The Bay Area has been at the forefront of a coffee renaissance in recent years, and local boutique companies like Blue Bottle, Ritual and Four Barrel are now spreading their roasting philosophy – and their coffee beans – across the country. We talk to some of the entrepreneurs behind the so-called “third-wave” coffee movement.

Eileen Hassi, owner of Ritual Coffee Roasters
James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee
Jeremy Tooker, owner of Four Barrel Coffee

  • Foo

    That blog entry is pretty lame.

  • DV

    What, no Philz? 

  • Tale of Woe

    I am so very tired of Starbucks. I don’t live in the Bay Area, and where I live that is all there is. Take pity on me!

    • Jason Brandt Lewis

      No offense, but that’s not true at all.  Many micro-roasters (aka “Third Wave”) will roast and ship the same day!  I will sometimes use Ritual, Four Barrel or Sightglass (SF), while other times I will get Verve (Santa Cruz); Red Bird (Montana), Compass (Washington), or Caffè Fresco (Pennsylvania) — among others . . . 

    • Jane C

      I live in Buffalo – Scott Shafer said Starbucks was a step up for us – tru dat.  I’m getting one of those Eileen recommended grinders.

  • Teri

    Catahoula Coffee is fabulous. Located in Richmond, California – they roast the beans on the premises. Coffee shop is a hang-out, like Peets, only better

  • Me

    To make good coffee at home, you need to roast your own beans and put them through a serious espresso machine e.g. Rancilio Silvia that has a PID.

    • ZAK

      A tea kettle and a French Press works for me.

  • Keovekxm

    Weaver’s Coffee is doing some amazing things out of San Rafael. For organic coffee it’s hard to beat. Weaver was taught to roast by the late Alfred Peet. Highly recommended!

  • Sepehr

    I enjoy all three of those coffees. But could it be argued that maybe coffee tastes draw back to individual opinion and not so much absolute truths in taste?

    All three companies pride in their image and presentation, don’t you think that that is a device akin to a gimmick?  Sometimes I am more in awe of the actual interior design than the product.

    Do you think this could become a nation wide love? Especially when there is more sugar than coffee in a Starbucks?

    And lastly, what do your guests think of San Francisco’s “chalk board menu” cafes coffee.

  • sharon

    I love coffee, too, but these guys have got to get over themselves-you won’t serve non-fat because you can’t get behind it?  Give me a break!

    • Jfwhiteside

      non-fat  (ie skim, etc) just doesnt hold up in espresso drinks that well. just get a shorter drink with whole milk or low fat milk anyway. nonfat drinkers just tell themselves theyre doing themselves a favor but are really cancelling out the point of non fat by ordering 20 oz beverages anyway

    • Galang43

      ever walk into a restaurant and dictate how they cook your food?

      • Johnnylove87

        When a coffee house doesn’t have the kind of creamer you like, it’s kind of like going to a steakhouse and getting a steak that was cooked well done after telling the waiter that you wanted it rare.

        • DC

          It’s more like going to a restaurant and asking the chef to make your creme brulee with non-fat milk instead of heavy cream. (Of course the answer would be: no)

        • RP

          Putting nonfat milk in your espresso is like putting ketchup on welldone grassfed steak.  You have ruined it!

          • iwantitallandiwantitnow

            It’s more like when, you want to whine about your hang nail, but then, no, they want to whine about the weather.

    • RP

      Drinking or eating anything nonfat is just stupid.  You’ve fallen for the nonfat scam.  Eat and drink real food.

  • Ellen

    I just got back from three weeks in Shanghai, where I had a lot of good coffee, in coffee shops, restaurants, and hotels. I spend several months per year there, and have since 1996. I have watched with pleasure and relief as the coffee culture has developed in China over the years. Still, as I’m listening to your show at home now (with my coat still on) the first thing I’m doing is making a pot of my favorite: Trader Joe’s Bay Area blend. I delivers everything I’m looking for in a good cup of coffee.

    Comment on your speaker’s comment: it’s like mt Chinese hairdresser, excellent as he is, cutting my hair the way HE thinks it looks good, ignoring all my pesky cowlicks

  • Frank

    In response to Jason’s comment, you can go to practically any other coffee shop in the Bay Area and get whatever you want. I’m deeply grateful for the quality coffee experience that roasters like Blue Bottle, Ritual, and Four Barrell are providing, along with some other micro-roasters in the Bay Area. If these folks aren’t giving you want you want, then move along.

