Is Blue Bottle Single-Serve Coffee For You?

My friend Ahmed (who happens to be a barista at Honey Dew Coffee) surprised me with a gift yesterday, a serving of Blue Bottle Coffee’s new “perfectly ground” pre-ground coffee pack. This is their Bella Donovan Blend, ground for pour-over. If you haven’t heard of Blue Bottle’s pre-ground coffee, don’t fret. Blue Bottle, an icon of the specialty coffee world, just introduced this product in the past week.

What is it, you ask? Well, they take impeccably roasted coffee blended to produce a great combination of sweetness and complexity, and then grind it to match the appropriate brew method before packaging the coffee in an oxygen-free single-serve pouch. Each pouch is labeled with the appropriate brew method, and packed into a box with 5 servings.

Blue Bottle labels each pouch with an “Enjoy by” date that is 5 months out from the processing date. I can’t tell you how well their pre-ground coffee holds up over time, since my particular sample was roasted and ground within the past couple weeks, but in theory, what they are doing should work, and here’s why. When you pre-grind coffee, it will oxidize very rapidly, like within 15 minutes, due to the amount of exposed surface area. By grinding the coffee and immediately flushing the oxygen with an inert gas (usually nitrogen), the coffee doesn’t get a chance to oxidize. The downside to nitrogen flushing is that once you open the bag, the coffee stales at an accelerated rate, as observed with Illy espresso beans, which are packed in nitrogen pressurized containers. Blue Bottle avoids this conundrum by packaging only a single serving that you open right before you brew, preserving the maximum amount of freshness and minimizing the chance that the coffee will stale.

I must say, while I don’t often prepare pour-overs, this was a delightful experience, and one that required dusting off my gooseneck kettle and glass funnel. The grind of the Bella Donovan was incredibly consistent. They either have an amazing grinder, or they remove the boulders and fines as part of the grinding and packaging process. Opening the pouch, my nose was met with a candy-like sweetness, and I wondered if I would taste it in the coffee. Five minutes later, I had my answer, as 30 grams of coffee was turned into 8 ounces of delicious brew, registering a TDS of 1.95%—a little strong, but not at all bitter. Yes, that same sweetness I smelled was there, along with a brightness and complexity that made the cup enjoyable, even after it cooled. This Bella Donovan blend would make a great cold brew!

So, what’s the catch, you may ask? Honestly, if you truly enjoy great coffee, but you are in a situation where having the proper equipment at your disposal forces you to compromise, Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground coffee might provide you with a pleasant option. These single serve packages would be perfect with the single-serving brewers found in most hotel rooms, and would make a great traveling companion whether you are on the trail in Appalachia  or riding the rails in Tibet. For a daily brew, however, you might be better off investing in that burr grinder that you always coveted, because a 5 serving box will set you back $17.95. That’s about triple the cost of freshly roasted, premium specialty coffee beans.

All in all, it’s an enjoyable coffee, and provides an alternative in the office that might make your workmates jealous! My initial reaction on hearing the news was to ask if they were elevating the standard for ground coffee, or if they were lowering their standard to grab a larger market share. With this sample, I have to say I’m leaning more toward the former, even if it includes a bit of the latter. What do you think? Would you pay $3 per cup for coffee you brew for yourself?

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