I admit that I am not a coffee connoisseur. I generally can't tell the difference between most popular brands of coffee (I acknowledge that many people like Peets over Starbucks, but I can't tell you why.) In fact, I'm so bad, that I even failed the Starbucks VIA challenge three times. So, how can I sit here and write about "good coffee"? Well, because Intelligentsia coffee is pretty amazing. Blue Bottle isn't bad either.
A decade ago, I drank a lot of juice and a lot of soda. There was a point when I thought about trying to be "sophisticated" and get into drinking wine. That phase quickly passed when I realized I just didn't like alcohol. When I moved to China however, the pleasure of drinking tea stuck, and as I frequented my favorite tea house, I learned more and more about the "art" of tea - different types, how to steep them, different flavors to look for. Coffee however, was still not on my list. I found it too bitter and too difficult to access. All that changed when I moved to Europe though, where coffee drinking is a national past-time in a lot of places.
Still, drinking coffee didn't mean that I understood coffee. (I still don't!) I can tell you that some coffee is downright bad and that old coffee is nasty - but all of those "hints of" this flavor and "suggestions of" that flavor? BS to me. Coffee is coffee right?
Until I had the pleasure of drinking a cup of brewed-to-order Intelligentsia coffee at Linger Cafe & Lounge in Brooklyn, where I actually DID taste the hints of flavors. It was a revelation, and I craved more. So I recently went to Venice to check out Intelligentsia's espresso bar there and was not disappointed. It's an expensive luxury, but well worth it. Folgers or Seattle's Best, this was definitely not.
So, when I was in San Francisco last week, and heard two different people mention Blue Bottle Coffee Co. as probably the best coffee they've had, I just had to go check it out. I met a friend at the Ferry Building, and we each ordered a cup - dripped to order. I guess this is the new trend now. Environmentally, a bit wasteful; but from a labor system standpoint, good because it creates more jobs. Anyway, I found Blue Bottle to also be better than your average coffee, but perhaps because my expectations were already raised, it did not blow my mind like Intelligentsia. The coffee was smooth and distinct, but didn't seem as nuanced at the El Salvadorian coffee I had at Intelligentsia. A good choice, but perhaps not my first. The fact that they only offered paper cups at the Ferry Building was also a bit disappointing.
Still not a coffee expert, but... if you want to begin to understand the difference between McCafe and good coffee... you'll want to try one or both of these coffees.