Thursday, January 24, 2008

How Much Will YOU Pay For Good Coffee?

I love coffee (good coffee, that is!), but I think this is a bit much: At Last, a $20,000 Cup of Coffee

Be sure to view the
slideshow of pictures.

A more down-to-earth opinion (that also corrects the $20,000 figure) from
Posted Tue Jan 29, 2008, 1:34am
Subject: Re: $20,000 Coffee Machine
I paid a visit to the new Blue Bottle today. On my way in I saw James Freeman, who was leaving. After learning that he was illegally parked and that taking his space was not likely to save me a ticket, I asked him why the device I was going in to look at cost $20,000. His comment was something to the effect that the cost issue was overblown. Apparently the reporter asked him what the whole rather impressive-looking setup cost. Thinking it over, and factoring in the cost of the ice-drip apparatus, the burners, the sneeze guard, the installation and the 75 or so backup Hario pots ($100-150 apiece is my guess), he threw out a ballpark number of $20,000. This then became the story reported on the Continent and points east as the "$20,000 cup of coffee".

The place was busy. I successfully feigned nonchalance when asked for $10.85 for my pot of Sidamo DP, and sat down, fortuitously, right in front of The Apparatus. The theatre is impressive indeed. I want one of those things and I will likely strongly consider one for our next store. I may even fashion one to upgrade our existing Octagon location, where the Clover is overwhelmed by demand.

There were many things that caused some concern. Number one, the wait was almost 25 minutes, in which time I saw perhaps 5 pots go out. That struck me as excessive. Also, I think too much has been made of the bamboo paddle and stirring technique. I didn't get the impression that the two bartenders were exercising any particular skill. I may have missed that one, though. The price also seemed high, for $1.00 worth of ingredient cost, and a higher than average labor cost. Lastly, and this was the real kicker, the coffee was only good. I expected (hoped, is more accurate) to be floored. I wasn't. I place the blame for this specifically on the New York Times and generally on the culture of hype that surrounds our industry sometimes. I imagine that while it's great to have the publicity and the consequent lines of customers, James might concur with me on this last point. There is a pitfall in unrealistic expectations. This is vacuum coffee, afterall, such as any self-respecting CoffeeGeek would make at home, and that many of us grew up with.

The service was quick, attentive and professional. The lavender and sea salt "pairing" caramels were really good. The experience was great. I'll be going back. For regular old espresso. And the remarkable spectacle of the siphon bar. It's a bit like a Corvette that way. A fun car to watch someone else drive.

James, I hope I didn't offend with this commentary. I very much enjoyed meeting you, and I loved the new store. You deserve all your success. I'm glad you enjoyed Lulu's at the Octagon. Do ask for me next time you're in. I'd love to buy you a drink and chat some more.
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