Top Shelf Cup a Joe

blue-bottle-coffee_editSo I recently discovered Blue Bottle Coffee is not just your average cup of joe. Blue Bottle Coffee, is a native California micro-roaster that introduced Japanese-style siphon bar to San Francisco. They only carry three blends of coffee, however, each is hand roasted in their roastery. James Freeman (founder) took the creation of coffee to a new level by controlling where the coffee is imported from as well as the equipment that is used to make the coffee. Freeman imported coffee and equipment from Japanese beverage giant UCC. UCC sold Freeman a $20,000 halogen-powered siphon machine that sits in the Mint Plaza café. Mr. Freeman is still tremendously involved with the brewing of the coffee and he meets with his staff each day in the company’s production facility for their “cupping” ritual—a blind tasting of all the coffee roasted the previous day, as well as coffee made from beans they are considering buying.  Some things that set Blue Bottle Coffee apart is after roasting; coffee beans exhale carbon dioxide for several hours. Instead of keeping the Blue Bottle beans in bins, they are mixed in blends and bagged within four hours to harness carbon dioxide and keep oxygen (and oxidation) out of the bags. Blue Bottle never pre-blends their coffees, thus assuring the ideal roast profile for each bean.

blue_bottle_kyoto_dripperYou may also wonder why is there a coffee siphon sitting on the counter from Japan? Well, Mr. Freeman has been influenced by his many trips to Japan, which has a long tradition of hand-brewing coffee with scrupulous care. He makes pilgrimages to a cafe near Shibuya Station in Tokyo called Chateau Hatou, which brews individual cups of coffee for $15 apiece. Mr. Freeman describes them as “life-changing perfection.” He studied the Japanese manual coffee-making techniques and has switched to more Japanese equipment over the past five years. Moving more deeply into the culture, he has begun studying the Japanese language, toting his flashcards around and meeting with a tutor about twice a month.

Blue Bottle Coffee’s Timeline: 

  • In 2001, James Freeman (burned out musician) Founded of Blue Bottle Coffee in an 186 square foot potting shed adjacent to Freeman’s Oakland apartment.
    • Freeman would roast coffee beans in his shed, then load the beans and a drip coffee contraption into his Peugeot station wagon and drive to farmers’ markets in Berkeley, Oakland, and eventually the Ferry Plaza in San Francisco. Quickly expanded to semi-permanent carts and kiosks.
  • In 2008,  Freeman took an investment ($5 Million) from Kohlberg Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based VC firm that has backed several high-end food companies (ex:  Scharffen Berger chocolate).
    • Built a larger coffee roastery and commercial baking kitchen in Oakland. Caitlin Freeman headed the pastry program.
    • Opened three cafes in San Francisco: Mint Plaza, Ferry Building and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 
  • In 2009, Freeman expanded to New York City. Opening a Roastery and Cafe in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Used is traditional kiosk method and expanded High Line
    • Annual profits of Blue Bottle for 2011 were $15 to $20 million. With a growth rate of 70% annually. 
  • In 2012, Blue Bottle Coffee Inc. got a new President and CEO Bryan Meehan, who headed the group of investors to purchased the controlling stake in Blue Bottle Coffee for $19.6 million.
    • Expanded to 10 locations between San Francisco and New York.
  • Now, James Freeman is the President and CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee Inc. while Bryan Meehan is now Executive Chairman.

History of Blue Bottle Coffee: 

In 1683, The Turkish army arrived in Vienna after having swept across much of Europe.  The Viennese choose Franz George Kolshitsky as their emissary.  He passed through Turkish lines to get a message to the nearby Polish troops. The Polish Troops brought Vienna to victory, and the Turks fled the city leaving everything behind. One of the items left behind was, strange bags of beans that were thought at the time to be camel feed. Kolshitsky recognized them as bags of coffee because he spent time in the Arab world. He then opened the first Central European coffee house (The Blue Bottle) and served the ‘Turks’ coffee.

Blue Bottle James RoastingWhen did it come to the Bay Area?

Mr. Freeman was a freelance musician who converted a potting shed into a coffee roastery. Using this six-pound batch roaster, he decided he would only sell  coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster to his customers. He chooses to only use the finest organic, and pesticide-free, shade-grown beans. Now he has built a loyal, enthusiastic customer following, and  Blue Bottle Coffee has grown to a small network of cafes, wholesale partners, an espresso cart, a coffee kiosk, and some vintage German coffee roasters.

Crazy Quirks:

James Freeman is quite a unique guy not only does he go to the extreme with his Blue Bottle Coffee Making ethics but he also does not allow the sale of Coffee Cups or T-Shirts, but you can buy $150.00 Pajamas made from blue-and-white micro stripped cotton Italian shirting.  James Freeman also wrote a book, ” The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee: Growing, Roasting, and Drinking, with Recipes ” His book goes into great detail about the entire process of creating a great cup of joe not to mention it includes 40 different ways to make coffee. So for the coffee enthusiast it should definitely be on your to-do list.

27 thoughts on “Top Shelf Cup a Joe

  1. This is one dedicated fellow! I guess I never really think of Japan when I think of coffee. Hmmm.

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