Reaching a Higher Gound: Blue Bottle Coffee
I am fascinated by people that pursue their passion with such intensity they almost seem insane. Crazy like a fox, I say. James Freeman doggedly and with a single mind made coffee--really good coffee--his raison d'etre.
As a child he recalls being confused by the disparity between the smell of coffee brewing and the acrid taste when he was finally allowed to taste it. As a college student the self-described music nerd frequented the new drip bars in Santa Cruz and when he could afford to, purchased exotic beans he would grind and drip himself. Years later, the journey-man musician, who carried home-roasted coffee beans, a hand grinder and a french press with him on the road, realized that he was more passionate about coffee then he was music. He quit music, declared himself a Coffee Roaster and just like that, Blue Bottle Coffee was born.
From Farm to Cup
Before Blue Bottle Coffee enjoyed the cult following it does today, it was Freeman alone in a rented potting shed roasting and grinding the green coffee beans he purchased from a local importer. He intended to create the finest, most authentic tasting coffee meant to be enjoyed at it's peak. His promise: 48 hours from roaster to cup.
Freeman set up shop at the Berkley Farmer's Market where his laborious process and painstaking dedication to detail enchanted the local "foodie" crowd . Each coffee was ground and made to order. People waited--sometimes 5 or 6 minutes for their coffee as he constructed it layer by layer. He worked on a wobbly drip bar, executing the Japanese pour over process, pouring hot water over fresh grounds and waiting. Whether it was the spectacle of his process or the quality of the product (probably both), word spread.
Freeman took a risk and invested in a top-of-the-line, PID-controlled handmade espresso machine by La Marzocco. Blue Bottle Coffee was the second coffee company in the US to be outfitted with the new PID (geek speak referring to its ability to accurately maintain a temperature) technology. Once again and against the odds Blue Bottle caught on. The cafe offered no sizes or flavors: just six old-school, yet exotic, crafted drinks, all ground and made to order. Quality, patience and TLC. While not it's goal, Blue Bottle made Starbucks look like McDonalds and turned the local coffee culture on it's head.
In 2009 Gramercy Tavern in New York City announced it's was going to serve Blue Bottle coffee. The restaurant worked closely with the Blue Bottle team and installed the Freeman approved La Marzocco GB-5 $12,000 espresso maker. As Danny Meyer put it, "Once you try Blue Bottle, there is no going back." Locations in Tribeca, Brooklyn, Chelsea and Rockefeller Center soon followed.
Today Blue Bottle has a serious cult following and eleven locations in San Francisco and New York. It has direct relationships with farmers and uses only pesticide free shade grown beans.
Reaching a Higher Ground, DIY Style
The tools from beans to cup, to brew via the "drip" or 'pour over" method.
Always start with good beans. If you want to try home roasting try Sweet Maria's to get quality "green beans" (beans not yet roasted) and DIY instructions. Freshly roasted coffee beans can usually be found at a gourmet market.