Blue Bottle Coffee, Chelsea

The Blue Bottle Coffee logo from the A-board outside the Chelsea coffee shop: the outline of a bottle painted in solid blue above the words "Blue Bottle Coffee".Near the southern end of New York City’s wonderful High Line and opposite Chelsea Market, this was famed Californian roasters, Blue Bottle Coffee’s first Manhattan coffee shop. However, despite its proximity to the High Line, this shouldn’t be confused with Blue Bottle’s High Line Café, which is just a block away on the High Line itself (it also has seasonal opening hours; being a partly outdoor location, it’s currently closed, reopening in April 2016).

Back to the Chelsea branch, which isn’t far from fellow-roasters Intelligentsia and its coffee shop in the High Line Hotel. However, while that’s a very upmarket setting, Blue Bottle, situated in what was the loading dock of the Milk Building, is much more down-to-earth. Split over two levels with minimal seating, it still manages an impressive range of filter coffee to go with the usual espresso-based menu.

You can sit downstairs at one of two window bars, or outside on the pavement on one of two matching benches. You can also sit upstairs, where there’s a second counter, unless it’s being used for training courses (usually Saturday afternoons). There’s also the famous Blue Bottle syphon bar up here from 11 until 2 on the weekends.

February 2016: When I popped back into Blue Bottle to hand over its Best Cake Award from the 2015 Coffee Spot Awards, I learnt that the syphon bar is no more, although you can still sit upstairs if you wish.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Blue Bottle Coffee, on New York's W15th St, in the Milk Building, opposite Chelsea Market...
  • ... and seen here from across the street, between the parked cars.
  • There are a couple of benches on the pavement if you need to sit outside.
  • Stepping inside, Blue Bottle is long and thin...
  • ... although that last shot didn't really give you a sense of just how tall it is!
  • The view from the other end.
  • There's not much seating down here, just this window-bar to the right of the door...
  • ... and this one to the left. And that's it...
  • ... although there is this retail shelf at the far (left-hand) end.
  • But what's this on the wall behind the counter? Upstairs? Where's that then?
  • Ah, wait, I see. That upstairs.
  • Shall we?
  • This not so little counter/bar is behind and above the main counter downstairs...
  • ... with a small bar/table against the wall on the right.
  • There's also a door leading into the Milk Building. You can come in this way too...
  • ... in which case, this is the view.
  • If you don't fancy the little table, you can sit at the counter instead.
  • Although Blue Bottle wasn't serving up here during my visit, you could still sit up here.
  • There's another espresso machine...
  • ... plus the burners for the aforementioned syphons...
  • ... and more coffee-brewing kit at the far end.
  • More kit lurks behind the counter.
  • A slightly different view of the espresso machine...
  • ... and the syphon area.
  • Right, let's go order.
  • The counter is opposite the door, the espresso machine at the left-hand end.
  • There's also a brew-bar down here. Useful when no-one's serving upstairs.
  • The menu is on the wall behind the counter.
  • I went for a cappucino, there being no flat white on the menu.
  • Now, what goes better with coffee than a nice slice of cake?
  • I'll leave you with my delighful brandy-poached apple buckle with walnut streusel.
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Blue Bottle is on W 15th Street, opposite Chelsea Market, and a just few steps from the High Line. There’s not a great deal to it, particularly when viewed from the street, from which vantage point it looks like a slightly larger version of Glasgow’s Laboratorio Espresso. It shares Laboratorio Espresso’s basic dimensions: long, thin and rather tall, although, somewhat ironically, despite being bigger (it’s longer and slightly deeper), Blue Bottle actually has fewer seats than Laboratorio Espresso. That said, this isn’t counting the upstairs section at the back (more of which later).

Like Laboratorio Espresso, the front of Blue Bottle is all glass, with a door in the centre. The layout is remarkably simple: there’s a large counter at the back, with the till directly ahead of you, flanked by the espresso machine on the left, and a large brew bar plus cake to the right. The only seating comes in the shape of a pair of three-person window-bars, one either side of the door.

Behind the counter is what looks like a large wooden box, running almost the entire length of the shop, with an arch in the middle that leads to a staff-only kitchen area. However, at the far right-hand end of the counter, a flight of stairs leads up to Blue Bottle’s second space. Above/behind the main counter, this is only slightly smaller than the downstairs, but managed to fit in more seating. During the week, it’s an additional seating area, but at weekends it’s a training area (sadly the syphon bar is no more). There’s also a door which gives access to Blue Bottle from the Milk Building.

This second space has its own counter on the left (facing the back of the building), which can seat up to six, along with a two-person bar at the top of stairs on the right. There used to be a single-group La Marzocco espresso machine up here, plus a bunch of other brewing kit, but these days I think it’s only used during training courses. It’s an interesting space which offers a respite from the busy downstairs.

Overall, it’s an interesting space/pair of spaces, but when the upstairs is only in use as seating, it can feel disconnected, while downstairs you have no option but to sit with your back to the counter (and everyone else) which I always feel is a little disconcerting. The abundance of windows means that it’s very bright inside and the high ceilings give it a great sense of space, although I found the music too loud. While there’s no Wifi, you can use the free Wifi from the Milk Building which comes nicely through the walls, particularly at the back.

Although tempted by the filter coffee (all hand-poured, no bulk-brew here), I wanted something milky, so had a cappuccino (no flat whites). Made with the seasonal Retrofit blend (only available in Blue Bottle’s New York cafés), it was very smooth and naturally sweet, the coffee combining with the sweetness of the milk. If all cappuccinos were like this, I could easily be converted…

I paired this with a brandy-poached apple buckle with walnut streusel (for UK readers, think apple crumble, only with cake for the body). This was truly excellent, with a crunchy crumble topping (the walnut streusel), and a lovely, fruit-packed cake (the apple buckle).  I could have easily eaten two. Or three…

December 2015: Blue Bottle was a runner-up for the 2015 Coffee Spot Best Cake Award.

450 W 15th STREET • NEW YORK CITY • NY 10014 • USA
http://bluebottlecoffee.com +1 212 933 9736
Monday 07:00 – 18:00 Roaster Blue Bottle (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 07:00 – 18:00 Seating Window-bars, Counter, Benches (outside)
Wednesday 07:00 – 18:00 Food Cake
Thursday 07:00 – 18:00 Service Counter
Friday 07:00 – 18:00 Cards Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 08:00 – 18:00 Wifi Free (see notes)
Sunday 08:00 – 18:00 Power Limited
Chain Yes Visits 9th March 2015

You can see what fellow coffee bloggers, Bean There At, made of Blue Bottle.

If you enjoyed this Coffee Spot, check out the rest of New York City’s speciality coffee scene with the Coffee Spot Guide to New York City.


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