Today’s New York Times revealed the “very special machine” to be showcased at Blue Bottle Coffee’s Mint Plaza grand opening today: At Last, a $20,000 Cup of Coffee – New York Times. One-upping the now-blasé Clover, it’s a $20,000 siphon bar for brewed (i.e., not espresso) coffee, imported from Japan via the Ueshima Coffee Company. Yes, UCC — the aforementioned, Kobe-based king of Japanese canned coffee who sports the barista-T-shirt-ready slogan, translated to English: “Good Coffee Smile”.
So what is more amusing? The trumping escalation of high-end commercial coffeemaker prices, or the media obsession with these prices? It’s as if to suggest a Times headline for the brand new Mercedes-Benz CL Class: “At Last, a $118,127 tank of gas.” (Either that or this reporter must think the siphon bar is disposable after a single use.) You can always tell when a reporter is in way over his head when the only vocabulary they have to describe the qualities of an item is its price tag.
Yet the article rightfully ponders whether “the age of brewed coffee” has arrived. To a degree, it has. We’re not ones to take away from the luxury of a great espresso (something that the great majority of cafés still flounder at, and even the best get a little wrong now and then). However, espresso is just one limited method of showcasing the complexity and wide variety of flavor profiles that the world’s coffees have to offer. Now that we’re in an era of coffee quality exploration — with the rise of single origin and Cup of Excellence coffees — it makes complete sense to introduce brewing methods that best highlight those nuances.
Have the Coffee Wars Moved on to Good Old Brewed Coffee?
It doesn’t mean we stop enjoying a little quality washed Indian robusta in our favorite espresso blend — or that we are calling for the death of the quality blend. But tasting a delicate island coffee, like a Kona peaberry or a St. Helena, in a vacuum pot can make a world of difference, and improvement, over forcing it through an espresso preparation.
If anyone should be freaking out over this turn of events, it shouldn’t be the eyes-rolling, look-at-what-those-rich-geeks-are-paying-now-for-coffee reporters. It should be Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz. With all his lip service about getting the insanely expanded Starbucks to reclaim it’s spot at the zenith of the consumer coffee world, they cannot afford to participate in this new brewed coffee arena. Because you can not only forget capably training 99% of their 150,000 low-wage employees on how to properly work a siphon bar — you can’t even trust many of them after-hours in the same room with this equipment. And without a strategy for quality brewed coffee, Mr. Schultz is merely fighting the last decade’s coffee war.
In the meantime, San Franciscans should be proud that the likes of the New York Times are spending a lot more time these days reporting on the coffee revolution that’s playing out in our very own backyard.
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