When we brought Handsome Coffee and Tonx under the Blue Bottle banner back in April, the first thing we did was ask questions. Lots of them. How can we make this transition exciting for our new team in Los Angeles? How can our digital team help improve the tools we’re already using on the web? What can we teach each other about sourcing? Quality? Hospitality?
These strategic questions soon begat other, more basic ones. Will we need more bike parking? Does this mean we’re now brewing two Chemexes for our weekly coffee meeting? Is making “new folks’ name” flash cards totally inappropriate?
After a brief period of hand-wringing (no more than 10 minutes, we swear), we got to work. With help and input from Tonx’s production team, we successfully migrated their ordering, roasting and shipping operations to our Oakland roastery. We released the Sumatra Ketiara, a coffee sourced by Blue Bottle and quality tested by all three companies, to Tonx subscribers. And while weaving Tonx-branded selections into Blue Bottle retail locations, we also began selling a few Blue Bottle coffees out of Handsome’s space in Los Angeles. Each collaboration yielded exciting discoveries – and, of course, more questions.
What’s next? Well, very soon, Tonx customers will begin to enjoy more ordering flexibility on their deliveries, along with new Blue Bottle packaging that’s designed to incorporate the best of both companies’ design thinking. Down in Los Angeles, Handsome customers will see their menu options expand to include more single origins, more iced coffee options, and some new pastries. The roastery in L.A.’s Arts District, meanwhile, is in the process of becoming organic certified. And the office is (crucially, mercifully) mere days from being air-conditioned.
Nik Bauman (Tonx), James Freeman (Blue Bottle), Michael Phillips (Handsome)
So yes, the gears are indeed turning. Sometimes quite quickly. By late summer, it will all fall under the Blue Bottle banner.
For now, we’re enjoying the ride. The past couple months have been some combination of invigorating and exhausting – full of long production days, marathon coding sessions, giant order fulfillments, and epic conference calls. Mostly, though, they’ve been punctuated with delightful rewards. We’ve learned our new members’ strengths and passions, and taken turns supporting each other. We’ve gotten beers and gone to baseball games and attended dance parties. We’ve taken quite a shine to each other.
As things move forward, we remain ever grateful for your support. You’ll be hearing from us again with a more detailed sketch of new features and timelines. For now, we’re thrilled to keep serving you coffee.
In the first minute of “Your Love is Killing Me,” fans of Sharon Van Etten will find some of the straightforward, comfortable strength she began teasing out on 2012’s “Tramp.” Yet something’s different here: Van Etten takes her time until it becomes clear that her words — “Break my legs so I won’t walk to you…You tell me that you like it, Your love is killing me,”— is not some run-of-the-mill heartbreak; it’s an emotional catastrophe.
Erratic percussion further agitates things, but the real focus here is Van Etten’s paint-scraping vocals. They quiver and burst, furious and unforgiving. “From a distance I am on to you,” she cries, “but I’ll stab my eyes out so I can’t see.”
You’ll need a whiskey or a glass of wine after a song like this. “Your Love is Killing Me” at once devastating and beautiful, will plunge you into an emotional space you may need a hand climbing out of.
Last War, Haley Bonar’s latest album (out May 20), is at once a brilliant treatise on modern femininity, a dialogue about growing up, and a nostalgic trip back to the energetic days of power pop.
In “Bad Reputation,” its breeziest and most open track, Bonar begins with a riff on banality: “Too much coffee and no smoking/I feel a little lame like I’m kinda boring.” The song is at once an exploration and a mockery of ourselves as we age.
Bonar’s vocals have a wide range of capabilities and moods, but here she takes on the slightest country twang that nicely suits the track’s tone of self-admonishment. “I got a bad reputation/I probably need medication,” she continues. among simple percussion and upbeat guitars, Bonar carefully inches forward. This is a song in which we can find ourselves without taking anything too seriously: the perfect mood-setter for a lighthearted yet introspective weekend.
