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Blue Bottle and Colonna on Taking the Grind Out of Home Brewing

Blue Bottle photo by Clay McLachlan.

Blue Bottle photo by Clay McLachlan.

Next week marks the launch of two long-developed and highly anticipated pre-ground products: Blue Bottle Coffee packaged ground coffee called “Perfectly Ground,” and capsules from Maxwell Colonna Dashwood’s UK roasting brand, Colonna.

Both companies announced the product launches today, and while releases of packaged, ground coffee products in capsules, bags or single-serve pouches have been commonplace throughout the coffee industry for decades, what’s notable here is that both these companies and their founders have been high-profile forces in the more recent movement toward obsessive quality, from sourcing all the way through to meticulous grinding and brewing practices.

Thus, in some sense, it feels as though these companies and some recent others, such as two-time Finnish Barista Champion Kalle Freese’s relatively new single-serve soluble-coffee-focused Sudden Coffee, are boldly ignoring what has long been considered the first rule in quality home brewing: grind just before brewing.

It’s an interesting quandary in that they’re either defying a well-defined tenet of specialty coffee in order to sell or at least generate more interest in specialty coffee, or they’re pushing specialty coffee to new limits through genuine innovation, or, most likely, some combination of these things.

For their parts, Blue Bottle and Colonna are approaching the quality conversation from slightly different angles.

Blue Bottle Perfectly Ground

Blue Bottle photo by Clay McLachlan.

Blue Bottle photo by Clay McLachlan.

Blue Bottle’s Perfectly Ground grew out of the company’s relationship with Neil Day and his company Perfect Coffee, which Blue Bottle acquired last year. Day now serves as Blue Bottle’s Vice President of Technology. The company boasts of a proprietary and patent-pending hermetically sealing packaging process that “stops the clock on coffee’s aging.”

The Perfectly Ground line will feature four blends plus a rotating selection of single-origins that the company says will be “available at the most optimal grind for a variety of brew methods, including Pour Over, French press, Aeropress, and Coffee Maker preparations.”

In today’s announcement, Blue Bottle fiercely insisted on the idea that the product matches or resembles the company’s café quality standards, using phrases such as, “an impeccable ground coffee that has all of the delicious complexity of freshly ground Blue Bottle beans,” and, “for the first time, it’ll be easier (and more delicious) than ever to brew superlative coffee at home with the same unwaveringly high standards of quality, freshness, and flavor that Blue Bottle Coffee guests know, love, and depend on.”

The announcement went so far as to declare that Blue Bottle Founder “James Freeman is revolutionizing the coffee industry with a ready-to-brew coffee that tastes like it was ground just moments ago.”

Colonna Capsules

Colonna photo.

Colonna photo.

Colonna’s announcement is significantly more dialed back, combining the announcement of the capsule launch with that of a new Colonna web shop, both of which will feature the roasting company’s recently developed “Genre” classification system.

Coffees are offered within one of three Colonna Genres: Foundation, described as reflecting the foundation of specialty coffee and the third wave movement; Discovery, described as “more exciting and unusual coffees” with “different varieties and explorative processing;” and Rare, described as exclusive, expensive and limited-quantity lots.

Coffees from all three genres will be available in Nespresso-compatible pod form, and the pods themselves will come in two varieties, more espresso-like “short” or more filter-coffee-like “long.”

When we last spoke to Colonna-Dashwood about the Colonna brand development — including the pod product development — he shared more philosophical views about the role of technology in everyday coffee consumption, as well as on barriers to specialty consumption.

“It is kind of inherently disruptive,” Colonna-Dashwood said of the pod concept. “Zeitgeist-wise, I don’t think I could have done this capsule project a year ago.”

Colonna-Dashwood said he’s always been frustrated by how to communicate grind settings to consumers, when terms like “medium fine” are naturally arbitrary, and the available equipment varies so widely. Similarly, he said he foresees some opportunity in making upscale specialty coffee — meaning truly exciting coffees flavor-wise — more widely approachable to consumers through the pod platform.

“The characters can be strong enough because it’s stronger than filter, but it’s not as strong as espresso,” Colonna-Dashwood said of the pod brew. “The idea is that the capsule profile may be a little more approachable for people who have previously been put off by espresso.”