I've voiced my opinion of Blue Bottle's roasts before, but out of a sense of fairness (and an inveterate curiosity) I decided to check out the new cafe and the $20,000 made-in-Japan Buck Rogers coffee brewer to see what it could do. I found the decor a bit on the grim and industrial side, with Ikea Meets Home Depot table/workbench seating, fitting for a space dominated by something that looks like it was drawn up by fellow Cal alumnus Rube Goldberg.
I told the counter man that I wanted to try coffee made by the contraption, and he pointed to a posted paper menu listing three roasts. I chose the Mexican Chiapas because he said it would be the fullest roast. It was also the most expensive, at $9 ($9.77 including tax). I was given a number on a little stand and took a seat at the bar where I could watch the contraptions, there being two. Closest to me was the eerie tower where two globular glass reservoirs fed four burettes that were titrating cold coffee into cylindrical beakers. This was for making iced coffee, it was explained to me, and it took 10 hours to fill one beaker.
I looked at the machine that was being used to make my coffee, and suddenly realized that it was just my late Aunt Dorothy's old vacuum coffee maker from the 50's, multiplied by five. A flask of water was heated from beneath and the water was mysteriously sucked up into an upper chamber full of coffee grounds and then just as mysteriously returned to the lower chamber as coffee. I'd SEEN that act before!
When my coffee was ready and brought to me I was joined, after a few sips, by a coffee geek with salt and pepper hair (apparently one of the owners) who asked how I liked it. I explained that as a veteran of 40 years of North Beach-friendly roasts I usually found BB coffee under-roasted to my taste, and he agreed that that would be the case. I noticed that my hi-tech brew, which tasted thin and watery at the beginning, was getting more flavorful as I got nearer to the bottom of the cup. That, explained Salt-and-Pepper, was a natural consequence of the coffee cooling. Sure enough, as it neared room temperature, it also neared my threshold for truly flavorful coffee. (I've been trying to reduce my coffee consumption in favor of tea lately, however, so it might just be a case of my tastes getting wimpy.)
Before I left, S &P returned with a complimentary espresso pull from an Ethiopian Gololcha, which he said I might like because it was very rustic. I found it full and flavorful indeed, though with startling sweet overtones. Now THAT was a Blue Bottle Coffe I could live with -- if only I could get someone to grind it for me.
Overall, BB Cafe is worth a visit to see what all the oohing and ahhing is about. It's a friendly place, warm despite the decor, and you can you can always buy a $2 brew and sneak a peak in the direction of the great sucking sound. Is it worth close to 10 bucks to sample the $20,000 coffee maker's product? I suppose it depends on how rich, foolish, or curious you are.
Blue Bottle Cafe
66 Mint St, San Francisco, CA 94103