SHPR: Blue Bottle Coffee

Over the holidays, a real-life conversation with the folks who write two of my favorite local blogs, Living in the O and City Homestead, as well as recent posts at each site, reminded me of something I've wanted to do here at OSA for a while now - SHPR. Basically, SHPR will feature local businesses that I like, support and frequent, ones I think you should as well. Mostly these will be based in Oakland, but sometimes I'll venture further afield, to Berkeley, Emeryville, or San Francisco, and perhaps even occasionally the surrounding hinterlands.

And for the first SHPR, I've chosen a business that, though based in Oakland, has a much stronger identity in San Francisco, which frankly is a situation I'd like to see changed. Oaklanders in Greater Temescal may know Blue Bottle Coffee from their presence Sunday mornings at the Temescal Farmers Market, where a line often 20 deep waits for an individually-brewed cup of coffee. And apparently you can visit what I assume is their roasting facility in Oakland to pick up beans. But several years ago, they opened "an odd but convivial" kiosk in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. It is located at 315 Linden Street (essentially an alley) in a former garage (image above). And it combines several things I love: crisp, modern design; glutonous coffee; and the reuse of urban space previously dedicated solely to automobiles.

That is still a functional laneway you see above, with access for cars, but because of Blue Bottle, it is now so much more - it is a place. And this kind of place-based thinking is something I would like to see more of in Oakland. Though there are few areas of Oakland where this exact type of thing could occur (we unfortunately don't have many alleyways), there is lots to emulate here without copying directly. One could easily see a similar business on a side street adjacent to a commercial High Street (a British term I love) in Oakland, provided the local zoning would allow it (and if it wouldn't, why not?).

More recently, Blue Bottle opened a cafe at Mint Plaza in San Francisco. I haven't yet been to the cafe, but Mint Plaza on the whole is a weird place. The landscaping is fairly nice, but overall it has a festival marketplace feel similar to Jack London Square, though a touch more sophisticated and far better designed and executed. This weirdness is largely due to the anti-market nature of the surrounding buildings, most of which were redeveloped by a single organization, Martin Building Company. Its an odd choice, Blue Bottle locating at Mint Plaza, because it seems they would do better in a more market-like (what materialist philosopher Manuel De Landa would term a "meshwork") setting, where their competitiveness and creativity would shine. Which is why I'm hoping that, for their next venture, Blue Bottle Coffee will open a kiosk or small coffee house somewhere in Oakland, and why I've made them the first SHPR.

In some ways it would have made more sense to introduce SHPR before the holidays. But I imagine many of the businesses that will end up being featured aren't necessarily places you'd go to get a gift anyways. Many of them will just be little places I frequent, or odd shops I go into. I'm also open to suggestions, so feel free to email me a favorite place of yours. I'd love to check it out and do a write up if it fits the bill.

Originally I thought of this as sort of a weekly shopper but I don't want to commit to that level of frequency, especially since I'd like to better cover general development issues in Oakland while V Smoothe is away (there is a lot of slack to be picked up). But I plan to feature SHPR as often as possible. Unfortunately, there will likely be lots of local businesses closing this year, which makes it all the more important to keep supporting the places that help make Oakland special.


0101010 said...

Wondering if you know Blue Bottle is setting up their HQ in Oakland at 3rd and Webster... The new Oakland "Food Trail" leaflet includes them, a little premature but hopefully sometime this soon they will be open for business. Renovation of the old building formerly part of the produce market area is now underway. There will be office space, roasting and they will also have a retail outlet. Can't wait because it is only 1 block from my place - in fact I can see it from my window, lucky me and lucky Oakland.

Anonymous said...

The Blue Bottle Cafe in Mint Plaza is a pretty nice stop whenever I find myself in the area. The plaza has always left me with rather mixed opinions like you describe in the post, but the cafe itself is really nice. Very modern and clean looking inside, which I'm not a huge fan of for a coffee shop, but the sight of their vacuum pots over some kind of a lamp-type heat source is pretty slick.

Since it opened, I've been really wishing that they'd open something similar over here on their home side of the Bay. It's the sort of coffee shop that I'd actually venture across town on a halfway regular basis to support.

Also, I just thought I'd mention that I've been following your blog for some time now and have really enjoyed it, even though this is my first time commenting. I won't pretend to know anything about architecture and design, but I do find it pretty fascinating to read about.