Friday Office Soundtrack: Lucius - “Hey Doreen”

“Hey Doreen” from Brooklyn-based Lucius, couches dark undertones in peppy, luminous textures. Deception is key here: The lyrics, lacquered in bright, dance-inspiring instrumentals and energetic vocals, imply an uneasy truth: “Hey, Doreen, we know what you’ve seen,” shout the band’s two lead singers, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, before dropping into a whisper: “Mother, you can find a place to hide/ you can try, but they’ll find me.”

But Lucius doesn’t linger in the dark. Their debut album, “Wildewoman,” is brilliant, old-fashioned pop rock, unburdened by the anxiety and fear of earnestness that plagues so much contemporary music. If you’re feeling tired, give Lucius a listen. Charming, honest, and spirited, there’s little better to get you started on your weekend.  


Partner Profile: Sayaka Wada and Sen Floral Design

Where, our guests like to ask, do we get those ornate, perplexing flower displays present in our California shops? In summer, there might be a large fishbowl of tossed hydrangeas; in autumn, a single reed, stitched with brightly colored peppers. The arrangements are striking in their simplicity: They seem to demand attention while simultaneously reveling in their own simplicity. 

These brilliant displays are the work of Sayaka Wada, owner of Sen Flower Design. Sayaka’s work is, in the most literal sense, fruit of the imagination.

“I’m inspired by everything!” she says. “Everybody and everything—music, poetry, people I meet, things I see on the street.”

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Though the work is quite intricate, Sayaka says she received no formal training in floral design. So how did she learn how to make such beautiful arrangements?

“It’s just my imagination,” she says. “Almost ten years ago, I was working in this really tiny design store, and I was given the job of the display – the floral display – and I just really loved it. I would do it on my day off. And then, one day, my colleague was having a baby, and she wanted me to make something, like a bonsai-type of thing, for her girlfriend, for her baby shower. So I made a tiny plant arrangement, maybe like twenty or so.”

Then, she continues, “A man came, and he asked, can I buy all of this?”

That man ended up being Tom Duffy, a prominent Bay Area restaurateur who owned Myth, a restaurant once in the building now occupied by Quince in Jackson Square. “He said to me, you know, my restaurant is beautiful, but I can never find a florist I like; I change florists once a month. Would you like to try?” 

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Eventually—after several years of gentle cajoling from Duffy—Sayaka became a florist full time. “I don’t know what I did, but I installed the flowers—just, you know, my imagination! But I loved it, I really loved it.”  

Duffy ended up being Sayaka’s creative mentor and biggest cheerleader. He never questioned her, she said. “He didn’t ask where did you study, who is your master, none of it. He saw what I did. And from then on, he became sort of my fairy godfather!”

Because Sayaka is so inspired by the character and energy of a space, she was particularly drawn to Blue Bottle, which at the time of its inception was somewhat unique in its approach to interior design. She wrote to our CEO, James Freeman, explaining her enthusiasm and desire to do floral design for the company. Freeman happily obliged, first at our Webster Street coffee bar, then at all California locations.

Since starting her own company almost ten years ago, Sayaka has worked for several prominent restaurant and cafe spaces, including the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Rich Table. She also supplies private events and residences. Her work—clean, peculiar, whimsical—continues to inspire countless guests and viewers: It’s elegant yet outrageous, understated yet demanding.  

Is her own house covered in her designs? “I mostly have just leftovers, you know,” she says. “Like a leaf, nobody wants it, it gets dry and brown, but then the textures are beautiful, you know.”

“Even after they’re dead, they can be really beautiful.”


The Story Behind Our House of Good Espresso

James Murphy – former LCD Soundsystem frontman, aspiring subway musician, espresso fanatic – is particular about a great many things. He installs zippers on each pair of boots he buys, so as to save precious seconds putting them on. In his spacious, art-speckled Brooklyn apartment, he keeps his record player atop a concrete slab (which itself rests atop four carefully positioned squash balls) in order to to limit uncouth sonic reverberations. And when he pulls shots of House of Good espresso, which he developed in collaboration with James Freeman, our CEO, he uses two digital scales. 

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“Footwear, sock-type, type of knife – there is very little in my life that I haven’t gone through weirdly obsessing about,” he says. “I buy Chinese sneakers that are nine dollars each by the dozen.”