We’re pleased to debut our new and improved W.C. Morse location page. Starting right this very moment, you can sign up for home machine repairs and espresso trainings at our newest cafe in Oakland. We’ll walk you through the page’s features right here.
Itching to pull perfect shots at home? Setting up a training is as easy as clicking the “Training” tab, then selecting a day, time, and espresso machine. Which machine, pray tell? You’ve got options: You can either choose one of ours (we’ve got four models), or you can bring in your very own. Complete the signup form, and we’ll follow up shortly thereafter. Each lesson is 90 minutes and $150.
Just like signing up for a lesson, dropping off a sick machine is a piece of cake. All you need to do is click the “Repairs” tab and follow the prompts: Let us know what the problem is, what sort of machine you have, and when you’d like to drop it off. A technician will be back in touch within two business days. We ask for a $20 diagnostic fee, which we’ll waive if the machine requires an hour or more of repairs. Our rate for repairs is $65 per hour.
For now, these beauties are available for in-store purchase/pickup only. Click our “Machines” tab to get some background on an array of different espresso machines and grinders. Got an additional question? Don’t hesitate to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re excited to help improve your home espresso experience, and we can’t wait to see you at W.C. Morse.
Our Oakland cupping room is normally a pretty quiet place. While we’re evaluating coffees, we make it a point to keep it free of distractions: no meetings, no music, very few words exchanged. Sure, we’ll slurp coffees and compare notes, but the space generally remains a sanctuary. A place where we take care of sensory business.
Until after hours, that is. We’re pleased to debut “Cupping Room Sessions,” a series in which we invite musicians to repurpose the cupping room for their own artistic ends. In our first installment, our Ferry Building barista Kate Smeal performs as Lambs. The video was produced by our friends at Pocketbook Collective (@heyPBC), and sound engineered by Evan Hashi.
In the center of Astronaut Café, there sits a house. A tiny one.
The final iteration of Derek Woodward’s last artistic spree, the house is the product of an old dream to live in his own, movable art. About the size of a potting shed, the wooden skeleton is spliced with glass panels that Woodward salvaged from the defunct Mervyns department store.
The house used to sit in Phoenix, where Woodward grew up, but with nowhere to park it and an indistinct longing to leave Phoenix (“Because everyone leaves Phoenix,” he says), Woodward soon found himself driving it westward, tacked to a car with his father’s boat trailers. He looked around to trailer parks and other land in the East Bay, but he had little more luck finding a spot here than he did at home.
Now, it sits just beyond the freeway’s shadow in a corner of StrEat Food Park—that small, carnivalesque conglomerate of food trucks in SoMa—inside Woodward’s outdoor café. Here, it is strung with art: small sketches by a friend from art school, Megan Low, clotheslined across the front. A shelf near the roof is lined with quaint, found objects. In fact, most everything in Astronaut Café is found. Repurposed relics are both the aesthetic and functional centerpieces. Even the café’s Square interface sits atop a retro register, all metal and cracked paint. As an outdoor café, the boundaries are indistinct, determined by things like fences and an ancient (but functional) upright piano.
Nothing in the theme evokes astronauts, but that’s OK. Woodward isn’t the heavy-handed type.
“I just like what astronauts have done for the collective imagination. I also just like the idea of a bunch of astronauts and astrophysicists sitting around in a café, talking,” he says.
Here, nothing is mechanized, nothing plugged in. Woodward’s barista setup is a pour-over only operation, featuring one kettle and three ceramic drippers. The pastry case (actually just a cake stand) offers a modest pile of waffles and morning buns.
He chose to serve Blue Bottle for one simple reason: It’s his favorite coffee.
Woodward began his life out of school as a stock broker. But he soon dropped the trade to resuscitate his soul and pursue art and building. Or, rather, artful building. In art school, he worked on a series of “sculptural buildings,” breaking each down to repurpose the materials for the next. To Woodward, becoming a businessman was a bit unnatural, the necessary byproduct of wanting to serve food and build community. It’s the same conflict that gives Astronaut its charm, and also makes Woodward unusual.
