Blue Bottle's Founder Talks Coffee Snobs, The S.F. Brew Scene, & More!



main It’s been a pretty big month for the bean roasters over at Blue Bottle Coffee Co. Not only did the company receive a $20 million check from an investor (that literally had us spewing out a mouthful of our own brew, in shock) but the local java slingers debuted a new tome, The Blue Bottle Craft. We sat down at a recent book signing with founder James Freeman, and talked everything from what he’ll do with that big chunk of change to his star-striking encounter with the one and only Alice Waters.

Your book is pretty much a coffee-roaster’s dream come true. How did it come about?
“It's funny, it was kind of driven by our photographer Clay McLachlan. He was living in Paris and he did a lot of food photography there. He came over and he just started shooting and the pictures turned out well. He was like, 'Ah these look great, we should make a book together.' And then I thought I'll play along with him because it's hard to get a book published. We'll have a few meetings, we'll get rejected, and we can say we tried it. We had one meeting with Ten Speed and it was like, 'That sounds great, let's do it!' So, then we had a contract, and we had to do the book."

If you didn't drink your own coffee in S.F., which would you drink instead?
“There's a lot of nice coffees out there. I think Jeremy at Four Barrel is doing a nice job and I like what Justin and Jerry are doing at Sightglass. In the East Bay, I'm usually at the roaster, so I don't get out and about there, but I think those guys are doing really well.”

There's this stereotype of a snobby barista — would you say that's accurate?
“I would say I hope it's false. I feel like people get what they're expecting, so if people come in expecting to not be treated well, sometimes that will manifest. But we think a lot about hospitality, and we try to make everyone super welcome and try to give everybody a good experience.”

What’s the most ridiculous experience you’ve had with a barista?
“One time, I was in Rome and I went to a well-known shop called Tazza D'oro near the Pantheon, and he was sort of in his groove and they had a single large espresso on the menu. I ordered that and it must have bugged him or something and I got the most horribly made drink served with such searing, lacerating contempt. And like, it was an espresso. I didn't want a peppermint latte or something like that. So, that was probably the peak of my bad hospitality."

Have you ever been nervous to serve coffee to anyone?
“When Alice Waters was shopping in the market and I was making coffee, she would order cappuccinos. She's super chatty, and they've been serving our coffee at Chez Panisse for a long time, so I'd just wanted it to be super delicious. She liked it — she kissed me right here. That's good feedback isn't it?"

We think so ... along with receiving a whopping $20 million investment. What are your plans for it?
“It's kind of nice to dream a little bit and look at a map of the world and think, ‘Where would be cool to have a roastery bar?’ We got this bottled coffee that we tested last year, that's super delicious and very pure, and it takes more money and skills than I possessed. So, we're going to try to get something like that out, which I think will be nice. Imagine you'll be on a road trip, go to Whole Foods, and pick up a couple of bottles of those. That would be pretty fun.”

Some fans might think you’ve sold out. How do you feel about that?
“Well, it's still me showing up at work, cupping coffee, and answering emails. It's like I don't evolve. But kind of the nice, cool thing is no one has really said that to me. I mean, I'm sure there's scuttlebutt on the Internet and stuff like that. But, my new investor is a guy who lives in Marin. He started out as a customer, and he's super smart at retail. So, he's going to be a great partner.”

Others might panic that the quality of the coffee will change. Is there any truth to that?
“Hopefully, the investment is going to be something that people taste before they see. The first hire we're getting is in the quality control department, a guy that will help out our quality control manager to roast even more. We're going to send more people to more great coffee farms. And ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so a year from now our coffee should be more delicious than it is now.”

Will we see any more Blue Bottle shops popping up in the future?
“We get so many calls and inquiries from around the Palo Alto area, and we could totally support that with our roastery in Oakland. So, that might be a place to look. I like Tokyo a lot, so it'd be pretty glamorous to do that.”

Photo: Via Facebook/The Green Grape