Murphy, who grew up in New Jersey, first became interested in coffee as a young child. He associated the smell of his parents’ Maxwell House, brewed with a percolator, with snow cancellations and AM radio. Though he’s upgraded his setup significantly (he now uses an Isomac machine, an AeroPress and an assortment of burr grinders) he’s considered buying a percolator for his apartment, just to replicate the sounds and smells of his childhood.

“I am a little sad that percolators weren’t figured out to be good coffee makers,” he says. “Because there is something quite great about them.”

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His interest in coffee picked up momentum shortly after he entered college. As a student at NYU, he played in several bands, including “Pony,” a punk outfit that toured across the country in the early nineties. The band’s guitarist had an uncanny knack for locating coffee shops in the most far-flung of towns, and Murphy soon began to develop a taste for espresso. This interest, coupled with his penchant for diving obsessively into the particulars of a new hobby, led to daydreams of owning his own machine.

“The Pavoni was what I wanted,” he recalls. “The lever Pavoni. But it was so much money. Seven hundred and fifty bucks in nineteen-ninety two – it may have well of been ten thousand. It was an inconceivable amount of money.”

Indeed, building up a respectable home espresso setup proved prohibitively difficult on a punk musician’s salary. “I kind of was like, for my own sanity, ‘I am gonna take a step back from this,’ ” he recalls. So he did.

But even after tabling his aspirations, he spent a few years searching New York for coffee that was in line with his increasingly particular tastes.

Long story short? He came up empty. So, in the late nineties, he dove back in: He joined Coffee Geek, an online community of enthusiasts, and bought the Isomac Relax espresso machine for about $1,000. The grinder he acquired to accompany it, a used Fiorenzato, cost him just $75 – $60 for the grinder itself, $15 for the adapter he attached to its European-style plug. Years later, he still remembers it as the most powerful coffee apparatus he’d ever seen.

“You could throw a fork in there and you would get ground fork,” he says, laughing.  “It’s not afraid of anything. I think I could grind rocks.”

His time with LCD Soundystem afforded him the opportunity to travel, taste espresso, and refine his palate. It also led him to Blue Bottle. After reading an article detailing our quest for the perfect pajamas, he reached out to James Freeman. The two began cupping coffees – first in Brooklyn, then in London, then in Oakland. As it turns out, they had quite a bit to talk about: Aside from both being disaffected former professional musicians (Murphy had just finished his career with LCD Soundystem; Freeman was a concert clarinetist before founding Blue Bottle), they both shared an affinity for medium-roasted, syrupy and subtly nuanced espressi.

Thus House of Good was born. The blend, which will be available to try at our newly-opened Dean Street coffee bar in Boerum Hill, is named after a retail space and coffee bar that Murphy will soon open in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s also a sort of mandate on his ideal espresso – something friendly and approachable, but deeply complex to those who feel ready to take the very plunge Murphy did all those years ago.

“We don’t want to overshoot the mark with the obsessiveness, but at the same time, it is that obsessiveness that really pushes things forward,” he says. “If you are not paying attention, it is delicious, rewarding, and good. If you are paying attention, it is deep, and interesting and complex.”

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You can taste our House of Good espresso at our Dean Street coffee bar, which opens today. You can also order it online.


Meet Charlie Biando, W.C. Morse Barista and Big Western Competitor

Ask Charlie Biando about Oakland, and he’ll talk about the A’s. A Philly native, Biando moved to Oakland 46 years after the Philadelphia Athletics made the same coastal jump — the move that reversed years of mediocre luck and landed the team three World Championships in a row. To a barista who’s gunning for a championship himself, the team sets an auspicious precedent.

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Biando is headed to Los Angeles this week to compete in the Big Western—one of three regional competitions trisecting the country—looking to face off against the rest of the Southwest barista contingent in a competition that, from a distance, looks something like fifteen minutes of scripted pageantry, but on a closer look, leans more towards artistry mixed with high-stakes sporting. Biando is decidedly vague about the particulars of his own routine which will, as competition guidelines dictate, include espresso and cappuccino service for three judges, and one free-form signature drink.

The only morsel that he does reveal is a two-part finale, a signature drink that Biando hints “will use caricature to riff on the classic lexicon of coffee drinks.”