“I don’t care about money,” he says. “And that makes me a terrible businessman.”
In reality, he’s not a terrible businessman. He is thrifty, and not hell bent on making a profit. But he has built a gentle, verdant oasis in a still-developing part of town. He keeps art supplies and drawing tools on the (salvaged) shelves in the corner. He hopes to draw more artists into the place, to give them space to create and collaborate.
He wants to bring people together. That’s why he’s in the coffee business.
It’s been three years since Wye Oak’s last album, Civilian. In that time, their sound has mellowed; their instrumentals have shifted primarily from guitars to synths. Yet they’ve lost exactly zero momentum with Shriek. “Glory,” the album’s propulsive and infectious first single, makes significant nods to Metric, but infuses its sonic landscape with more peculiarities.
“Glory” begins with breath and drums, escalating slowly into a dizzying wash of guitars. “I see his eyes moving away from me,” Jenn Wasner murmurs, as the track - and her pleas - become more urgent. “I see the water run uphill…I read his lips and I see glory, but what I hear is ‘be afraid.’” The lyrics are biblical and ambitious; the energy hovers between fight or flight.
Though Shriek is replete with trepidation, it’s clear that this is where Wasner wants to be. Turns out a little change isn’t such a bad thing, after all.
Nigel Walker did not inherit the land he farms, as many farmers down in Dixon do; he purchased it. Even so, that doesn’t mean he owns it - at least to Walker it doesn’t. His perspective is that of a steward, a transient on a changing planet, charged with sustaining the life around him. He’ll tell you he’s “borrowing” the land from his children, for whose sake he cannot mess it up. That, in short, is Nigel Walker’s philosophy.
Walker has never been a conventional farmer. In his early days, studying at an agricultural college in England, he lobbied for permission to divert from the conventional farming curriculum to study organic alternatives. Later, he followed a yearning to Israel to study drip irrigation. In 1992, he moved to California and started Eatwell Farm, an operation as progressive and didactic as Walker himself. For years, Walker has been a champion of permaculture, a constant student, a keen and curious farmer who asked big, transgressive questions about how to fix our food system and address the uncomfortable realities of a changing climate. For as long as we’ve known Nigel Walker, he’s been on crusade to cure the planet, as well as our way of thinking about it.
We met the Walkers when we joined the Ferry Plaza Saturday Market more than a decade ago. Even back then, Eatwell Farm was already a market mainstay, selling produce, lavender, and eggs since the very beginning. When we moved into the market ourselves, Nigel and Lorraine were our first neighbors. We quickly struck up a friendship, and a symbiotic trading habit. Nigel takes our spent coffee as compost for his lilacs and citrus, and our coffee bags for erosion control. We buy Eatwell’s strawberries and rosemary for our kitchen, and a few years ago, we offered our roastery on Webster St. in Oakland as a pick-up spot for the Eatwell CSA (we’re number 68). When Lorraine and Nigel travel to agricultural conferences, which they often do, they take a kitchen with them: an electric kettle, a hand grinder, coffee, a French press, a portable induction burner, and everything else you need for homemade breakfast on the road. That’s how we like to travel too, supplied with the goods and foods that make the road feel like home.
A couple years ago, we learned that Nigel had a form of cancer called multiple myeloma. Last fall, after rounds of treatment, it seemed the cancer had disappeared. But earlier this month, we were saddened to hear that it has returned. Nigel reports that he is in the good care of the oncologist, and the farm has hired extra help to cover the bases while Nigel concentrates on his health.
The best way to help is to support Nigel’s life’s work at Eatwell farm. How? Sign up for a CSA, or sign up for Strawberry Days to pick and buy berries at their peak. Visit Eatwell at the Ferry Plaza market. We’re throwing in a free drink of your choice for each CSA box you pick up at our Webster Street coffee bar.
Support the provenance of our food and the hope for a bright future full of delicious things.
