hands had never hurt so badly. Unbeknownst to me, my boss (a.k.a. my dad) talked them into giving me an interview. I found myself on the other side of the counter, talking with Diane and Markham, and beginning my six-year journey with Touchstone. From there, I would go on to work for Diane at The Studio, Donna at Mission Cliffs, and Lyn at Berkeley Ironworks.

Working at a climbing gym has a similar atmosphere to working at a coffee shop: Early morning shifts; interacting with familiar and unfamiliar faces daily; and a strong relationship with those familiar faces whose day you become a part of. Over the years, it became apparent that there was an opportunity to not only work within the climbing community, but to also bring coffee into the mix and mesh my two favorite things together.

During my days at the cafe and prior to my start with Touchstone, my dad and I had been trying to find a way to take coffee out of the traditional brick-and-mortar coffee shop. This resulted in a mobile espresso cart that we built over hundreds of hours of careful planning, lots of hiccups, and the drive to find a fun, new way to serve coffee. It was this format that allowed me to first experience the ways I could bring coffee to climbers.

Every year, the Studio hosts a youth climbing competition in March. Parents from all over Northern California are up before sunrise to bring their talented little crushers to San Jose for a long, exciting, and sometimes emotional day. We introduced our espresso cart to this crowd and realized just how in need these parents were. This was the event that showed me how receptive the climbing community would be to coffee.

For the past several years, I have served coffee at USAC youth climbing competitions at Mission Cliffs and Berkeley Ironworks, as well as The Studio, and the support from the community has been amazing. I’ve been working to blend these two worlds, and have come to a place that will allow me to continue to serve a community that has been so welcoming.

In January, I stumbled across the perfect platform for a mobile coffee cart, and have begun to take the steps to turn it into just that. I’m hoping to galvanize the supporters I’ve gathered over the last few years, and, together, see it become a reality.

Cue: Third Wheel Coffee!

This little yellow (street legal!) vehicle has started the process of becoming a cafe on wheels to serve the greater Bay Area and beyond, with the inspiration of what we’ve done with the climbing community and its ties to coffee. Once upon a time, a fellow mobile coffee cart existed outside of Ironworks (shoutout to Eureka Coffee!) and we are looking to re-introduce this vision.

If I’m not working inside of a coffee shop or at a climbing gym, the next best thing is to be able to caffeinate the community that has been so supportive for so long.

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If you are interested in learning more about our project, please visit Third Wheel Coffee or find us on Instagram @3rdwheelcoffee. Our Kickstarter is live until September 6th, 2018 and we can use all the support we can get!

I hope to see you outside of your local climbing gym, greeting you with what will hopefully be the best espresso you’ve had.

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