It’s an interesting concept. To Biando, using caricature is the most useful teaching mechanism we have in coffee. He points to language like “piercing acidity,” or “so much body I can chew on it” as the word bank for learning. When it comes to something as hyper-complex and ungraspable as the flavor bouquets in a brew, caricature exaggerates and elucidates, cracking open an easier entry point for anyone looking to learn.

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Biando’s didactic streak has roots in his first Bay Area gig working as a trainer for Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco. After joining us at Blue Bottle, he dialed down his responsibilities and expanded back into the Oakland music scene, clocking time in the coffee lab and baking sourdough or pizza in the free time he finds.

As a televised, live-streamed competition, the Big Western could be a frightening animal, but the stage is a well-trodden playground for Biando, a classically-trained upright bass player who city-hopped with his band for some time before switching industries. His band, the Hermit Thrushes (“a bird, not a disease,” says Biando), pressed eight albums in three years and sprouted a fair bit of buzz in the underground Philly music scene. The band, dubbed “indie math pop” with a “psychedelic feel” adds texture to its music with chewing sounds and chicken whistles.

“Most people don’t love our music,” says Biando. “It straddles the area between poppy and noisy. You have to expand your viewpoint to like it.”

It’s no coincidence that Biando uses the same language to talk about music as he does about coffee. He’s a cavalier experimentalist, bent on distilling what he finds beautiful in the world and improvising surprising ways to share it. To find out what that looks like, tune in Friday at 11 a.m. to watch him throw down.


Partner Profile: Guerilla Cafe

Eight years ago, a new café landed on our radar—an eclectic operation with rough edges and a gritty, activist vibe. Guerilla Café was our first wholesale account, and now, nearly a decade later, it’s still one of our most distinctive. 

The spot was founded by three artists, Keba and Rachel Konte—a photomontage artist and danish-born designer, respectively—and ceramicist Andrea Ali. It was built as a replacement to Smokey Joe’s—the oldest vegetarian café in California. 

At the same time the Guerilla crew was gutting the remnants of Smokey Joe’s, Charlie Hallowell was putting in the beams for Pizzaiolo across town. At some point, Keba and Hallowell crossed paths, and that’s where the Blue Bottle idea happened. 

“Charlie told us we’ve got to, just got to, do Blue Bottle,” says Konte.

The tip prompted Konte to put in a call to our founder and CEO, James Freeman. Guerilla was an atypical pitch, a kind of art-house fronted by a retro-flavored logo—a gorilla donning a Che beret and Huey Newton shades—and offering a café run not by food industry types, but artists. But Konte explained the concept, and Freeman saw potential for his still fledgling coffee company. 

“He was, and is, very cautious about who he takes on, who handles the coffee. But he told us as long as we don’t call it ‘java,’ ‘mud,’ or any of those, we could do it,” says Konte.  

When Guerilla began serving our coffee, it was Konte himself who dove into the rigor of study. He cupped coffees tirelessly, studied roast curves, and navigated the peculiarities of brew methods until he had compiled an arsenal of knowledge fit to arm his fundamental mission:

“We’re about putting people of color into the specialty coffee game,” says Konte. “Look around. We’ve got the most colorful cast of characters in town.”

The café staff finds roots everywhere from Cuba to across the African continent, and it changes all the time. As a cultural nexus with the tagline, “Art, Coffee & Vibes,” Guerilla makes for a fertile platform, ripe for launching the dreams, beats, pieces, and ideas of those who work there. On some nights, you’ll find employees rigging pop-ups with their own food or playing their latest music. More than one business found its start in the narrow space between these walls. 

Konte and crew take pride in preserving our coffee’s integrity, while still playing a bit within specialty coffee’s parameters. In other words: They riff.

Take the Spicy Mocha: a saucy take on the regular thing, spiced with cinnamon, cayenne, TCHO chocolate, brown sugar, and chili powder. Served in a big swooping cup that takes two hands, it luxuriates in toeing the line a little.

As it turns out, it’s also the perfect prescription for rainy weather. 


Using Blue Bottle Honey to Make a Honey Cake

A meal is only as good as the ingredients you put in it. While there are clearly exceptions—we may just have a soft spot for Best Foods mayo—it’s a rule that can make all the difference in your cooking.

