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。
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."