Step aside Starbucks

Blue Bottle Coffee is ushering in a new generation of coffee shops, according to an article posted recently by Bloomberg Businessweek.

Blue Bottle Coffee; true artisanal joe

Blue Bottle Coffee; true artisanal joe

The article, written by Bloomberg contributor Joel Stein, describes the atmosphere, menu, and perhaps most notably, the owner of Blue Bottle Coffee, a 13-store chain based in Oakland, California.  Stein describes owner and founder James Freeman as, “the guy PBS producers would have sent in to calm Mr. Rogers down… Calm.  Simple.  Exact.”

He also happens to be running what Stein describes as one of the most attractive operations in the industry in terms of investors;  Blue Bottle has received funding from Google Ventures, True Ventures, Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake, WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg, and former Google executive Chris Sacca.  According to the article, in 2012 the company raised nearly $20 million in venture funding, and another $25 million in January of this year.

The Difference is in the Details

So what makes the company so appealing?  The author argues it’s Freeman’s meticulous approach.  According to Stein, Freeman does only 20% of sales wholesale, compared to his competitors’ rate of nearly 75%, because he’s afraid people in other shops will brew his coffee incorrectly.  He sells his coffee only in one major grocery store, California Whole Foods, where he is, “treating it like milk, putting it into a box with a four-day sell-by date.”

His perfectionist attitude has led to a rapid period of growth for Blue Bottle Coffee, which recently used some of their venture funding to purchase Handsome Coffee Roasters, design new stores in Los Angeles, and begin expansion plans for a Japanese opening.

It also, according to Stein, hasn’t always been so kind to him.  Freeman’s wife described the shop’s owner in his younger years in Humboldt County, telling Stein that, “Everyone listened to AC/DC…  James rebelled by playing the clarinet and listening to opera. He got beat up and couldn’t wait to leave… When we started dating he’d heard of the Beatles, but he never listened to the Beatles. James is a nerd.”

Nerd or otherwise, one thing is for certain: James Freeman and Blue Bottle Coffee are on the rise.


Blue Bottle Coffee Co. is based in Oakland, California