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Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila on Blue Bottle coffee cups and cupping

March 24, 2011 |  7:00 am

I was in the Ferry Plaza in San Francisco last week. Hail storm outside. I was soaked and needed  coffee, so I waited in line with a dozen other people at the “secret window” around the corner from the main Blue Bottle Coffee shop for a cup of freshly brewed joe, i.e. its “Bella Donovan” blend from the drip bar. (Blue Bottle also makes Chez Panisse’s house blend.)

Everybody in line was ordering a caramelized Belgian waffle ($3) with their coffee, so I got one too, served up in a coffee filter. At that moment, life was good, a sip of the round, nuanced coffee, a bite of waffle fresh out of the waffle press. (It takes four minutes to make one.)

Later in the week, I visited Blue Bottle's roasting facility in downtown Oakland, which also has a coffee bar. It was lunchtime and they’ve got two sandwiches, Gruyère cheese and butter or ham and goat cheese on baguette, plus a slew of pastries, including Spanish saffron biscotti and a terrific coffeecake made with Magnolia stout, caraway seeds and currants. Coffee again, this time a perfect macchiato.

It turns out that on Tuesdays and Sundays, the Oakland facility holds free public cupping sessions at 2 p.m. Too bad it was neither of those days. But if you want to see its five-light siphon bar, you'll have to visit its Mint Plaza facility in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, I took home a couple pounds of Blue Bottle's Espresso Temescal beans and six of its cappuccino-size cup and saucers ($50). I see a flurry of work in my future fueled by endless cups of coffee served in those same brown-glazed cups. 

The folks at Blue Bottle Coffee describe Espresso Temescal this way: "It is complex, poetic, finicky -- if you make coffee in your garret, loft studio, pied-à-terre, atelier ... this is your blend. A medium roast that is a fairly intricate blend of coffees from Sumatra, Costa Rica, Mexico and Ethiopia, the Espresso Temescal reigns supreme in the Mokka pot." And that's what I asked for: beans for a stovetop espresso pot.

You can also order Blue Bottle's beans online.

Blue Bottle Coffee, 300 Webster St., Oakland; coffee bar open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Also at Mint Plaza, 66 Mint St., San Francisco; café open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.


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Photo of Blue Bottle in Oakland by S. Irene Virbila / Los Angeles Times