Donna Tartt writes novels the way we tend to make coffee: carefully, and, in the eyes of some, slowly. Her books, written about once a decade, are meticulously crafted. This week, we’re pairing her third and latest novel, The Goldfinch (the winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) with one of our newest single origins, the Burundi Twese Twoterimbere.
Though The Goldfinch is a monolith at nearly 800 pages, it’s a surprising page-turner. It begins in New York with teenage Theo Decker, whose mother dies in a terrorist attack, leaving the thirteen-year-old to fend for himself among a sea of incompetent and apathetic adults.
He was rambling a bit, under his breath, foreign names, sums and numbers, a few French words but mostly English. A man was coming to look at the furniture. Abdou was in trouble for throwing stones. And yet it all made sense somehow and I saw the palmy garden and the piano and the green lizard on the tree trunk as if they were pages in a photograph album.
Theo’s simple yet intelligent voice, unadorned and clean until imperative moments, is what makes The Goldfinch so easy and pleasurable. The novel begins in New York—musty, rainy, mysterious—and continues in Las Vegas, a city feels completely different. Tartt’s New York contains a sense of completion and purpose; Las Vegas is hot, dry, with a wide, low sky and a spiderwebbing network of housing developments.
How does our Burundi Twese Twoterimbere compare? Just as we see zips of brilliance in Theo’s clear language, so too do we see glimmers of transcendence in a cup otherwise characterized by its balance. Amid a rich body and sugary mouthfeel, a lemony clarity emerges at crucial moments. We love this coffee as a Chemex, which brings out its acidity most vigorously. But don’t discount the Bonmac, either: Here, you’ll get a heavier body laced with vivid spices reminiscent of a bustling city. It’s opulent and chaotic, yet at times fiercely beautiful.
Like Tartt’s novel, you’ll race to finish this cup. But slow down if you can. Indulge too quickly, and you could miss something magical.
For Jeff Kaetzel and Chrissy Woo, a café is the perfect setting for love. Somewhere between the lazy rhythm of a late weekend morning and electric bustle of a nine o’clock rush, there lies a certain kind of comfort – a space to nurture that promise that sometimes good coffee and a book is all you need. That, and the person you love.
That is why, when Kaetzel and Woo were asked to choose a location for their engagement photos, a setting to represent the fundamentals of their relationship, the couple pointed right to our new café in the W.C. Morse building. To the pair, the space distilled not only what they loved, but how they spent their time: just existing, together, over a good cup of coffee and their favorite books.
“The building was a perfect representation of how we like to be,” Kaetzel says. “We like our intimate moments over a cup of coffee, and reading is a big part of who we are. I’m into history, she’s big into sociology. We’re nerds.”
Kaetzel and Woo have known each other all their lives. For twenty years, their families have been going to church together, and the pair went to the same high school—Skyline—but only started dating after they had graduated.
The two have been engaged for about a year, and it’s taken about that long to sink in. When it finally did, and the couple decided to pull together their engagement photos, they knew just who to reach out to.
Anya McInroy is a third year art and design student at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, and an old friend of Kaetzel’s. It began in high school, when McInroy played saxophone as a freshman, and Kaetzel was the senior drum major.
McInroy soon joined a church-based youth group led by Kaetzel. He noticed her talent for photography immediately, and recruited her to shoot everything from his college graduation photos to his grandmother’s 80th birthday.
For Anya, photography is all about honesty.
“I love being able to capture the rawest form of emotion,” she says. “It is the most beautiful thing, to see and capture how someone is feeling deep down.”
At the Morse location, capturing the natural wasn’t too difficult.
“This place has such an amazing aura,” she says. “Between the natural light and the two-story ceilings, everything was beautiful, everything was easy.”
Kaetzel, on the other hand, was drawn to the café as much for its beauty as for the way it represents the evolution of the community.
“The Morse building is absolutely gorgeous. It tells a story about history while respecting the new wave of culture that’s coming through the Bay Area. We walked in, and it’s just this feeling we got. We felt at ease, at home.”