This recipe for honey cake (a favorite of one of our baristas) rests heavily on three ingredients—honey, coffee, and whiskey. Using a quality, unfiltered honey, a meticulously prepared coffee, and a favorite bourbon or rye (while we support quality, your Macallan 18 is probably best for sipping) is key to achieving a delicious honey cake.  And while most honey cakes are sad, dry things everyone forces themselves to eat on Rosh Hashanah, the cakes made from this recipe will have to be hidden, lest anyone make off with it while you’re not looking.

Here, we’re using some of the honey from our Webster Street hives; Breaking & Entering Bourbon from St. George Spirits, located right here in Alameda; and the Bella Donovan drip coffee blend, which has lots of chocolaty notes and a rich, dense body that will make its presence known in the cake. 

We’re including a link to the honey cake recipe used here, from the fantastic food blog Smitten Kitchen. Enjoy, and let us know how it turned out for you! 


The Story Behind the Heath Ceramics Demitasse

Sixty-six years ago, Edith Heath launched her dream. She was a talented ceramicist with a mentality bred from the Great Depression, a mentality that lent itself to making beautiful goods durable, and durable goods affordable. She pioneered designs that required shorter kiln firings, saving energy, and brought to light the pragmatism of beauty, and the soul-lifting magic of functional art. When Heath Ceramics was born, it brought to the world an honest sensibility and a line of goods as lovely as they were useful.

And so, for us, partnering with Heath was quite the organic thing. We too believe in our craft as a tool for forging connections, for reaping the beauty out of the everyday, for letting a product speak for itself. A handful of years ago, this kinship inspired Heath to bring about a new design: a simple, expressive vessel to serve coffee in its simplest, most expressive form.

When our founder and CEO, James Freeman, was planning out the café in The Rooftop Garden at the SFMOMA, something was missing. Together with architect Mark Jensen, they’d wondered at (and fiddled with, and labored over, and hammered out) every last fluttering detail except for one: our demitasse cup. Edith Heath had designed one back in the 40’s, but it was about 15 percent too large, and the handle not quite right for our purposes. Motivated to update, Heath dove back into the study of espresso cups, pulled together a bunch of mock-ups with integrated handles, and brought them back to us. 

The final design is a rather perfect distillation of our relationship with Heath: symbiotic, natural and modern. The shape is thoughtfully wrought, chosen for the smooth, organic way it fits in your hand. The lines of it straddle the space between the clean, classic designs of Heath’s existing products, and the leap towards modernity that defines our rooftop café (which, by the way, is closed temporarily for SFMOMA’s remodel) and, of course, our Heath Ceramics location.

Heath used a custom glaze that later expanded to standard issue, and chose the dark grey to compliment the sleek industrial feel of the rooftop architecture. The white inside is a clean stage to show off the ruddy, caramel tones of espresso. 


A Note About Today’s News

Dear Friends,

Perhaps you saw today’s news about our most recent investment round. And perhaps you’re wondering how it will affect your experience of our coffee and service. We’d like to take this opportunity to do two things: to thank you for all of your support thus far; and to explain, in as much detail as possible, our goals and vision for the future.  

We will remain committed to our central principles as a company – the same ones that motivated us back in 2002, when we were roasting coffee in a 186-square-foot potting shed: deliciousness, hospitality and sustainability. As with the last investment round, we want you to taste this investment before you see it.  

So what will change? Well, lots, we hope. We plan on opening an R and D facility to workshop green coffee, roasted coffee and the food that accompanies our coffee. We will be traveling more to source a greater percentage of our coffee directly, and working on deepening our relationships with our existing coffee-growing partners. We will be working on sustainable packaging that will let our customers enjoy our coffee for longer periods of time. We will (finally!) be releasing a bottled iced coffee that will be the equal of the iced coffee we sell in our shops. And we will be opening more shops.  We like taking 100 percent responsibility for our customers experiences, and we plan on continuing this, even though it is a much more capital-intensive path. As we build new cafes in New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, we’ll continue to learn and listen. Our ultimate goal in becoming better, is to create a better experience for you.

