What’s Blue Bottle?
Even if you’re not a die-hard coffee drinker, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Blue Bottle Coffee. Along with Stumptown, Intelligentsia, and a handful of other roasters that put a great deal of thought and care into the sourcing and roasting of their beans, Blue Bottle has spearheaded the Third Wave of Coffee, a renaissance that promises to do for coffee what microbrewers have done for beer. They’re also getting lots of attention from the business press, as it turns out that their model means big business.
With all that being said, I approached Blue Bottle with a degree of apprehension that bordered on skepticism. When something develops a cult following, after all, it’s hard to tell sometimes whether all the talk is based on the things that matter (like product knowledge, service, and — especially — taste), or whether it’s generated more by the cachet that comes from people who’d like you to know they’ve discovered the next big thing.
I visited the Chelsea location of Blue Bottle. It’s not far from Pier 57 and the High Line, and a stone’s throw from the Meatpacking District. It’s a small space, with a downstairs occupied by the counter and limited seating, and an upstairs that features a siphon bar and is also dedicated to classes and tastings. The barista took my indecision in stride, patiently explaining the bean options with a combination of professionalism and enthusiasm. So after all that, how’s the coffee? It turns out that I shouldn’t have worried. This may well be the best cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted.
I asked for something atypical that would surprise me. The Kenyan coffee I had delivered in spades. There’s a top note that’s reminiscent of dried fruit. The middle is comparable to a good Merlot, though there’s a tease of dark chocolate as well. After that, it fades to a subtly floral finish. When it comes to food and drink, I tend to be turned off by things that are one-note. That’s not an issue here; each sip delivers smooth, richly layered flavor. As is my habit, I chased the second half of the coffee with some baked goods. In this case, I opted for a chocolate chip cookie. The taste of the coffee brought a pleasant bitterness out in the dark chocolate chips, while the sweetness in the cookie modulated the taste of the coffee to something faintly reminiscent of a dry ruby port.
I’m happy to say that my skepticism about Blue Bottle was unfounded. Every so often a brand comes along that’s truly earned the buzz and the hype. Outside New York and California, you’re going to have a tough time finding Blue Bottle; their retail locations are, for the time being, confined to those areas, which means that the rest of you will have to wait. With that being said, if you live in either of those places, or even if you’re just passing through, pay them a visit. Your taste buds will thank you for it.