  • ZAK

    Coffee has the most defined flavors of any food- fresh roasted can contain 800 or more. Vanilla is the next closest with over 200. There’s reason to have fresh roasted coffee more than any other element. I am a coffee roaster (of course).

  • Garrettfreberg

    I love coffee and I love all the small shops in the bay area that are doing such an amazing job producing such good coffee.  I also appreciate their innovations and the way that bringing such a great product to market as helped “teach” us consumers about the coffee experience.  However, to not have a particular milk available in a store or something like this, because ONE does not like the taste is really sad.  It is making the choice for the consumer which is clearly not very good business nor very American.  I will go to all of these shops again, because I LIKE espresso and my coffee black, but many do not. Just saying.  Listening and adapting to your customers, while you train them how to drink and purchase a smarter product seems like a less bourgeois approach.  But, let’s face it, drinking coffee in this manner, is bourgeois and something most people outside of our economy can afford to drink coffee in this manner. 

  • Stereophyle

    I’d love to hear your guests talk about what they are doing to improve supply chain transparency so that those of us who care, can determine whether the coffee growers in places like Ethiopia are getting a living wage for producing such great beans to make a cup of coffee that costs $3.

    • swagv

      I swear you can’t have a conversation about the quality of anything consumable in the Bay Area without someone trying to commandeer the conversation into a discussion of ethical supply chains.

  • Big fan of James and have enjoyed his journey and contributions to the industry. I am now supporting another rising star, Jen St. Hilaire of Scarlet City Roasters in Oakland. The Warp Drive Espresso blend is idiot proof, I can pull a gorgeous crema bomb every time, it’s fantastic.

    • swagv

      Jen St. Hilaire is a local favorite as well.

  • (1) I think a lot of people go to Blue Bottle because it’s [literally] the flavor of the month:  they’ve read that it’s the place to go and follow that, ignorant they may be before and after they do so.

    (2) For 35 years I bought my beans weekly, right after roasting, at Coffee, Tea & Spice on Haight Street.  There were 3 owners of at least 10 years each over that time and the coffee was roasted on a small machine. It was peculiar in that their roast which they called “full city” was quite light.  I have never been able to enjoy the dark roast which is now ubiquitous.  All I smell and taste is “burned.”  Why does no one do even a medium roast nowadays but rather produce only that nearly-black, oily bean?

    • Glennmaui

      You’re right.  That’s why I like the complexity of blends.

    • Balletlines2

      interesting …. like the merlot-dominance craze for a while? In a pinch you might try adding a few columbian beans (from whomever you prefer as a roaster). it can be “thin” as a varietal (and it’s one of the varietals used to give the smooth component in blending) but can help take the edge off dark over-roasted anything. If you do your grinding, and have a machine, a less dense pack and long draw (watery) exaggerate an acrid taste that can be almost nauseating with dark roasts. a little counterintuitive, but you want that water forced though asap if you’re trying to compensate a little for dark roast. meanwhile it sounds like there will be alternative roasts appearing soon in SF!

  • Stan

    Relax, Tweak. Have some more coffee. 

  • ZAK

    If you go to their websites you should find how they negotiate for coffee. Good  green coffee importers like Sweet Marias negotiate directly with the farms through what they call their Farm Gate program. They say this pays the farmers more than Fair Trade which isn’t a relaible standard for coffee.

  • Afinneral

    Th elephant in the room? Does the panel drink each others coffee

    • Balletlines2

      Of course, that is part of the joy in the business! Please take comfort in knowing it’s not a Darwinian cut-throat world in terms of not being able to enjoy someone else’s top effort. (Do artists seek out others’ works?)

  • Sharon Beals

    I wish that there could be more communication and awareness in the high end coffee providers about the importance of shade-grown coffee for preservation of habitat. Some roasters do identify their beans as shade grown for us bird lovers. Happily I learned, but only by asking the owner of our local espresso palace (Farley’s on Potrero Hill), that the house coffee happened to be shade grown. But even he  had to check with the coffee company that they had switched to get this information. There are many more bird species, and I imagine other wildlife supported in shade grown coffee plantations. It would be wonderful if we could spread the word more, especially from the horses mouth, so to speak. One of the perks of shade=grown is that many of them happen to be organic, I am not sure it works the other way. Thanks for airing this comment. 