We believe quite firmly that the specialty coffee industry is only as accessible as the people behind it. That’s why we’ll invest in the folks we hire, broadening and deepening our training curriculum, adding benefits like stock options and management training to our already industry-leading health insurance and paid time off policies. This will be possible in no small part because of you. By supporting us, you’ve helped us provide support to our employees. We’re deeply grateful for that.

It’s tough to tell what the future holds. If more than a decade of opening cafes, serving coffee in the rain and wrestling with finicky espresso machines has taught us anything, it’s that predictions are evanescent things. Here are a few certainties, though. You will be getting from us coffee and service experiences that are better than ever. You will find us in new and compelling locations. You will be presented with more detailed information about where your coffee comes from, and what it tastes like. You will be treated with the utmost care and consideration.  

You will, in short, be seeing more of us. We’re excited to see more of you, too.  

All the best,

Blue Bottle


Coffee Dispatch: Gumutindo Cooperative, Uganda

We’ve been working with the Gumutindo Cooperative for two years now. Gumutindo was founded in 1998 by a group of farmers that felt that the co-op for which they were working was corrupt and unfair to them. The cooperative is now composed of 16 “primary societies” –groups of farmers that live in the same geographical area and are guided by a board that’s elected by the farmers in that village.

The co-op’s structure is fairly common in east Africa. It’s split into two parts – the Gumutindo Co-op, whose board is made up of the chairpeople from each primary society; and the Gumutindo Management Agency, which is a staff that oversees the dry mill, sorting and quality control. The managing director of the management agency, Wilington Wamayeye, is the secretary of the board and acts as the liaison between the board and the management agency. Wilington visited us in Brooklyn after last year’s SCAA conference.  

Today, we traveled with Lydia, the head of marketing and quality control at Gumutindo. She started out as a hand sorter at the dry mill and has now worked her way up to being the head of a team of five quality control staff. We went up to Mt. Elgon to visit the two primary societies we purchased coffee from this year: Bunabude and Nasufwa. 

We stopped at Bunabude first, and we were greeted by Jennifer, the chairwoman of the society. We sat with her and one of their primary farmers, Jethro, and discussed their methods from seed to parchment. This primary society does not have a central washing station, so the pulping, fermentation and drying of the coffee happens at the farmers’ homes. This can be a concern if everyone is not trained properly – and if the appropriate equipment isn’t available. After speaking with Jethro and seeing his farm, we then took some water and soil samples to bring back for lab analysis. Jennifer was very excited to hear that we paid a $.05 premium on their coffee to initiate quality and sustainability projects at Bunabude.

We then drove down the road to the Nasufwa society. There, we met with Sharon, the society manager; and Oliver, a farmer. We took some more water and soil samples and made an AeroPress of last year’s Nasufwa, which is currently in Hayes Valley Espresso, Three Africans and Giant Steps.  It was great to be able to drink their coffee with them and be able to share our appreciation for their work.  

After a brief stop to see one of the nearby Sipi Falls, we headed back down the mountain. Coming down with the sun was a perfect summation of our day. We look forward to doing our best with these coffees when they arrive in the U.S. It’s a great pleasure to be able to represent these people and their hard work with what we do back at home. 

Bennett Cross, Quality Control and Green Coffee Assistant


Oliver Strand on Specialty Coffee, Lou Reed and Garbage

Back in October, the journalist Oliver Strand delivered a keynote speech at “Let’s Talk Coffee,” a yearly conference put on by the specialty coffee importing company Sustainable Harvest. The conference took place in Salinitas, El Salvador, and focused on connecting all points in the supply chain – producers, importers, students, roasters, and NGOs. 

Strand writes about coffee and food for the New York Times, Bon Appetit and Vogue, among other outlets. His speech drew on the world of wine, posing some crucial questions about how coffee companies interact with their customers and each other. Why, he asked, do different roasters present such divergent information on their packaging? What are the most noteworthy characteristics of a given coffee? And, perhaps most importantly, how do the stories we tell square against those that our customers actually want to hear? 

Following the address, we caught up with Strand for a chat about his presentation, his forthcoming book, and the world of specialty coffee. 

Blue Bottle: In your address, you mentioned specialty coffee being a sort of “spear tip” of the larger coffee world. Can you elaborate on this?

