Music, food, art, beer, wine, and coffee? From August 9 trough 11 San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park will be transformed into Outside Lands, an oasis and destination for music fans from across the Bay Area. In addition to the prodigious line-up of bands, with an opening day headlined by the one and only Paul McCartney and more than eighty most excellent offerings from the All Good Funk Alliance to Zedd, the festival has evolved over the years to be a pretty stellar celebration of food, wine, beer, and art.
Leading the charge for the coffee obsessed city this year is Blue Bottle Coffee. The Oakland-based company (with multiple SF coffee bars) have signed on the caffeinated festival-goers with massive batches of cold brew, carefully prepared batch brewed coffee, and even a single origin pour-over options for those not in a hurry to get back to the mosh pit. All this happens a specially installed Blue Bottle cafe on the Outside Lands festival grounds, conveniently located between outposts for Rosamunde Sausage Grill and Il Cane Rosso. Coffee options will be varied throughout the festival, including service at places like Loving Cup, paired with their rice pudding, Precita Park Café with their gluten free mac n cheese, and Spin City Coffee, who’ll be brewing up Blue Bottle with donuts.
Here’s a charming diagram of Blue Bottle’s cafe set-up:
At Outside Lands’ wine and beer tasting tents, more than 70 food and beverage vendors are set up in the park to help keep the festival-goers well fed, hydrated, and caffeinated. New standouts this year include Rich Table, Nopalito, and Wise Sons Deli, a far cry for the greasy mystery-meat hot dogs at many other concerts. The innovative and extremely green festival features a DJ dome, farmers market, a mobile bike shop and valet, gardening workshops, and an outsider art exhibition.
On the phone with Ari Feingold, the curator of food and beverage for Outside Lands (Yes, that does say ‘curator’ – how much do we love SF?) thanked me for asking about the coffee offerings. He takes great pride in sourcing quality vendors and was happy to chat with me more about coffee at Outside Lands. “We make the best effort to elevate all aspects of the festival,” he told me. Blue Bottle is the perfect choice because they’re “an SF institution, a forerunner of the single origin coffee culture,” said Mr. Feingold. “They embody the start-up spirit in the city, starting in a alley in Hayes Valley. The coffee culture in SF is so rich.”
I wanted to find out more about how Blue Bottle was preparing to keep the hoards of music fans caffeinated – between 40 and 60,000 daily and only getting bigger. So I talked with Byard Duncan and Jenny Klowden, Blue Bottle’s communications specialist and special events coordinator, and they told me about the challenge and opportunity this huge festival presents. “Ari Feingold is a fan of Blue Bottle and has been trying to get us to do the festival for a while,” shared Klowden. “He approached me last year, gave me tickets and took me around the festival and showed off what they can do for us. It was a really great experience. One of our wholesale accounts Loving Cup was there serving our coffee. I was pretty much sold from that point on.”
Blue Bottle’s past festival experience includes serving coffee the Frieze Art Fair in New York, attended by more than 10,000 people, and the SF Street Food Festival, with more than 30,000. “At Outside Lands each day there are about 65,000 people,” said Klowden. “This scale is much bigger than anything we have done before and a different set up being in the middle of a park.”
When asked about how to maintain coffee quality, Duncan offered this explanation: “In all of our retail locations every single cup is made one cup at a time. When you get to a scale like Outside Lands it become unrealistic. We went through a lot of QC and R&D with our training departments with Fetco batch brewers. We think we found a spot where they are tasting really nice.” Blue Bottle will also be serving New Orleans iced coffee as well as a single origin drip option if someone does want to wait longer.
To prepare for the festival, the Blue Bottle team will making their 18-hour extraction cold brew around a week in advance. They’re anticipating needing 33 “batches” of cold brew per day at the festival. To get an idea of the scale, their Mint Plaza location on the busiest summer day makes three batches and usually has leftovers. Although that projected count will have to be finalized in accordance with San Francisco’s famously finicky weather forecast. “It can be freezing,” said Klowden. “But if we are going to have one of the beautiful hot blazing days like they did last year at Outside Lands, all people sold was iced coffee.”
Mr. Duncan has his own unique vision for Outside Lands: “It will be like that scene in the Matrix where there is the field of human pods except instead it will be iced coffee batches. And instead of robots it is kind baristas preparing coffee.“ The Del Popolo pizza truck is a can’t miss, as is Wise Sons, San Francisco’s new contemporary Jewish deli that’s both noshy and buzzy. Loving Cup will be there again making French press with Blue Bottle beans, to pair with their famous rice pudding and froyo options.
There’s great food and coffee at Outside Lands, but it’s a music fest first and foremost, and that definitely extends to Blue Bottle’s staff. Mr. Duncan is planning to take a break in time to see D’Angelo and Thao & the Get Down Stay Down. Klowden wants to hear seminal West Coast 80s quirk-poppers Camper Van Beethoven, Paul McCartney, and Hall & Oats; a sort of ultimate trifecta of dad rock and 20th century pop nostalgia. Erica Green, the head of Blue Bottle’s tech department, has made it very clear that she is happy to help set up the whole operation as long as she gets to see Nine Inch Nails. Blue Bottle green buyer (and Sprudgie Award winner) Stephen Vick is also stoked for NIN, as well as D’Angelo, and comedian Eugene Mirman. The Tallest Man on Earth has many fans in the Blue Bottle finance department.
Why is coffee so important to Outside Lands? Ari Feingold told me that he starts every day by making coffee and putting on some music. That day, it was Kanye West. “We need to have enough caffeine to keep the experience going. We are always seeking ways to make the festival cooler for fans.”
And why is Outside Lands important to me this year? Well, I’m heading to the Bay Area myself next weekend, and looking forward to what should be pretty much the ultimate San Francisco festival experience. Imagine getting the chance to see Dawes while holding a frosty New Orleans style cold brew. And if it is foggy and cold that weekend? According to Feingold, “Coffee and music go hand in hand. Coffee warms you up and music does too.”
Sounds about right to me. Plus it’s San Francisco — just be flexible, and wear layers.
Photo credit for Blue Bottle images by Clay McLachlan/Claypix.com