Will Blue Bottle Make New York a Coffee Town?

Photo: Courtesy of Blue Bottle Coffee

As you surely know, Blue Bottle Coffee, the Bay Area outfit with a cult following, opened its doors in Williamsburg on Wednesday. James Freeman, Blue Bottle’s founder, was inside the airy, minimalist space overseeing the launch. “It’s incredibly stressful opening a place in New York,” he told us, “so it’s good to see that people are showing up.” Among the attendees were a mother and her toddler. “This is how they make iced coffee!” the mother whispered in her tyke’s ear, pointing at the shop’s most theatrical coffee-making gadget: the five Japanese “slow-drip” devices that line the shop’s rear wall. “And see back there?” she continued, gesturing toward the roped-off area in the rear of the place. “That’s where they roast their beans.” The baby yawned.

Beverage production at Blue Bottle is a complex process. On weekends, for instance, the shop will offer customers something called “nel drip” coffee, which is filtered through Japanese flannel. And even a cup of basic drip coffee takes five minutes to produce, because the beans are individually ground and (individually) filtered with the help of a “swan neck” kettle.

Is the elaborate process just a way for Freeman to show up his artisanal-coffee competitors, like Café Grumpy and Abraço? Freeman actually sees himself as part of a united front against blander options like Starbucks. “When I’m in New York, I stay at the Ace Hotel so I can have Stumptown in the morning,” he told us. “And you know what excites me? When I see a line of twenty people there, and then go around the corner and see five people at Dunkin’ Donuts. Being part of that shift — that’s really what this is all about.” At just that moment, Freeman was greeted by Oren Bloostein, the founder of Oren’s Daily Roast, who had stopped by to congratulate him.

Later, we called Matt Lounsbury, the director of operations at Stumptown, to see how he felt about Blue Bottle’s arrival in New York. “Maybe it’s a West Coast thing,” he told us, “but we’re not competitive the way you guys are. New York is a huge city, and it’s kind of ridiculous that it’s been so hard to get good coffee until recently. We’re a fan of anyone who wants to help out.” Could all this caffeine be making the coffee-making vanguard more … mellow?

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Will Blue Bottle Make New York a Coffee Town?