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商业 - 消费品

蓝瓶咖啡,最好的咖啡(上)

Michael V. Copeland 2011年09月28日

要想享用詹姆斯•弗里曼那来自天国的精品咖啡,你得多等一会儿,但它的确值得等待。

    铸币广场(Mint Plaza)位于旧金山市中心,是多条狭窄街道与人行道交汇的地方,过去这里颇为脏乱。如今,戴着厚实塑料边框眼镜的建筑师、穿着格子衬衫和紧身牛仔裤的单车快递员以及三位首饰叮当作响的老妇人全都耐心地站在小巷里排队,希望亲口尝一尝他们心中全世界最好的咖啡。

    蓝瓶咖啡(Blue Bottle)店内,顾客们围坐在阳光充足的山胡桃木柜台边,从仿佛是借自生物科技实验室的玻璃容器中小心翼翼地倒出“虹吸”咖啡;或者一脸幸福地啜饮一款菜单上找不到的拿铁,它称为Gibraltar——与装着咖啡端上来的多面玻璃容器同名。饥饿的主顾们将水煮荷包蛋放在厚厚的吐司切片上大快朵颐,或者小口小口地品尝着精美的甜点,同时仔细阅读他们所喝咖啡的多元来源地:YirgacheffeKoke产自埃塞俄比亚,FazendaSertaozinho则来自巴西。

    排队的人群中还包括蓝瓶咖啡创始人及首席执行官詹姆斯•弗里曼,他的一身行头与那些建筑师主顾颇为相似:黑色牛仔裤、暗灰色衬衫和时髦的黑色皮鞋——他在密歇根市北部一个鞋匠那里找到的。弗里曼的礼貌令人印象深刻,他记得所有员工和许多顾客的名字,一一向他们打招呼。与其他排队的人不同的是,他还在不断环顾四周,查看有没有什么不妥的地方。查看他的iPhone之后,弗里曼发现柜台上的单一来源咖啡列表与网站上当前显示的信息并不一致,于是立马发了份更正邮件。看到有个男人买了本《R Is for Rosetta: A Blue Bottle Coffee Coloring Alphabet》,现年45岁的弗里曼轻轻地发出了一声欢呼。这本书与店里的咖啡一样,同样凝聚着弗里曼及其员工的心血,是传统工艺的结晶。

    首席执行官和创始人的名头听起来很正式,这没错,可它们并不能准确的反映弗里曼古怪的企业家风格。“为了一本彩色画图本开上25次会,这像是真正的首席执行官的作风吗?”弗里曼笑道,“一旦脑子里产生这个想法除非它们得到不折不扣地实现,否则我怎么也放不下心来。”

    现在看来,弗里曼和蓝瓶咖啡发展前景远大。蓝瓶咖啡正引领着新一轮咖啡运动,美国西海岸的旧金山、洛杉矶和西雅图等城市是这场运动赖以汇聚力量的基地。首先出现的是餐馆咖啡,然后是雀巢(Nescaf)和Flogers式的速溶咖啡,再然后星巴克(Starbucks)与毕兹(Peet's)这类咖啡连锁店红火起来,弗里曼和他的咖啡教军团则代表着咖啡发展的下一阶段。

    他们对咖啡豆出身的要求近乎苛刻,产地记录极端详尽,以至于弗里曼这样的买家不仅能说出一些咖啡采摘者的姓名,还能描述它是在什么样的树荫下成长起来的。通过煞费苦心的烘焙,咖啡豆才能完全释放出以豆苗、干香蕉和甘草之类的术语才能形容的芳香和风情。这些珍贵的纯天然咖啡豆值得最认真地对待:煮咖啡的玻璃器具进口自日本,设计极为精妙;店员亲手把煮好的咖啡倒入一个个滴滤器;他们使用的咖啡壶壶嘴如此纤细优雅,仿若天鹅的长颈。每杯咖啡多花50美分至1美元,再额外排上5到10分钟的队,蓝瓶就能将你的咖啡体验提升到前所未有的高度,甚至远远超出你的想象。

    如果说星巴克是最新款的本田雅阁(Honda Accord),配有全套浮华虚饰,那蓝瓶就是一辆1955年款的阿尔法•罗密欧Giulietta。当然,阿尔法或许价钱较高,养护方面也需要多加留心,但它在美感方面所达到的水平是雅阁难以企及的。蓝瓶咖啡反映了同样的精湛工艺和细节上的尽善尽美。不过,随着弗里曼将他的精品咖啡推向更广泛的受众,就连他本人也担心是否人人都已做好准备。

