Brewing up the next generation of coffee


James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee holds a container of Panama Geisha coffee beans at his roastery in Oakland, California.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

At a small craft brewery in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge there's something unusual going on, and it has absolutely nothing to do with beer, reports CBS News correspondent John Blackstone.

"There's some weeks where we brew more coffee than beer," Fort Point Brewery's Mike Schenbeck said.

Schnebeck operates 700-gallon beer vats to mass-produce iced coffee, one of the most popular offerings of the Blue Bottle Coffee Company.

"We've been serving it with pride in our shops for ten years, and to have something that's so delicious that you can go to Whole Foods and buy, why not have that?" said Blue Bottle CEO James Freeman.

Freeman is not just serious about iced coffee, he's serious about all coffee. That's why he opened the first Blue Bottle shop in the San Francisco Bay Area more than a decade ago.

"I was tired of not finding the coffee that I wanted to drink, basically," Freeman said.

He said he discovered his thirst for coffee from his parents.

"My parents drank MJB coffee, in this green can," he said. "It smelled so good when they opened the can, and it was horrible! It was just horrible, and so that tension between how the coffee smelled and how it tasted, that lodged fairly deeply."

For decades, Freeman believes, America was a land of mediocre coffee. Then, in the 1980's Starbucks came along, raising the bar, introducing Americans to terms like espresso and latte.

But has the Seattle company lost its way since then?

"Oh, that's not for me to say, they're awful successful," Freeman said.

But he does admit their coffee has lost its appeal for him.

"Well, that's a subjective assessment; I personally, to be honest, don't enjoy a lot of those coffees."

If Starbucks started the second wave of coffee in America, Freeman and Blue Bottle are part of the third wave.

Smaller roasters promoting an even deeper appreciation of coffee: where it's from, how the beans are roasted, how it's brewed and when it's served.

"To grind something freshly ground, put it in a cone, get the right kettle, the right water, at the right temperature, pour it in the right way, it's a skill, it's craft, it becomes something you can get a tiny bit better at every single time you do it," Freeman said.

He said it's sort of like crafting wine.

"Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of parallels," he said. "A lot of us in coffee envy that cultural cache that wine has, but more and more people are thinking of them, if not equivalent, at least in the same category."

This is nowhere more evident than in Blue Bottle's lab, where every batch of coffee they serve is tested and evaluated.

"It's this substance that has basically transformed Western civilization," he said. "It's allowed people to gather in places where they don't have to get drunk in order to be convivial. Saying 'it's just coffee' is like saying, eh, it's just civilization."

And like civilization, Blue Bottle is evolving. Its next step; mass production of iced coffee for retail stores, which comes with a challenge -- going big without going bad.

"I want to see how great we can be and how much scale we can accomplish that greatness in," he explained.

With 15 stores now open across the country, and another dozen on the way in the next year, Freeman is on a mission: to convince Americans coffee can be a lot more than a latte.