Blue Bottle, Part Two

P1040377x.jpg
Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!


Yesterday, I wrote about my first experience at West 15th Street's new Blue Bottle Coffee. I apologize for having been so interested in the pour-overs that I missed the espresso machine. The other observations and criticisms still stand, including my belief that the coffee was on the thin side, the premises without creature comforts, the usual constellation of milk and soy products not present, and the place, on the whole, pretentious. While looking for somewhere to sit down, I discovered a stranger and more interesting coffee establishment above and behind the one I'd just patronized, approached by a narrow stair. You have to know it's there, because there's no sign. (And no, I didn't read the press release.)


P1040376x.jpg
Here's your free palate cleanser.


The upstairs establishment does provide seating, along a short bar where coffee is brewed by one of two methods by a barista who has become half counselor and half chemist. The first method involves putting grounds in a small muslin bag, and using the drip method, making something that tastes like espresso, only more copious.

The other utilizes a glass lab-ware apparatus invented by the Japanese that shoots water from a globe up into a beaker, after which the barista stirs the coffee grounds in, and then turns off the strange glowing burner underneath. Once the air in the bottom chamber cools, the coffee is drawn rapidly downward through a filter. Then the beaker is removed and the coffee poured from the flask.

These coffees are both roughly twice as expensive as the downstairs brews. On the other hand, you first get a "palate cleanser" consisting of a weak tea made with -- if I understood the explanation correctly -- the skins of coffee berries. It tastes faintly like one of those fruit-flavored teas. You also get a tiny marshmallow that, the barista will inform you, has been infused with bourbon. For the committed drinker of strong normal coffee, this prelude to caffeination may cause you some alarm. The restaurateur will recognize it as a "value added" feature, justifying a higher price.


P1040354x.jpg
The upstairs siphon bar at Blue Bottle


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
19 comments
Sara Rosenberg
Sara Rosenberg

Wow, such negativity on the comment board! Looks like James and the rest of his corporate hacks from Blue Bottle don't want to hear the truth from our man Robert. Hats off to Robert for having the guts to tell it like it is! Blue Bottle is an overhyped, overpriced coffee shop full of people who take themselves way too seriously. I'll take my coffee money elsewhere, thank you very much.

Cmalarick
Cmalarick

Robert, I wrote an article for my blog that is in direct communication with your two pieces on the new Blue Bottle location, I hope you can find the time to read it. http://gastronomin.com/why-new...

Bob Brieson
Bob Brieson

I must say, Robert, you have really lost all credibility in my eyes as a food journalist after reading this article. I am finding myself agreeing with those who have posted and are reticent to believe you actually spent any time in the cafe itself. 

If anything, Blue Bottle's new Chelsea location has made me a convert! To say that I have been less than impressed by Blue Bottle's coffee in the past (especially on the west coast) would be an understatement, but the coffee I had there Saturday morning was fantastic.

I can't tell if you have absolutely no palate for coffee at all or just a personal vendetta against Blue Bottle, but at the very least please give your readers the benefit of legitimate journalism and facts the next time you chose to publish your "professional" opinion.

Rosie
Rosie

It must be really hard to do research these days.  I believe the muslin bag method of brewing that Mr Sietsema described here is what's referred to as a Nel Drip. 

This from Blue Bottle's webstore:  "Hario Wood-Neck Nel Drip - The wood-neck nel drip (“nel” is short for “flannel”) brews a coffee that is as clean as the Chemex, but denser and more viscous."

It's the only bag-looking product they offer.  Then again, I bet the baristas could have told Mr. Sietsema that if he had asked.

Dennisnyc
Dennisnyc

I've not read any of your other reviews, but from the factual errors yesterday and today I'm not sure how much I trust your ability to review this topic.  The syphon method used by Blue Bottle may be "by the Japanese method", but it was not invented by the Japanese as you state.  A simple wiki search would reveal its origins.  Have sugar and/or milk with your coffee as you choose.  It's the coffee tasting equivalent to pouring ketchup on a good steak.

barkingburro
barkingburro

The reviewer's point of view is all too clear in his closing paragraph. He has missed the point, failing to adequately address the reason for the "culinary theater"--namely, that it's not about the theater, it's about the coffee. I do agree with his points about the lack of cream and sugar forced on the patrons, who can't be trusted to enjoy their cup however they prefer. That IS pretentious. But at the same time I bemoan the fact that most people will have the same reaction as the reviewer did, not appreciating the skills, care, and patience required to make truly excellent coffee, and why that's a good and rare thing to find in a coffee establishment.

