A Cooler Iced Coffee

Alexis Madrigal buzzes about Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee, a brand “legendary in the Bay Area” which is now expanding east. He finds Blue Bottle “not aggressively artisan like so many Portlandia products,” but rather “a delicious, not financially ruinous luxury”:

Brewed with chicory, cut with whole milk, sweetened with cane sugar, it’s a cold coffee beverage that is at once sophisticated and unpretentious. It’s not an austere challenge to the Starbucks-trained palate like so much of high-brow coffee culture. It just tastes good in an interesting way. … This drink might let Blue Bottle challenge Starbucks, which controls the vast majority of the ready-to-drink market. It would be the latte of the 2010s….

He goes on to compare Starbucks founder Howard Schultz with Blue Bottle’s founder and CEO, James Freeman. Whereas Schultz started as primarily a salesman, says Madrigal, Freeman operates from a richer coffee philosophy:

It is impossible to read Freeman’s ode to the art of roasting coffee, included in the book he wrote with his wife Caitlin, and not believe that he cares about coffee. … “For me, no matter when I got to bed, I always felt a sense of dread when the alarm went off at 4 a.m.,” Freeman wrote of roasting. “Classic Kierkegaard, straight out of The Concept of Anxiety: animals are slaves to their instincts and hence feel no responsibility, but humans are free and therefore constantly aware of their failure to live up to their responsibilities to God—or to Coffee.”

The only thing that staves off the dread is to get up and make the coffee. … “That first decision to get up in the morning is a mirror of all the hard and lonely decisions that must be made for the rest of the roasting day.” … Freeman believes coffee makes us the people we want to be. “I am actually able to change the brain chemistry of my customers,” he has written. And his personal obsession has been perfecting the art of constructing coffee, not growing it. Making coffee is “a performance that lasts 90 seconds,” and that alters the people who experience it.