Oliver Strand: I’m interested in the people who change things. Often, it’s a sloppy process, or it’s contentious. People make a lot of mistakes as they innovate, and I’m interested in these people. I’m interested in the ones who make changes and innovate. There’s a certain anxiety within coffee where certain companies – especially larger, legacy companies – believe that too much attention is being thrown on companies that are newer, smaller, or might be inconsistent and are also a very tiny part of the market.

The cutting edge is always a tiny part of the market. That’s true in art; it’s true in music. Lou Reed just passed away. A lot of stories came out on Lou Reed. He’s influenced the music industry tremendously, and he hasn’t had half the sales of Taylor Swift; he hasn’t had half the sales of a number of people. Dean Martin I’m sure has outsold Lou Reed, and not to take anything away from Dean Martin, but Lou Reed kind of changed rock and roll for a lot of people. He changed it a couple of times. 

I’m interested in Lou Reed.

So Tim Wendelboe, who figures prominently in your forthcoming book, is the Lou Reed of coffee?

Tim Wendelboe is the something. And there are a number of people who are like him. I think that Tim’s story is very interesting. He’s made a conscious decision to remain small because it keeps him nimble. He can remain small because he doesn’t need to make a lot of money. I’m sure that will change. He’s relatively young. At some point, you have to take care of your apartment and kid and your family. Then, if you’re successful in business, God knows you should be able to buy a house in the country. You shouldn’t have to starve for your art all the time. But right now, he’s making decisions that are based on what is interesting to him, as opposed to what will make him the most money. That keeps him intriguing in my mind.

You mentioned in your speech that if deliciousness is paramount to specialty coffee, our packaging should only be conveying information about taste. But what if consumers are equally concerned with things like certification info, or producers’ stories

You’re going to buy coffee because you want coffee, and then you’re going to choose which coffee you want based on a number of other factors. I’m not going to suddenly buy wine – like, I didn’t want a bottle of wine but then I saw a Zinfandel and I’m like “Oh my God! I really have to have Zinfandel right now!” I want wine, so I’m going to go choose a wine based on those characteristics. 

I think tasting notes are highly personal and I don’t always find them in the coffee. At times I do and at times I don’t. At times I think it’s a little bit of hocus-pocus. I also personally hate being told what to taste. I like it when they say ‘this is really nutty’ or ‘this has high acidity’ because it gives me an idea of what its going to be like but when I’m told ‘this is going to taste like milk chocolate’ or ‘this is going to taste like milk chocolate with almonds and I don’t find that then-

Then you’re like, ‘Crap! I bought this because it said milk chocolate with almonds!’

Then it’s like, ‘Is it their fault, is it my fault? Is it the preparation?’ Like “x” is supposed to be in there, and it’s not in there. The reason why I know what those coffees will taste like is that I’ve become, I guess, fluent – well-versed – in the identity of roasters, and that’s largely how I buy coffee. You know, I’m interested in a roaster, and then I buy what seems to be the best offering from that roaster. In that way, the way I buy coffee is a little bit like how I shop at the green market. 

In New York, my office is on Union Square. I go downstairs and I don’t say “you know what? I really want strawberries. Who has strawberries?” I go down, and if I’m a week late for strawberries, I know it because no one has them. So then I buy blueberries because they last longer. So I get what’s good and maybe that how you buy your coffee. Like, is it a seasonal thing? I don’t know.

Coffee is definitely a seasonal thing, though it gets kind of complicated once you factor exporting and countries with multiple harvests every year. 

Well, it is seasonal. Then you have George Howell saying, ‘Yes, but if you take certain steps, you can actually go and extend that.’ Then you know you have Tim Wendelboe, who’s working on how it’s dried. He says ‘Oh, this can really affect it in the same way.’ So, the definition of seasonality, that’s likely to change. 

But in terms of ‘I want to go buy a coffee, so what do I look for?’: I look at the roaster and I look at what’s good.  And I don’t know how it’s going to taste. I just know that it’s probably going to taste along these lines because I know what coffees from Ceremony taste like, what Blue Bottle tastes like, what Madcap tastes like. 

One distinction you between coffee and wine you addressed is this fact that wine is ready straight out of the bottle. Coffee quality, on the other hand, requires extra work and expertise on the customer’s end. 