Jason Thome
Jason Thome

In one breath the reviewer praises Blue Bottle as unsurpassed and in another he trashes it. He has no true point of view and its a shame to have a review like this for what is really an innovative independent company like Blue Bottle.

I love the coffee shop with the cushy sofa like on the sitcom "Friends", but why knock people who are trying to do new fresh things? Spots like Blue Bottle and Stumptown have raised the bar for coffee everywhere and I say bring it on.

And it doesn't get much better than to stand and drink coffee in Rome, so what's the problem with doing that at Blue Bottle?

And he has so much respect for the baristas, but yet he calls them pretentious??? In my experience, the kids at Blue Bottle are super sweet.

Anyway, my review of this reviewer is thumbs down.

swagv
swagv

Looking forward to Part 3

Rsietsema
Rsietsema

My description of the method stands as entirely accurate. Do I have to use BB's terminology to write about it? I think not.

barkingburro
barkingburro

Actually, coffee flavor is more than just the bright side, and can still be well-appreciated with a little sugar and milk. It takes a truly closed mind to equate that to putting ketchup on a steak. Of course, the weaker the coffee, the less it will hold up to dilution. I doubt the baristas at Blue Bottle brew their non-espresso drinks strong enough to handle cream, but adding a little sugar is mandatory for some of us discerning sweet tooths.

I wish the naysayers who absolutely have to have their coffee intellectually pure would understand that it's just an elitist game to exclude anyone who prefers a different flavor profile. They should start drinking their cocoa unsweetened and without milk.

Rsietsema
Rsietsema

Oh, yeah? A July 23, 2008 article in the NY Times describes the Japanese origins of the device, but if you mean that something similar can be found in any college chemistry lab, that's true, too. It also makes it clear that producing consistent siphon coffee is a challenge.

df
df

Nel is not BB's terminology.  It is the standard name for this method. So, your description of the method stands entirely inaccurate. 

Calen
Calen

Then use the industry standard terminology of wood-neck so that people reading the review can easily understand. I'm sure if you asked the amazingly nice barista upstairs he would've gladly explained to you what it was, and what he was doing (as he did for me)

warble
warble

Coffee and sugar is happily given to you if you ask the barista at Blue Bottle. When I asked, I got a couple of sugar cubes in a cute ramekin, and a little beaker of cold milk. Before complaining all over the internet, perhaps try talking to the person who has spent 15 minutes making you a beautiful coffee drink.

ThankYou
ThankYou

If you're referring to this: "Called a siphon bar, it was imported from Japan at a total cost of more than $20,000." then the comment stands.  The style of this device may be halogen based and created in Japan, but the chemistry of the device was "invented" elsewhere.  Since the NY Times is your source of authority here's one more: "For the uninitiated, the siphon looks like a steampunk science experiment, and... it’s an old method — siphon coffee first came into fashion in 19th century France — that caught on in postwar Japan" [Feb 14, 2012].  Thanks

Rsietsema
Rsietsema

That's January, 28, 2008, and I'd include a link, but the software doesn't allow it.

barkingburro
barkingburro

Thanks for the correction. Though my complaint above had more to do with one of the commenters' remarks, I did read too much into the reviewer's words--I take back my comment that Blue Bottle is pretentious. They don't sound at all like certain other coffee shops that withhold condiments. I'm sorry I said that.

Mak
Mak

For whatever its worth, I believe that the method was first used in Portugal, and one can still find siphon method machines there and also in Brazil.  I think though that the siphon method was popularized in France by a company named "Hellem" in Lyon -- they made beautiful machines, but I don't believe that these units are being made any longer. 

Loading...