    Sharon Beals
    Author of Nests:Fifty Nests and the Birds that Built Them. 

  • Mayra

    My name is Mayra Orellana-Powell owner of Catracha coffee Co.
    I am a small coffee farmer from Santa Elena a small village in Honduras. 
    I am currently bringing my coffee and coffee from other small farmers in my hometown.  Our coffee is currently sold by Roast Co and Blue Bottle Coffee.

    As a small farmer, we appreciate the support from local roaster in the bay area especially from Roast Co.

    We are now in the process of getting ready to travel to Honduras to visit my family and our coffee farmers!

  • ZAK

    Heard it was quite a good year in Honduras this year.

  • Larry

    Scott, Thanks for the show.  Coffee is very complex and your show has been a wide-ranging discussion. At the Four Barrel “Front Bar” (aka “Slow Bar”), unique in the Bay Area, your readers can continue their exploration and compare side-by-side the taste of six different, seasonal Single Origin coffees using a roasting style that enables the uniqueness of each coffee to be perceived by anyone immediately. (I don’t work for Four Barrel but I’m a fan!)

  • Blahblah

    what about cold brew.

  • John-Mark Agosta

    The “Cortado” (e.g. re-invented as a Gibraltar) as mentioned, I learned from my Spanish teacher, is an espresso served in an espresso cup with a bit of milk. In Spain, the barista looks at you as they pour, to know when to stop pouring.

  • wasn’t Scarlet City the first to sell this bean?

  • Glennmaui

    I just tuned in.  Have they talked about roasting your own coffee?  I have a small personal roaster, and buy my beans raw.  After roasting, and letting it rest, it makes an incredibly cup of coffee.

  • ZAK

    A note on organic and fair trade in coffee. As a roaster I used to try for this exclusively. But the further into I get means realizing many of these farms have nearly century old coffee bushes that are as wild as any other native plant. Pesticides aren’t even needed and the cost of being certified organic isn’t sustainable.

    Good importers go directly to these farms and offer much better prices than fair trade even will ensure. It’s worth finding out if your source of coffee has an importer that does this, but organic doesn’t necessarily have the same worthiness as a farm that has been growing good coffee for 75 years or more.

  • Midori

    This past September I was in Sapporo, Japan on island of Hokkaido. Attended localvore food festival. There a coffee bar food cart owner found out I’m from SF. She served four berrel coffee. She became all dreamy eyed as we chatted about SF coffee culture. She almost forgot the rest of the customers. LoL. SF coffee has global influence!

    • ZAK

      My brother in law goes to Japan often and is enamored with the vacuum brewers that take 4 minutes to make a 5 dollar cup- too rich for my blood but supposedly very good. He says there’s a couple places in SF that do this and have lines out the door.

  • DtSolari

    The grease that one caller said was on the top of her coffee could very well have been fat from the milk.   If anyone has ever had a glob of cream from a cream top milk fall into their coffee, they will have experienced the same phenomena.

  • Liz

    Have your guests been to Pittsburgh and seen the excellent third-wave coffee shops there?

  • Bob Fry

    The best coffee we’ve bought is Peet’s Holiday blend…we buy the beans. Too bad they don’t make it the rest of the year.

    Starbucks consistently has somewhat bitter coffee, I think they don’t change the brew often enough during the day. Starbucks may have got us away from Folgers and Yuban but they have great coffee.

  • Thank you to James and the other folks for staff who are often so happy to help us achieve good results with home equipment. Our local roasters (Verve and Barefoot) also have great baristas who appreciate helping improve home barista education.

  • Amir

    Please put up the brand names that were mentioned. Grinder, coffee maker, etc

    • Jason Brandt Lewis

      Baratza grinders — low end = Maestro Plus; best = Vario

  • Poppy

    For the person asking about decaf – I can highly recommend Peet’s Decaf Mocha Java – it is delicious and water treated.  I add this coffee to  my caffinated coffee because it improves the taste so much.  I have successfully passed on this recommendation to others who agree, so i am pretty sure you’d like it.

