"You've had this experience," he said. "You go into a restaurant where they know what bedtime story was read to the veal before it was killed, or where the Belgian endives were grown, but you get to the end of the meal and the coffee is mediocre. . . . They make their own g-- sausages, but there are bubbles on the top of the drip coffee that means it was stored in a Thermos. We're not on a picnic! They wouldn't dream of putting the food under a heat lamp for half an hour." James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee, San Francisco Chronicle - 4/11/03
My first hint that something was very different about this coffee is when I saw their booth at the Ferry Building Farmer's Market. Instead of large carafes of already made coffee, customers were standing around for approximately 5-10 minutes to wait for their coffee as it was individually dripped by a woman who poured hot water through a filter by hand. We ordered cafe au laits, and the addiction began. The coffee was full-bodied and wonderfully flavored, and not burnt-tasting, overly roasted or scalding hot. We almost went back 15 minutes later to get another.
A couple weeks later, I returned. Their process is a bit quicker now, and I only waited a couple minutes. "That was quick!" I remarked, to which the owner James laughed -- he said that he doesn't hear that remark often. When I called later in the week to talk to them about their delivery service (more about that later), we got to talking and James said "oh yah, you're the au lait!", remembering my comment from the farmer's market. I felt like I was in a small town of 1500 people, not in San Francisco where there are that many restaurants.
This company believes so strongly that freshly roasted coffee is superior that they donate beans to charity that have been roasted more than 24 hours prior. By this time, Blue Bottle Coffee believes, the coffee has changed too much from the ideal flavor to be salable.
Perusing through their site last week I saw something that made me giddy. For $8 a week, you can get a half pound of coffee delivered to your door within 24 hours of its being roasted. I paused briefly about the price, before I realized that between coffee out and coffee at home, I probably don't spend much less than that in a month (I work at home, and drink a lot of coffee). My delivery is starting next week (yipee!).
Opportunities like this make me never want to leave the bay area (sorry mom). I know that there are unique few places where you could be delivered spanking fresh roasted, locally sold, and organic coffee to your doorstep. I can only hope that trends like this spread as quickly as Starbuck's seem to have. Though I don't know how James would feel if you put his coffee in a non-fat-no-whip-mocha-valencia-with-cinnamon-on-top.