Blue Bottle, a roaster and cafe operator founded in Oakland, California, is a leading player in coffee’s third wave. It has grown significantly since raising capital from private equity investors, and global food megaconglomerate Nestlé now owns a majority stake in the company.
What was once a spunky little indie now is a growing global presence, with stores in California, New York, DC, Miami, Boston, Japan, and soon South Korea. But unlike certain other global coffee chains (cough cough), you’ll still get an amazing coffee from Blue Bottle.
You’ll find Blue Bottle on the end of Potomac Street NW, a narrow, block-long alley running from M Street down to the C&O Canal. You can’t park here, unless you want to risk a ticket and/or tow in a commercial loading zone or take the ramp at the end of the street down to the Georgetown Park shopping center parking lot. And the long, beautiful old brick car barn steps across the alley? That’s Dean & DeLuca market.
The building is a plain brick block, either a commercial building from long ago or a well executed facsimile thereof, with a big casement window set into the front façade. There’s brick everywhere: the surrounding buildings, the sidewalk, the patio out front, the road. More bricks than a 1993 Knicks game.
More bricks than a Lego factory. More…. well, point made. Let’s move on.
Inside, the building is a case of love it or hate it. It’s kind of a raw, unfinished space with industrial touches (no garage door, though)
like an open ceiling, big metal air ducts out in the open, and a pockmarked, polished cement floor. The other finishes are mainly blond wood, white walls and fixtures, and there is a blue-gray accent wall behind the coffee bar. Blue Bottle is really good at maintaining their visual identity through their light blue packaging and logo.
There’s a big wooden communal table, some 2-seater built-in wooden booths, and a bar with a row of stools at the big window. The coffee bar is a big, long block of blond wood. There’s a wall of shelves bearing a great selection of bagged beans, coffee paraphenalia and branded goods, and the aforementioned patio looks like it would be enjoyable in nice weather. There are more windows on the two sides of the building, adding to the feeling of openness and light.
I like it. I think the proportions are executed just right to make a big space welcoming rather than overwhelming; the space is full of light; and everything is to a high finish. It was nice to sit in my booth, drinking my coffee, and looking out the side window to a view of cars crossing the river on the Key Bridge. Others, including my wife, find the place too cold and cheerless, befitting a harsh, unwelcoming aesthetic.
Whether you love the design, hate the design, or are indifferent to the design, the coffee is the star attraction. Blue Bottle’s reputation as a roaster is well deserved, I have always had an excellent drink here and in the other DC area outlets I’ve visited.
On this trip, my macchiato was so very well made (on a La Marzocco). Complex flavor, great mouthfeel (I hate that term, but at the moment it’s the most fitting I can think of), starts to develop a chalking finish which recedes just before it becomes too prominent. Great crema, which was a perfect bed for the expertly steamed milk.
There is a limited food selection, some baked goods and an open cooler with things like chia pudding – I’ve enjoyed the raspberry version.
So bravo to Blue Bottle for maintaining an exceptional level of quality despite going corporate (my private equity friends would probably claim that quality is because of going corporate). Probably tied for my favorite coffee on this Georgetown journey, but I ended up giving a slight edge to a shop we’ll visit tomorrow when we close out the series.
Blue Bottle Coffee
1046 Potomac Street, NW