  • Telly

    Would have been great if the guests could have referenced who they were with when they answered some of these questions-  I get that the only women is at Ritual but the mens voice were difficult to distinguish if you came in late. You can tell these guests are not in marketing or they would know to make reference to who they were with each time they opened thier mouths.

  • Glennmaui

    Hmmm.  With my little coffee roaster (less than $100), I usually just buy raw beans from the local farmers.  Maybe this could be applied on a grander scale–buying direct (by mail) from farmers from other parts of the world.

  • KenyaEthiopiaCoffeeluvr

    Coffee aside, Cafes like Ritual and Blue Bottle may want to consider being a bit more welcoming to those who come to their cafes, especially if it is apparent that they are a new customer. My experience going into a Blue Bottle and Ritual was the servers had an air of arrogance and were just not friendly. (4 Barrel folks are much nicer.) Bottom line, get over yourselves Blue Bottle and Ritual…it’s coffee not a cure for cancer.

    • yann

      Agreed. Can’t say much for Ritual and Blue Bottle. Just went in and out. But Four Barrel does indeed have a nice staff. I mean for those prices a good staff is critical imo

  • Angelica

    I have enjoyed (yes, I said it) coffee at each of your guests’ establishments. I have traveled the world, and have enjoyed the good, the bad, and the ugly. Coffee to me, as your one guest has identified in her Branding, is a ritual. It is like wine, or cigarettes, or even sex. Honestly, even bad coffee is good coffee sometimes. I love diner coffee on a Sunday morning with my PAPER. I love having a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in the STYROFOAM cup when I return home to visit family in Chicago- because when I drank that stuff, I was a student, and loved how fast the family-franchise across the street from the Dirksen Federal building on Jackson would move to get thirsty and desperate (and poor) law students their fix before class…giving the homeless guys a cuppa and stale bagel every day as well…I love a Greek coffee from the coffee shop/dentist/baker/barber in my village in Lefkada. It is not appropriate for me to sit with the men outside- but I did make a good impression so he gives me a little plastic cup to enjoy the syrup. I love having a Starbucks latte at the airport before a flight. I am terrified to fly, I get sick. Starbucks reminds me that I am real and human and I might live to drink another on the other side upon my return. I don’t think having a passion for coffee, as your guests do, is a flaw, its just fine. Its like French Laundry and Taquerias. You can have the best meal at either, even if the taqueria uses not-organic meat and cheese from ? god knows where and lord knows the paper probably affects the palette. This is why I would ENCOURAGE readers of this comment to continue drinking mediocre to poor quality coffee at their own homes, using a $12.00 whirly grinder and their coffee delivery system of choice. I use a French press, because we are quasi European and like the heavy stuff. I cut mine with anything resembling milk. My husband adulterates his with brown sugar. Every morning. Ritual. We make the coffee, brush our teeth, make our lunches, and start the day with a coffee-kiss. We enjoy a walk at Jack London Square- with a cuppa from Blue Bottle- or Ritural or Four Barrel from our City days…and its SPECIAL. Americans don’t know that special isn’t an entitlement every day. Going out for a coffee is special when its reserved. When I can’t make it at home. Its why I will never buy a funnel and try to replicate- try to keep my old beans as temperate and fresh as possible at home, my water a nice 85 degrees. Why? Its such a waste when you can enjoy the ritual just as well with coffee beans in your cupboard- as many as you like, unevenly ground, with cold milk poured on top. I love it. I love cold coffee. I have specific mug choices to accommodate mild OCD, but otherwise- the coffee-sugar-sex-magic is really all you need…Thanks Guests- but do not fear world- your crap coffee will get you through the dark times.

    • Balletlines2

      Interesting that you remind us how much the amygdala enters the coffee experience equation too!! Any visual, aural, or taste experience from a younger time in our lives can bring back fond memories — a comfort food experience from something we normally would not want to (or be afraid to!) consume these days! Lipton tea with sweetener was a comfort to my friend while in the hospital for this very reason. She longed for the iced tea of teenage summers (plus rat poison we joked).

      Paper filters do take research because of the impurities (glue in some cases) and any formaldehyde that might have gone into the bleaching process.

