Oh, God, I Am a Coffee Snob

I am kind of a coffee snob. I mean, I can’t drink Folgers or Maxwell House. On the other hand, I think it’s kind of ridiculous how much some people are willing to pay for a cup of coffee. So, I guess I like to reside in the middle, sneering at everyone else. What’s got me worried is that it took me forever to realize that Apple is infinitely superior to Microsoft, but I eventually got it. So, maybe I am destined to be a Blue Bottle coffee drinker.

The question investors are asking now is: Can coffee’s “third wave” produce a Starbucks of its own? A group of big-name Bay Area techies—including Kevin Systrom of Instagram, Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, and venture capital firms like Google Ventures and True Ventures—believes it can. Over the past two years, they’ve been pouring tens of millions into a San Francisco favorite that just might be the Apple to Starbucks’ Microsoft.

It’s called Blue Bottle, and it’s the creation of a former freelance clarinetist named James Freeman. As a coffee enthusiast in San Francisco a decade ago, Freeman recalls, it was nigh impossible to find a cup roasted the way he wanted it—which is to say, with a light touch, to set free the beans’ natural flavors. Instead the city’s sippers were in thrall to the dark, oily, French-press style purveyed by Peet’s, a contemporary of Starbucks. Inspired by traditional Japanese siphon bars, where baristas brew each painstaking cup by hand, Freeman opened a tiny Blue Bottle kiosk in the city’s Hayes Valley neighborhood in 2005.

It quickly found a cult following, and by 2009 Freeman had opened a larger cafe in Mint Plaza and a booth at the Ferry Building, San Francisco’s answer to Seattle’s Pike Place Market. He expanded to New York in 2010 and now has 13 cafes and counting.

I guess I am damned to hate pretentiousness while being somewhat pretentious myself.

I promise to hold out as long as I can.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com