That’s the kind of Return On Investment I’m talking about!
Slate’s Will Oremus:
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…
In contrast to the corporate uniformity of Starbucks outlets, each Blue Bottle café is snowflake-special, its layout tailored to the quirks of its real estate. But the focus is squarely on the coffee: no Wi-Fi, no power outlets, no special deals on Sarah McLachlan CDs. The seating skews scant and Spartan, and the menu options are relatively simple. You will not find pumpkin spice lattes, dark cherry mochas, or any other sorts of coffee that do not taste like coffee. Nor will you be asked to choose between talls, grandes, or ventis. At Blue Bottle, a cappuccino is a cappuccino, and it comes in cappuccino size. What it does not come in, typically, is a to-go cup: Freeman is convinced that drinking espresso from a paper vessel results in an inferior experience.
If you want to learn a little more about the effort to take Blue Bottle to “the next level,” so to speak, you can read all about the behind-the-scenes story from Google Ventures.
Does Craft Matter?
So here’s the thing… For my 30th birthday, my wife and I went up to San Fransisco for a few days. Besides seeing the amazing Bill Frisell live at Yoshi’s (truly one of the highlights of my life), I pretty much planned everything else around the availability of good, real coffee.
At the top of my list: Blue Bottle.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. To think all these years later that Blue Bottle has so much VC money behind them is very surreal. Fortunately, the owners are committed to not compromise on quality.
And for that, I congratulate them. Go Blue Bottle!
Check out Blue Bottle’s website to see how $25-million of VC translates into a website for a coffee company.
Image courtesy star5112
Image courtesy Wikipedia