First Taste: Blue Bottle Café

Blue Bottle Cafe

Since it opened in 2002, Blue Bottle Coffee has had a radical cult following. With good reason: Its beans (which are organic, pesticide-free, and shade-grown) are superbly roasted in small batches, then bagged immediately to keep oxidation at a minimum.

Until now, though, if you wanted to buy a cup of exquisitely brewed coffee or a simple espresso drink along with your beans, you had to wait in a long line at a kiosk on Linden Alley in Hayes Valley, or at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning.

No more. Owner James Freeman has just opened the handsome Blue Bottle Café in the newly developed Mint Plaza South of Market. There’s plenty of seating, full menus for breakfast and dinner (these change daily but tend to include egg dishes and sandwiches), and small bites for lunch.

But coffee is still the focus. To ensure faultless brewing, Freeman has installed a $20,000 siphon bar, imported from Japan—the only one of its kind in the U.S. so far. With its glass globes and halogen heating elements, the brass-trimmed device resembles something you might see in the laboratory of a mad chemist. And does it ever work: The coffee is pure, delicate, and non-acidic, the flavors ethereal and transparent. Every sip is different, with changing notes of flavor as you make your way to the bottom of the cup. This is a brew for people who want the actual taste of coffee, not a leaden concoction of milk and caramel topped with whipped cream.

Freeman wants the café to be a place for people to gather, to take a break—not to hunch over their laptops. The dignified room, flooded with light, is not a place to work, he insists. Customers can drop by after work for a glass of wine accompanied by olives, charcuterie, and cheese plates. And when the rains stop, tables will be set up outside, and it will be easy to feel like you’re in one of the great cafés of Rome.

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