Blue Bottle Cafe, San Francisco

Posted on
Aug 15, 2011

It looks science-y.

The Blue Bottle Cafe in San Francisco, California, is what happens when you combine a coffee shop with a science experiment. Coffee is served in beakers; the metal stools that line one edge of the bar are identical to the ones in my seventh grade biology class (I may have started having flashbacks of my middle school awkwardness), and the pastry shelf is … inventive. The staff might as well be wearing white lab coats (which, incidentally, will probably be the next fashion wave to hit the hipsters of San Francisco: dressing up as the professions you forsook in order to be a musician).

Rand and I watched, mesmerized, as our coffee was made.

Water is placed a beaker, and a glass funnel (with an open top) is snapped onto it so that it looks like an hourglass with an open top (a cheesecloth separates the the beaker and the funnel). The entire contraption is heated over a halogen bulb that reaches 180 degrees. The water in the lower beaker travels to the upper funnel as it heats up, where coffee is added, and stirred for 30 seconds. It’s then removed from the heat, and the liquid goes back through the cheesecloth, and into the bottom container.

Coffee is filtering back down through the cheese cloth

The top funnel is removed, and the coffee is served in the beaker.

This is how it was presented to us. It's so sci-fi.

The result is a mildly brewed coffee that is more reminiscent of tea than the black, inky coffee so prevalent in the Denny’s and IHOPs of our great nation. Since Rand and I are not big coffee drinkers – indeed, since we don’t drink coffee at all (I’m high strung enough as it is, kids), we found it to be a nice, mild alternative.

Just realized we both wore blue that day.

We had a late breakfast there, and I’m forced to make a confession about my eating habits. First, let me show you what Rand ordered- a rather glorious freshly-baked (ironed?) waffle with berries on top.

I just realized that this post is mostly food porn.


And here’s what I got:

If you hate eggs, this will probably freak you out.

Yes. A salad. For breakfast. The little gem salad, to be precise, with fennel and a rather perfectly poached egg (those impostor scientists can cook).

I’m sure more than a few of you are wondering what’s going on. Clearly, I must be ill, right? Fear not. I’m fine. I haven’t abandoned sweets. No, quite the contrary. In fact, my logic is … well, quite logical. See, days are loooong. Often, they last 24 hours (I’ve never actually timed one, but this is common conjecture, and I’ve always accepted it as true). During that span of time, I’m likely to encounter many, many potential desserts. Cupcakes. Cookies. Ice cream. Hand-crafted chocolates. Pies that you eat with your hands. Tubs of Duncan Hines frosting purchased from the grocery store and consumed late at night with a spoon in the quiet solitude of my home room.

What? Don’t judge me.

Since I’m already in possession of a fairly wide fundament, I long-ago concluded that the only way I’d be able to fit in my jeans and still eat the amount of sweets that I wished to (which is a copious amount), is by cramming as many vegetables into my diet as possible, as early on in the day as I can.

I’m sure this logic isn’t entirely sound, but thus far it’s worked for me.

Often, that means forgoing sweets at breakfast, and option for something ridiculously healthy. Which is precisely what I did at Blue Bottle, before I proceeded to purchase one of each of their cookie offerings.

I realize that I missed those chocolate cookies on the end. An error I will rectify on subsequent visits, I am sure.

Like I said, the pastry counter was inventive. I picked up a saffron snickerdoodle made with Tahitian vanilla, and two shortbread cookies – one sweet, accented with rosemary and olive oil, and one savory, with dark specks of parmesan cheese and fennel.

They wrap their cookies in coffee filters.

The snickerdoodle, I’ll admit, was not to my liking. The cookie left an overly floral aftertaste in my mouth, like my tongue had been over-pollinated.

I still ate all of it.

The shortbreads were far better, but the savory one was a bit too rich. The fennel and olive oil cookie was the winner, and I may have begun attempts to recreate it in my kitchen. But thus far, I haven’t gotten beyond step 1: eating frosting out of the tub.

What? That’s how I begin all recipes.

We liked Blue Bottle, and would probably go back again, even though their innovation doesn’t always yield optimal results. If you end up feeling disappointed about their sweets, fear not. If you’re anything like me, there will be plenty of opportunities for more dessert later in the day.

Just make sure you start off with a salad for breakfast.


The Essentials on Blue Bottle Cafe:

Verdict: Recommended

How to get there:  Blue bottle has several locations and a few are located in prime San Francisco tourist areas (including the Ferry Building and the SF MoMA). We found that we could walk to the cafe in Mint Plaza from our hotel near Yerba Buena.

Ideal for: coffee lovers; adventurous eaters

Insider tips: If you and your date aren’t big coffee drinkers, feel free to split a pot for one. The menu is good, and the cookie offerings are … unique. Regard it as an experiment. Be warned: the local we went to served both breakfast and lunch, but I don’t think that’s true of all their locations. Also, for some weird reason, they weren’t serving anything between the hours of 11:00 am and noon (I tried to go back on a second day and ended up eating at Mel’s)

Good for kids: Not sure. Is caffeine good for children? (In all seriousness, while I saw a kid or two enjoying lunch with his or her parents at this place, there’s lots of glass, high stools to sit on, and it is crowded. Not what I would call kid-friendly).

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