从单簧管到咖啡豆

    弗里曼在加州洪堡郡长大,这是个沿海农村地区,就在旧金山背面,当地标志性的产品是高大的红杉树和药力强劲的奇妙大麻。高中的时候,弗里曼颇为叛逆——表现在不抽大麻,而是把时间投入于古典单簧管演奏。“我可能是学校历史上最书呆子气的男生,”弗里曼说,“在家的时候,我喜欢看看书,听听伦敦爱乐乐团的演奏。”大学毕业后,他又攻读了个音乐硕士学位,随后做了十年单簧管乐手,在旧金山湾区周围四处揽活。不过,用他自己的话说,他的演奏水平还不够,只能找到自己不感兴趣的工作。

    2001年左右,弗里曼对于音乐演艺生活逐渐失去了热情,开始将注意力转向他的另一项激情所在:咖啡。弗里曼在位于奥克兰的公寓附近找了一处186平方英尺的地方,创立了蓝瓶。这里原本是个盆栽棚,但他用来烘焙咖啡豆,然后开着自己的标致旅行车,将这些咖啡豆和咖啡滴滤器运往伯克利、奥克兰的农贸市场,后来常去的地点则是旧金山的渡轮广场(Ferry Plaza)。

    八年前一个沉闷的冬日,弗里曼又来到了渡轮广场,正忙着在车上泡咖啡,他记得当时听到的顾客闲聊的声音与平常没什么不同,结果猛一抬头,发现车前已经排起来15个人的长队。原来是在莫斯康会展中心召开了美食展销会,而蓝瓶咖啡的名气在会上传了开来。弗里曼的第一个想法是:今后得烘焙更多咖啡了。“我当时想,哇,这是怎么回事?”弗里曼说,“从那时起,生意一直都这么好。”

    当年还是一个音乐人的时候,弗里曼多年来坚持每天早起,衣服都还没穿上,就开始进行单簧管半音音阶练习。他把同样的自律和专注投入到咖啡的挑选、烘焙和炮制中,追求咖啡的尽善尽美。“一切在于‘不必要的美’,”弗里德曼称,“以及愿意为此付出的努力。”

    从某些方面看,弗里曼似乎与现代生活有些脱节。他的参照系是普鲁斯特、莫扎特、1970年代早期立体声设备以及1920年代的日本咖啡设备,他从来不用“哥们”(dude)这样的词。与弗里曼在一起时,他礼貌的词汇和安静而又有些轻快的说话方式让你觉得好像是在与克里斯托弗•罗宾(《小熊维尼》中的角色——译注)共处。

    这倒不是说弗里曼生性随和。他的朋友江上杰伊表示:“有时候他非常固执。”江上替日本饮料巨头悠诗诗(UCC)进口咖啡和设备,铸币广场咖啡馆里那款价值2万美元的卤素动力虹吸机就是他卖给弗里曼的。江上杰伊认为,他朋友的固执源于对一切都必须恰到好处的追求。

    如果你的餐馆没有合适的设备,不能煮出真正的蓝瓶咖啡——也就是说,如果你想用质量一般的咖啡机糊弄过去——那无论你的餐馆多么受欢迎或是受好评,弗里曼都不会卖给你咖啡。他也不肯卖咖啡粉——要买就买完整的咖啡豆。也不能点一杯外带意大利浓咖啡(espresso),而只能在店里喝。对于那些驱车几分钟就能到达他的咖啡烘焙地之一,却一次购买大批咖啡豆的顾客,他“深表怀疑”,根据他的理想要求,咖啡豆烘焙完成后四天内,就应该制作成意大利浓咖啡或滴滤咖啡,才能享用最佳美味——三天内的话更好。至于espresso咖啡粉能保存多长时间,他回答说:“大概45秒钟。”

    (未完待续)

    译者:小宇

    FORTUNE -- Mint Plaza, a formerly grubby intersection of small streets and walkways in the center of San Francisco. Architects in chunky plastic-framed glasses, bike messengers in plaid shirts and skinny jeans, and a trio of older women with clanky jewelry all wait patiently in an alleyway for their turn to taste what many believe is the best coffee on the planet.

    Inside Blue Bottle, customers sit at a sunny hickory-topped counter to pour "siphon" coffee from glass containers that look as if they were borrowed from a biotech lab, or sip happily from an off-the-menu latte called the Gibraltar, after the faceted glass it is served in. Hungry patrons demolish poached eggs on thick slabs of toast and nibble on beautiful pastries while they read about the diverse origins of the coffees they are drinking: Yirgacheffe Koke from Ethiopia or Fazenda Sertaozinho from Brazil.

    Joining the queue, like everyone else, is James Freeman, the CEO and founder of Blue Bottle. He dresses like his architect clientele, sporting black jeans, a muted gray shirt, and funky black shoes he picked up from a cobbler in northern Michigan. He is unfailingly polite, greeting all the staff and many of the customers by name. Unlike the rest of the people in line, Freeman scans the room looking for anything out of place. He checks his iPhone and notices that the list of single-origin coffees on the counter doesn't match current information on the website. An e-mail is sent. Freeman, 45, lets out an understated cheer when he sees a man buying a copy of R Is for Rosetta: A Blue Bottle Coffee Coloring Alphabet, a newly printed book that Freeman and his staff agonized over, in typical fashion.

