SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— Residents in the Bay Area have long known of the quality of Blue Bottle coffee, but now the rest of the country is starting to get a taste.
The company is now selling its famous New Orleans-style Iced Coffee in grocery stores nationwide and a recent article posted on The Atlantic.com boldly titled, ‘The Future of Iced Coffee’ claims it might be the best iced-coffee drink in America.
Alexis Madrigal, deputy editor of the publication that ran the article, talked with KCBS about the expansion of the company.
“I think it’s just delicious when you think about how coffee has changed from our parents’ generation; coming out of a can and being bitter and harsh,” says Madrigal.
Madrigal attributes the rise of the latte in the 90s as being on the back of Starbucks, but he says that Blue Bottle’s “milky, sweet” product seems like it could propel out of the artisan, elitist’s niche and has the potential to become a household brand across the country.
Coffee connoisseurs may be wondering if the concoction could be compromised by the packaging process. “That’s truly what the substance of the story is,” Madrigal says. “How do you take something that was made by hand by baristas, designed by James Freeman [Blue Bottle’s founder and CEO] back in 2004 in Berkeley and how do you scale that up? How do you pasteurize it? How do you make sure that it tastes the right way?”
He explains that the company contracted with a food lab and ran extensive blind tests to try and figure out how to get it to taste exactly the same as from one of their numerous stands and outlets.
The question remains will this formula hold up? Or will consumers continue to do what they’ve done en masse for the last 20 years by going into Starbucks?
“Freeman is rigorous and methodical,” Madrigal says. “If anyone can do it it’s Freeman. Starbucks is clearly going to remain dominant for a long time. They’re dominant in what this market is called: ready-to-drink packaged goods, but Blue Bottle has a shot.”
Coffee’s recent American history itself is pretty fascinating. Madrigal explains how in the late 1980s there were only about 500 coffee houses across the country. While there have been pre-packaged Frapuccino’s the coffee market is nowhere near the level as the soda industry.
As far as any backlash for going big, Madrigal likens it to the band who got too popular, but he compares it to bands like Radiohead who became major, but in his opinion their integrity remains intact.