Blue Bottle at Fifteen: It All Began in a Potting Shed

Some stories start small

Think 186-square-feet small, roughly the size of a one-car garage. Or, in our case, a potting shed behind the convivial Doña Tomás restaurant in Oakland. That’s where, in the fall of 2001, founder James Freeman began his commercial operation of roasting coffee, seven pounds at a time.

I went to Idaho and bought a little red Diedrich roaster. I remember opening the crate, seeing the roaster, and being astonished that this would soon be my career.
— James Freeman

James Freeman

Demand was slow at first. And that was okay. The little red Diedrich roaster finished each batch in seventeen minutes; operatic arias crescendoed between the first and second cracks. The scent of caramelizing coffee hung thick in the tight quarters.

The shed was a refuge for the disaffected musician weary of traveling the symphony circuit. James treated it as roastery and lab, a place to hone technique and exact his roast preferences. Once he packed eight ounces of beans in individual brown bags stamped with a blue bottle, he’d load his Peugeot wagon to deliver fresh coffee to his first customers. When the trunk started getting too cramped for his haul, he knew this coffee thing might actually last.

To try your hand at roasting at home, we recommend taking a look at The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, where James guides you through the process.