  • Balletlines2

    What a thrill to create a great new blend after tweaking and tweaking!  And doesn’t it seem that first batch cannot *quite* be duplicated after that first Eureka creation!?  And in reality, it can’t!

    Starbucks arrived in LA in 1991 while our place was still under construction, and our “scout” visit to their maiden store in West Hollywood was, well, underwhelming, in every way.  Seattles Best originally had a few independant franchises, and their experience was probably the best to be found, across the board, in the “big-chain” coffee category.

    I remember realizing after closing our first day there were going to be utilitarian customers (in our case we were on cosmetic surgeon row) who were there simply for caffeine fix + minimal calories.  It is a tall order to make anything taste good with nonfat milk!  Passers-through, patients and tourists had no interest in the experience, yet we accommodated them.  Afterall, not everyone can be in the same frame of mind as the proprietor lovingly created, and you know that you are making the best possible version of what they are paying for.  It is, afterall, what they have come in for and they have decided to give you their money in exchange.  That’s fine!  And then, we had customers who “got” the place and really appreciated it and learned with us.  Some drove for miles to include us in their day, and that was so gratifying!  In a sense, we created our own little cultural respite.

    As you explained, the creation of a knock-your-socks drink is the culmination of a series of successful steps.  Each step is a discipline of its own to be understood and mastered.  It can be adapted to mass production only so much, without the employee having a knowledge base to understand what works and why, or what is likely to be wrong and correct accordingly.  

    This is Starbucks’ contribution-  the mass production of a product ideally suited to hand crafting.  And so they have succeeded in raising the expectation level overall, certainly in many markets and in the beginning of their growth phase.  Much like McDonald’s – appreciated when on the road, you don’t have time to explore, and you know you will not get tomaine – their certain reproduceability of a drinkable drink is of value!  (See how I too can be a utilitarian customer, as I do not care to partake of Starbucks’ educational experience and only want my coffee without burned milk or lip!!)

    One thing I do miss was that wonderful third or fourth espresso from the machine after the metal temperature rises to the perfect heat range … I was interested to hear your comments on foam, as the thing I find most disappointing is burned and reused milk.  Even burned coffee can be somewhat doctored with fat, but burned milk is a complete deal-breaker.  If, as a customer, you see a big full pitcher sitting there, you simply must adjust your expectations.   (Well, robotic delivery is right up there too, but you can forget that after getting out the door!)

  • Wing87

    I have to take issue with the coffee quality of Italy. The three top selling brands in Europe are Italian coffees.  Segafredo Zanetti, Illy and Lavazza. these coffees are all med-dark roasts. Their signs are prominently displayed outside cafes where they are served. I travel a lot in Europe and drink a lot of coffee.
    This so-called revolution has already occurred in Europe. Alas, in France, there is no french roast outside of Starbucks, the same with Italian roast in Italy. European coffee is almost exclusively medium to medium-dark roasts.
    After a trip in 2005, I could no longer stand to drink burned coffee. There will be no origin coffee flavor in dark roasted coffee beans. The flavor of the dark roast dominates.

  • Several people have asked me to post the grinders and brewers that we recommended this morning.  Here they are:
            Quality electric grinder for drip or French Press:  Baratza Maestro Plus
            Electric Grinder for espresso: Baratza Vario
            Hand crank grinder:  Porlex mini-mill
            Brewer: individual cone:  Hario V-60
            Brewer: automatic drip:  Technivorm MoccaMaster
    Other great tools: 
            Electric kettle:  the Pino kettle, you can set the temp
    Gram Scale (essential for knowing you’re using the right ratio of coffee to water)

    Thanks for listening!


    • LisaH

      Thanks for these recommendations. Do you have a specific filter you prefer to use with the Hario V60? Does it matter?

      • Yes, it’s important to use a V-shaped filter (as opposed to a typical Mellitta filter, which is a truncated cone.)  I’m a fan of the Hario brand filters, as they have minimal paper taste.

        • LisaH

          Perfect. Thanks again for the guidance. 

  • Cherie

    Why does one have to put up with ice cold milk in our coffee; whereas, in Europe, one never is served cold milk?

  • Cherie

    How is the best cup of coffee made? A chemex? A french press? It wasn’t clear to me.

