It's a big year for high-grade iced coffee. Portland's big-and-getting-bigger Stumptown unleashed bottled "stubbies" of cold-brewed goodness in May. La Colombe followed suit in August with iced coffee encased in elegant containers, and Grady's large bottles of New Orleans Cold Brew showed up seemingly days later.
Now local heavy-hitter Blue Bottle Coffee has stepped in to the ring with limited, bottled versions of its popular New Orleans and Kyoto-style iced coffees. The coffees contain only the ingredients of the beverages made for Blue Bottle's growing collection of cafes and are described as "velvety & sweet" (New Orleans) and "strong & black" (Kyoto).
Blue Bottle's Ferry Terminal kiosk, as well as the Oakland-based Webster Street Roaster are currently the only two outlets carrying the iced coffees. If sales go well, the company says it will consider expanding the release this summer.
When asked about his decision to step in to the bottled iced-coffee market, Blue Bottle owner James Freeman commented, "I think the idea of of a bottled, ready-to-drink coffee is very much in a lot of people's minds, simply because the bar for existing drinks is so low." Freeman says he has always entertained the idea of having Blue Bottle products on the shelves of grocery stores, but is wary of coffee beans "languishing on shelves." So bottled iced-coffee offers, he says, "an opportunity to explore that avenue of growth with a delicious product."
Freeman admits to a certain "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!" moment when hearing of Stumptown's iced-coffee stubbies, but he assures that the product has been in the works for some time and that they are "very different." One of these differences is Blue Bottle's decision to use plastic bottles -- similar to juice containers -- rather than glass. Glass couldn't survive the cold-pasteurization process, Freeman explains, so plastic was chosen instead. "If we can scale up [production]," he says, "we can switch to bioplastic or petroleum-free plastic."
Which begs the question: Is bottled iced coffee Blue Bottle's bid for a bigger chunk of the mainstream spotlight? Considering the reports of the recent investment by venture capitalist firm Kohlberg Ventures
and the release of pasteurized product with a "pretty significant shelf life," as Freeman puts it, it seems likely that the fluorescent-soaked aisles of grocery stores are the next target for Blue Bottle to expand into.
Freeman tells SFoodie, "We don't have [expansion] plans, really, other than to make something delicious and see who's interested. However, if it seems like there is clamoring for wider distribution, then I think we'll be able to figure out how to scale it up to sell it in more than two of our shops." With Blue Bottle's popularity seemingly rising exponentially, this doesn't seem likely to be a problem.