So I’m working on this book, and I’ve read every other book on coffee that I can find. There’s a wave of books that came out between five and ten years ago. When you write a book, it takes from one to five years. So they’re six years old, they’re fifteen years old. All of them say, at some point, that the best way to make coffee is a French press. It’s a fact, written in stone. It’s a conclusion for every one of them. Howard Schultz, he says that. They all say the same thing. Because that was absolutely valid for 1998, 2000, 2003, up till 2005. And it seems so dated right now. In kind of a fantastic way. Kind of like saying, “There is only one shoe: Doc Martens.” 

So when people talk about how to make it, I think that’s interesting. I keep in mind that whatever methods we’re talking about now are temporary. And this is going to change tremendously. 

So your book’s primarily an examination of current trends? How much historical context are you giving it? There are plenty of books out there about the history of coffee.

It’s not about the history of coffee. There’s going to be context as necessary, because I think history is interesting. But there’s going to be context for everything.  

I spent a fair amount of time in Scandinavia – in Oslo and Copenhagen. One of the interesting things I find about Copenhagen is that their relationship with waste and energy is very different from most other people I’ve met. Denmark and Norway as well, get energy from burning trash. A lot in Germany. Incredibly clean burning power plants that burn garbage. They also have some of the highest recycling rates in the world. So there’s actually a problem in both Norway and Denmark where they actually have to import trash to burn it for power. I forget what it is in Denmark – something like 5 percent of the waste in Denmark goes into landfills, and the rest is either recycled or burnt. In the United States, it’s well over 55 or 60 percent. 

What does this mean? This means, when I’m talking to people at the Coffee Collective about their packaging, which is all plastic, their relationship with plastic is different than our relationship with plastic in the United States. That plastic gets burned for power. There’s very little anxiety about that plastic relative to that of the United States. And they’re packaging everything in plastic because they believe in that flavor. 

So, I know that Blue Bottle is in paper, that Four Barrel’s in paper, Stumptown’s in paper, and a lot of that has to do with issues about waste. Most Scandinavians package with plastic because their relationship with waste is different. 

Their relationship with waste in Copenhagen is so different that they’re building a power plant by [Amager Bakke,] the hottest architect in Copenhagen. He’s doing huge luxury apartments in New York, he’s doing all the hotshot things, and he’s doing the new power plant in Copenhagen, and it’s going to be in Copenhagen. So you’re not pushing it out to the suburbs. It’s going to incinerate waste. And he wants it to become a place where people go. So the whole thing is going to have a ski slope built into it. Because Copenhagen is flat, and people want to ski. And he also wants to draw people to the power plant.

He doesn’t want for this industrial act to be hidden away. He wants for it to be acknowledged. 

There’s one last twist to the power plant. So, on top of everything else, there’s going to be a chamber on top of the smokestack – even though that’s not the right term – where the waste is pumped up out into the atmosphere. It’s going to hold onto the waste and puff it out in a big circle, almost like, you know, smoking a cigarette. An enormous smoke ring, highly visible, and I forget what the amount is but I think its’ every 250 kilos is going to be one ring. So you can actually watch how much you’re polluting. 

So not only is this one of the most environmental ways you can possibly can have getting power; and not only is it becoming a sight of recreation; it reminds you that ultimately this is a compromise and this is a flawed system. So as you’re skiing, you can see one ton of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere. So, this informs what Klaus at theCollective is doing with his packaging. I think this is really interesting. I think it informs everything that you do in Copenhagen. Everybody knows about what happens with their waste and everybody knows about where their power comes from. In a few years, they can go on a date at the place where their waste goes and their power comes from.

So what is this book about? Ultimately it’s a book about coffee that’s not really about coffee, because the decisions that you make are informed by so many different things. They’re social, environmental, contextual, and there’s personal values. It’s kind of artistic in the end.

My book is about this moment in coffee, the Third Wave, or whatever you want to call it. But it’s looking at certain places, what’s happening in Oslo and Copenhagen, what’s happening in Seoul, what’s happening in Paris, what’s happening in London, what’s happening in Sao Paolo, what’s happening in Paris, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, San Francisco.

I’m looking at all of these places, and trying to dig, not a little deeper but I guess trying to reach a little wider to see why certain decisions are being made.