  • DC

    A caller asked about Indian coffee and where to get it. I’m one of the owners of ZombieRunner, a cafe in Palo Alto, CA ( We sell (and regularly serve) Indian Mysore coffee. In fact, it’s one of our most popular coffees.

  • JOsh

    why did this program cut out at 18min.? Is there somewhere to listen to the whole show?

    • stbernard

      not a problem for me….

  • I don’t know, I hear Dunkin’ Donuts coffee is pretty good.  And you don’t need to be a hipster and stand in line for hours to get a cup.

    • RP

      If you don’t know coffee, just go to dunkin’ donuts.  You’ll be fine.

      • I can’t go to Dunkin Donuts. We don’t have one in SF in which I can compare to the hipster roasts.  I guess I’ll just have to stick with my Mr Espresso French Roast.  But then, I must not know coffee, right?

  • I’m an admirer of all these folks and am grateful to Blue Bottle for training my coffee tastes to add a new and nuanced pleasure to each day’s experienced. I listened to the last half of the show so far and a frequent topic was how to improve the experience of home brewing, including espresso. There is a large volume of knowledgeable advice on all this at

  • Manny

    First off I’d like to say that the quality of coffee is really great I these places; the best in fact. However, it’s how they make you feel in these places with the unnecessary attitudes that come with every cup of coffee ones order. I was denied at blue bottle coffee for ordering a decaf drip coffee while a decaf latte was vividly called out a millisecond after I was denied and delivered to its customer. Explain that to me please. The problem is that these roasters think that they are making their coffee with love but it is actually the opposite. It’s alienating and only invites hipsters and people who want to look down on people who order non-fat!?! Really?! It’s not undermining all the training and research you guys do but it is simply a matter of preference. My wife and I refuse to ever step foot in these places simply for that matter. It’s rude, cocky, and you can scratch that “customer service manifesto” garbage. These places discriminate and alienate. I challenge mr krasny to order a cup in these places without telling them who you are to see how their service really works. Bogus.

    • Calvin

      Why do people feel entitled to getting whatever they want when they walk into a cafe or a restaurant, with total disregard to what’s on the menu?  Customer service is not about doing whatever the hell they tell you to do.  If something you want isn’t served at a cafe or a restaurant, go somewhere else where it is.

  • Oilybchgrl

    I live in Ventura Calif and yearn for a decent cup of joe!  I can hardley wait to visit my kids in the bay area and drink up all the incredible coffee I can while I’m there!  I wish I could open a coffee house in Ventura that would appreciate this kind of coffee, I doubt they are ready for it.

    Take pity on me!


  • Himanshu

    My Name is himanshu

  • Kitty

    I listened to this program to hear about the expertise that these coffee roasters bring to the table . . . however, it was a painful experience to listen to these coffee snob hipsters!  I like a little customer service with my coffee, thank you, and don’t want to have to learn a special protocol to get a good cup of .  Customer service manifesto?   Did that guy really say that? 

    Get over yourselves – it’s coffee!  And offer low fat milk for pete’s sake.

    • RP

      lowfat, nonfat – never a good idea.

  • Villageattab

    In Paris there are some jewels of roasters like the great Cafeotheque roastery, or Daval roastery, and others, but you have to look for them.  Here too in San Francisco, do you think it is easy for a local or a tourist to find Blue Bottle behind the MInt Museum on a strange alley( Jesse)?  Alas some great roasters are dying in Paris like the great Amazone next to Musee Pampidou, the owner who is still young is retiring to enjoy life, but alas he has no one to take the trade.  
    Rome is a huge grand city just like Paris, you must live there and you must be curious to know and find the great places.
    Even when I was in Sarlat, a small town, in the Dordogne it took me 3 days and a lot of asking to find a great coffee roaster who saved my life.

  • Russell Balch

    Caffe Roma in North Beach is a small, family run roaster of exceptional coffees. The giant, old, Italian roaster and bar with cool, non-affected baristas (plus owner, Tony) are right there. Go there!!

  • Krizbell

    I prefer Sightglass but have loved Blue Bottle too. The folks at Blue Bottle in Oakland are always kind and friendly. That’s why I drive 11 miles just to go there- not a hipster by any stretch. Maybe too many coffee snobs who want somebody making very little money per hour to kiss up to them for a dollar tip.

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