Breakfast at Blue Bottle Coffee

Two years ago, I stumbled into this cafe serving artisanal coffee, ordering a macchiato and an artery-busting Blue Bottle Benedict for breakfast. Third wave coffee hadn’t really caught on in Singapore at the time, and as an outsider, I barely knew anything about Blue Bottle Coffee.

Since then, I’ve consumed more artisanal coffee than I dare to admit – in London, Sydney and Singapore. This time around, returning to the same Blue Bottle Coffee outlet during my weekend’s layover in San Francisco for a second visit, I had rather high expectations of the coffee and was fondly reminiscing the uber-rich poached eggs named after the cafe. Unfortunately, I found my latte too subtle in flavour and the brunch menu had changed between my visits.

What’s the deal with Blue Bottle Coffee, though? For those in the dark, this article by Bloomberg should serve as a very handy primer. The brand is very closely linked to its founder, James Freeman, and their approach to brewing a cup of coffee borders on obsessively fanatic. Indeed, as my boss and I sat at our corner seats waiting for our food to be served, we observed how two of the Blue Bottle staff were attending solely to what seemed like a chemistry lab bench. In fact, I later found out from the Bloomberg article that this was a method called siphon brewing, which supposedly yields a “delicate, tea-like cup of coffee”. Neither of us were really sure how such a slow and tedious brewing process was economically justifiable. Then again, it’s not like Freeman is a very numbers-oriented person. This is perhaps artisanal in one of its more extreme manifestations.

The coffee brewing station
The coffee brewing station

i get that good things take time to produce, but fiddling with a delicate set of apparatus to brew a tea-like coffee seems a little over the top. Sure I’d not tried that version of joe, but if I wanted my drink to taste like tea, I’d order tea, thank you. Again, having millions of dollars in venture funding would suggest that they’re doing something right, at least.

Spot the second Blue Bottle logo
Spot the second Blue Bottle logo
Caffé latte with Ethiopian Homacho Waeno beans (US$4.75)
Caffé latte with Ethiopian Homacho Waeno beans (US$4.75)

This probably comes down to personal preferences, but having tried a lot more different varieties of artisanal coffee in Singapore and Australia, I honestly felt that Campos in Sydney and Jewel in Singapore serve up more aromatic and flavourful coffee with milk. My preference is for a roasted and nutty flavour that lingers on the palate, and my cup of Blue Bottle coffee didn’t deliver that. It’s definitely very drinkable, but just not the cuppa that I would crave when I’m in need of a caffeine fix.

Poached eggs with Catalan-style greens (US$11)
Poached eggs with Catalan-style greens (US$11)

Food takes a while to be served – no one seems to be in a hurry around here. When my order finally arrived, I got a waft of the grated cheese mixed with the tomato frito laid over the top of the boiled kale. The eggs were perfectly poached with very runny yolks, but the kale reminded me of a Chinese vegetable dish, the name of which eludes me. While the dish might appear relatively lightweight, it was more than enough to satiate my breakfast requirements.

As we cleared out of the cafe to head to the next destination in our itinerary, I couldn’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed by breakfast and the coffee. Had my expectations become unreasonably high due to the anticipation of returning to the cafe, or was it more a case of me now knowing the type of coffee I like and thus forming an opinion by using that as a reference point? Whatever it was, I doubt I’ll be craving Blue Bottle Coffee anytime soon. I did have a “short cappuccino” the next day from a different Blue Bottle outlet at Linden Street, which bore a stronger coffee flavour, owing to the smaller portion of milk in the drink. That was closer to my usual coffee order, but it still lacked the robust flavour and nutty taste that I love.

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