    CEO and founder sounds official, and it is, but it doesn't quite capture Freeman's quirky brand of entrepreneurship. "Are 25 meetings about a coloring book real CEO stuff?" Freeman jokes. "I get these ideas in my head, and I can't let go until they are done exactly right."

    At this moment Freeman and Blue Bottle appear to be the real deal. Blue Bottle is helping lead a caffeinated charge that first gathered momentum on the West Coast, in places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. First there was diner coffee, then Nescafé and Folger's instant, followed by the vente-size growth of Starbucks (SBUX) and Peet's (PEET). Freeman and his cult-coffee cohort (see last page of article) TK are the next phase of coffee.

    It's coffee that is obsessively sourced, with provenance so detailed that buyers like Freeman can not only tell you the names of some of the people who pick it but describe the shade trees under which it grows. It's coffee that is painstakingly roasted to bring out aromas and flavors described by terms like pea shoot, dried banana, and hay. And because the precious organic beans deserve no less, the coffee is brewed in elaborate glass contraptions imported from Japan, or slowly hand-poured into individual drip filters, using kettles with spouts as slim and graceful as a swan's neck. For an extra 50¢ or a dollar per cup, and an extra five or 10 minutes in line, Blue Bottle elevates your coffee experience well above anything you've had before, or even what you thought was possible.

    If Starbucks is a late-model Honda Accord with all the bells and whistles, Blue Bottle coffee is a 1955 Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Sure, the Alfa might cost more and require a bit more attention, but it reaches an aesthetic standard that the Accord simply can't match. Blue Bottle coffee reflects similar craftsmanship and attention to detail. But as Freeman sets out to bring his couture coffee to a broader audience, even he wonders whether everyone is ready.

From wind blower to bean roaster

    Freeman grew up in Humboldt County, a rural region up the coast from San Francisco that's known primarily for its gigantic redwoods and prodigious, powerful crops of marijuana. In high school Freeman rebelled by not smoking pot, instead devoting himself to playing classical clarinet. "I was the nerdiest boy ever," Freeman says, "at home reading and listening to the London Philharmonic." After college and a master's degree in music, he embarked on a decade-long career as a journeyman clarinetist around the Bay Area, but by his own account he was only good enough to get gigs he didn't want.

    Around 2001, burned out on the life of a performing musician, Freeman turned his attention to another passion of his: coffee. Blue Bottle started life in a 186-square-foot former potting shed adjacent to Freeman's Oakland apartment. Freeman would roast coffee beans in his shed, then load the beans and a drip coffee contraption into his Peugeot station wagon and drive to farmers' markets in Berkeley, Oakland, and eventually the Ferry Plaza in San Francisco.

    Eight years ago Freeman was busy making coffee at his cart on a dreary winter day at the Ferry Plaza. He recalls hearing the usual customer chitchat. The next time he looked up, the line at his cart was 15 people deep. It turned out that a gourmet food trade show was going on at the Moscone convention center. Word had gotten out about Blue Bottle. Freeman's initial thought was that he was going to need to roast more coffee. "I was like, whoa, what has happened?" Freeman says. "It's basically been like that ever since."

    As a musician, Freeman rose every morning for years to practice chromatic scales on the clarinet before even putting his pants on. He applies that same discipline and attention to detail to source, roast, and prepare the perfect cup of coffee. "It's really about an appreciation for unnecessary beauty," Freeman says, "and a willingness to work for it."

    In some ways Freeman seems out of phase with modernity. His reference points are Proust, Mozart, early 1970s stereo equipment, and 1920s Japanese coffee gear. He never says "dude." Hanging out with Freeman, you get a Christopher Robin vibe that comes from his polite vocabulary and quiet, almost lilting, speech patterns.

    That is not to say Freeman is an easygoing guy. "He can be very stubborn," says Jay Egami, a friend of Freeman's who imports coffee and equipment for Japanese beverage giant UCC. Egami sold Freeman the $20,000 halogen-powered siphon machine that sits in the Mint Plaza café. Egami says that his friend's stubbornness stems from his desire to have everything just right.

    If you are a restaurant that doesn't have the right equipment to prepare Blue Bottle coffee -- that is to say, if you try to use a run-of-the-mill brewing machine -- Freeman won't sell you coffee, no matter how popular or well reviewed a joint you run. He won't sell you ground coffee -- whole beans only. You can't order an espresso in a to-go cup (just drink it). He is "deeply skeptical" of would-be wholesale customers who are more than a short drive from one of his roasteries. Ideally, he wants your espresso or filter coffee sitting in a cup ready to drink within four days of when the beans were roasted, and three is even better. When asked how long you can store beans ground for espresso, he responds: "About 45 seconds."

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