While our friends and partners at Blue Bottle Coffee put the finishing touches on their latest and largest café, in the W.C. Morse Building in Oakland, I managed to sneak in to take a few pictures and talk briefly to George Hart, the company’s West Coast Store Development Manager. The new café was still papered up when I first visited, final fixtures were being installed, and the new Morse staff was getting trained on home espresso in the back of the café. I came back this morning, the cafe's official opening day, to capture the new space in all its glory.
Yes, this cafe is now open to the public, located at 4270 Broadway in Oakland (at the corner of Mather and Broadway). The neighborhood is already checking in; at 7:30 in the morning this morning, I can report an unnamed woman poked her head inside Blue Bottle Morse's front doors and announced “Hey! Welcome to the neighborhood, I'm so glad you're here!” Here’s everything you need to know about this new café – and why it’s so much different than all the other properties in the rapidly expanding Blue Bottle empire.
Blue Bottle Morse, as it's already being called colloquially, represents a series of firsts for Blue Bottle. While it does house all the traditional bells and whistles of a new coffee bar – I'll get to that in a second – Morse is the first time the company has offered home espresso machines and home espresso machine training to the public. It’s also the first time that the company has offered espresso machine service and repair. You can see the espresso tech area separated from the main café by a plastic curtain. The window where the La Marzocco GB5 sits will not actually be where you can hoist up your home machine for service, but it will be the point-of-sale for the repair center. A Square register will replace the machine.
In addition to the home espresso machine display, there will also be a showcase table that will always have machines powered on for demos. Ms. Hart told me that the shop would have a different home espresso machine or brewer rotated in for demos and classes every week or so.
The café gets two tables for sitting – one big round one and one long marble counter. The bar is a long custom stainless number complete with built in ice boxes, knockboxes, drains, and everything else. The two espresso machines –a Spirit and a Mirage Idrocompresso, both from Kees Van Der Westen– are accompanied by two Mazzer Robur-E grinders. Other equipment of note is the large pour over bar, the Kyoto cold drippers that will make iced coffee, and the waffle iron. Blue Bottle will be slinging Liege waffles – a sweet variety of waffle that dates from as far back as 1814, similar to those found at Blue Bottle's cafe in Chelsea, Manhattan.
The W.C. Morse building was previously a car dealership, part of Oakland's historic Auto Row, and that means this cafe has soaring ceilings (19.5′!!) and a wide open feeling. You could park a lumber truck in this space; in fact, they used to do exactly that. If you look up you’ll see another signature Blue Bottle touch: sick speakers, which we'd noticed previously kicking around at Blue Bottle's roastery near Oakland's Jack London Square. According to audiophile and Blue Bottle owner James Freeman (interviewed by Alex Bernson in this previous Sprudge article), they are a “late 1960s pair of JBL Voice of the Theatre speakers powered by an exquisite Luxman M-2000 amp and preamp from the late 1970s.” Ms. Hart noted that the 200-pound speakers were plenty loud but since they were mounted so high (with aircraft cable) they allowed easy conversation on ground level.
The build-out includes a mixture of new and old textures. The original tile is still mostly intact, and the upper sections of the windows are original as well. The large plate glass windows were un-tempered and therefore replaced. The façade is all original save the addition of new lights outside, which should project a welcoming glow on the café at night.
The doors are now officially open today, February 6th, beginning just a few hours ago at 7 a.m Pacific Standard Time. This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting openings of 2014 in the Bay Area, a remarkable fusion of architecture, history, and the modern Blue Bottle coffee experience. What a pleasure to be among the first to enjoy it.