DELICIOUS COFFEE WE FIND HORRIBLY ANNOYING - VOL. 2
(I’m not ashamed to admit that I have no idea what’s going on in this photo. Blue Bottle Coffee via tastingadventures.com)
Way back in THE BROOKLYN GLUTTON’S infancy (only FOUR months ago!) our very first post was about Abraco Espresso in the East Village, a miniscule coffee closet with oddly limited hours of service, but nice people and great coffee. The post was entitled, ”(((COFFEE HUGS))) Why I Hate Loving Abraco Espresso” (October 14, 2010), and it just began to touch upon the frustrating dichotomy in New York City between the long overdue arrival of some very good quality coffee and the annoyances that we must endure at times in order to consume and enjoy it. The grandaddy of this paradox is the only New York outlet for the San Francisco based roaster, BLUE BOTTLE COFFEE, located on Berry Street and N. 3rd Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
(Blue Bottle’s enormous Brooklyn outpost via clubantietam.com)
Blue Bottle actually roasts the coffee on the premises, and offers a variety of espresso options as well as drip coffee that is as delicious as the process of making it is painstakingly slow, each one individually prepared by pouring hot water over ground coffee through a filtered ceramic dripper suspended above the cup. If, like the beautiful people and hipsters who hang around this place, you have all the time in the world, then this is a great coffee option. In the last post we alluded to our love/hate relationship with Blue Bottle, but never really elaborated. For everything there is to hate about Blue Bottle, there is something unavoidable that we can’t help but love…namely the COFFEE, and it is all freshly ground to order and prepared 'a la minute,' a self-described term that makes us start to hate them again.
(Blue Bottle’s Drip Bar via travelandleisure.com)
The SG-120 for example, which is basically something like a Macchiato or a Cortado, but Blue Bottle refuses to call it either, is served only to be consumed in-house, as it is poured into a shot glass. There is a long and fairly uninteresting story about how the beverage got its name when one of the Blue Bottle locations in San Francisco accidentally ordered the wrong size water glasses from the Japanese glassware company, Hario, and instead received the SG-120 glasses that were too tiny and delicate for their intended purpose. I guess the tail wagged the dog, and an espresso preparation was invented to fit the glass, and now the coffee and the glass are forever inseparable. You can read more about this ostensibly serendipitous tale here at youngandfoodish.com, if you really care. The part that’s really absurd about serving a coffee that cannot be prepared to go is that Blue Bottle is an enormous space without any seats. There is a lovely elbow-height communal wooden table on wheels that you can stand at to drink your coffee, as long as you don’t lean on it and cause it to roll away and spill everyone else’s coffee along with your own. However, combine the limited portability of the SG-120 policy with Blue Bottle’s limited options for available sweeteners, and aggravation magically yields revelation! Like many other serious coffee purveyors in New York these days, Blue Bottle refuses to offer artificial sweeteners, only raw sugar and simple syrup, which is a practice that I find to be pretentious and infuriating, but one that I must come to terms with unless I want to be relegated to drinking Starbuck’s, the McDonald’s of Espresso. It wouldn’t be that difficult to make sure that I never leave the house with a few packets of Splenda in my pocket, so I take on the responsibility for my dissatisfaction when I am left with no choice other than sugar. In the case of the SG-120, I opted against the sugar, and as a result, I have to admit that despite the less than ideal circumstances that led me to this conclusion, Blue Bottle’s SG-120 is possibly the first coffee I can say that I have ever enjoyed without any sweetener at all!
(Blue Bottle’s SG-120 via tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com)
So, beat me to the ground and kick me when I’m down, but serve me great coffee and I’ll come running back for more. But today, I reached a new level of annoyance with Blue Bottle, as I cannot find reason or justification in the experience that I endured. I recently got a Bodum Santos Vacuum Coffee Maker, which is basically an inverted french press that is said to make delicious and flavorful coffee once you get the hang of the process. I have been anxious to experiment with it, so on the way home from my brunch run to Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side this morning, I decided that I wanted to get a fresh batch of the best coffee I could find that I was also very familiar with, so that I could effectively perfect the process at home with my new apparatus. I had to decide whether to pick up a bag of the exceptionally delicious “Alphabet City Blend” from NINTH STREET ESPRESSO or continue on my way back over the bridge to Blue Bottle for a bag of their “Bella Donovan,” a bean I’ve had on several occasions that they describe as “the wool sweater of their blends…warm, comforting and familiar.”
I opted for the latter and headed to Brooklyn with intentions that were well thought out and driven by my desire to maximize the quality of my coffee drinking experience. The tricky part is that, like the french press, the Santos requires coarse ground coffee, and all I had at the moment was a crappy mill grinder that only grinds it two ways — superfine and uneven. I’ve been in the market for a burr grinder with variable grinding options, but had not yet settled on which to buy. So I decided against Ninth Street Espresso, which I actually like slightly better, because if I was going to have the coffee ground for me in the store, I knew that Blue Bottle sold half pound rather than full pound bags, thereby enabling me to buy less coffee, which would mitigate the reality that grinding it ahead of time would substantially diminish its shelf life. I’ve sheepishly requested this from Ninth Street Espresso in the past, and they have kindly accommodated my request. What I didn’t realize until I approached the counter, “Bella Donovan” in hand, is that Blue Bottle “prides itself on the freshness of its house roasted coffee beans,” and has a policy against grinding the coffee beans at the point of purchase. I explained that I was fully aware of the negative effect of pre-grinding coffee, but I am testing out a new coffee system and I have not yet purchased a burr grinder, and I intend to consume the coffee very quickly…and I chose Blue Bottle over Ninth Street Espresso, specifically because I could buy less coffee so that it wouldn’t go bad, SO SHUT UP AND GRIND MY GODDAMN COFFEE, YOU PRETENTIOUS ASSHOLE! The line began to back up behind me as the barista explained that he could not grind my coffee due to company policy, and I explained to him that his stupid policy is actually going to cause me to drink worse coffee if I have no choice other than to over grind it in my mill grinder. One of his co-workers sympathized with my undeniably valid argument and invited me to go to the Blue Bottle website and complain to the corporate office, and blah, blah, blah.
To make a long story short, I bought the coffee, stormed out, went around the corner to the kitchen supply store, WHISK, and spent $100 on a Capresso Infinity Conical Burr Grinder, which I truthfully needed anyway. I do not view this as a defeat if the message is getting out to our readers right now. I get that the coffee is freshly roasted, but at the end of the day, put a disclaimer label on the bag or something if its that important to you, but cut the pretentious act and spend a fraction of the time servicing the needs of your customers that you do putting product in your hair! I am going to become more familiar with the variety of roasts on offer from Stumptown, and from Intelligentsia via Ninth Street Espresso, and I intend to leave the Blue Bottle nonsense for the hipsters and the San Franciscans…until I find myself experiencing an insatiable craving for an unsweetened mini-latte in a shot glass.