Blue Bottle coffee vs. Sapporo Coffee Kan

Blue Bottle coffee vs. Sapporo Coffee Kan – Two leaders of the third-wave coffee culture

A few days ago, I wrote about Starbucks vs. Sapporo Coffee Kan. Since then, another name has been on my mind a lot lately – Blue Bottle Coffee. Blue Bottle Coffee is regarded by many as the pioneering company of third-wave coffee. If you are not already familiar with the third wave coffee culture, it is a movement that started in 2000 which treats coffee not just as a commodity but as an artisanal drink, much like wine. So the single-origin coffee, manual pour-overs, attention to coffee's raw bean origin are all aspects of the third wave coffee culture.

Blue Bottle Coffee

All coffee lovers interested in specialty coffee should try Blue Bottle Coffee at least once since the passion for great coffee is what drove this company from a humble cart at a farmer's market to a global coffee company with a massive cult following. Today, we will be comparing Blue Bottle Coffee with Sapporo Coffee Kan; I believe it will be quite an exciting journey. They both belong to the specialty coffee world but come from very different geographical parts of the world. So brew yourself a cup of coffee to sip through this article and come along with me!

History of the two companies

Blue Bottle Coffee

When you hear the name 'blue bottle' for the first time, many exciting questions come to mind: "Does the coffee come in blue bottles?", "Is the coffee blue?!" "Is it some reference to blue cheese? I hope not!" and so on. But you will be amazed to know how this thought-provoking name was chosen and the story behind it.

Towards the end of the 1600s, a brave Polish-Ukrainian man called Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, who was a hero at the Battle of Vienna (a battle that stopped the Ottoman Turkish invaders from spreading their conquest through Europe), recognized sacks of brown beans left behind by the Turkish army at Vienna. Kulczycki had lived in Arab before, and while everyone around him in Vienna thought these strange bags to be camel feed, he recognized the potential these beans held and the delicious drink that could be brewed from these beans.

After the battle, he used these coffee beans to open up one of the first-ever coffee houses of Central Europe in Vienna and named it Zur blauen Flasche (The Blue Bottle). This was in 1683. Fast forward 319 years, to early 2000, thousands of miles away from Vienna, in Oakland, California, this name was to come alive once again through a clarinetist and a coffee lunatic (yes, that's the word used in Blue Bottle official site!) - James Freeman.

Blue Bottle Coffee Shop

Blue Bottle coffee started off as a single cart selling Coffee at Old Oakland Farmer's market. They let the customers taste the coffee and had conversations with the customers about what kind of coffee they liked, how much they consumed, etc. Then they would deliver the coffee roasted by James Freeman to their doorsteps, driven in a small Peugeot 505 wagon. But this method of selling coffee had its limitations, and Freeman realized that customers were lining up at the small cart to have the 'blue bottle coffee’ and to buy the beans. This is why they decided to stop the delivery service and open permanent stores where they can sell and brew specialty coffee of top-notch quality.

Today, Blue Bottle coffee is one of the most globally recognized coffee companies and is also revered as one of the major players in the world of third-wave coffee culture. It has more than 90 stores in different cities worldwide, including stores in California, New York, Seoul, Kyoto, Tokyo, Hong Kong, etc.

Sapporo Coffee Kan

Just as everyone knows Blue Bottle Coffee in San Francisco Bay Area, everyone knows Sapporo Coffee Kan in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the northern region of Japan and Sapporo is the biggest city of Hokkaido. This region is famous for abundant natural resources and beautiful mountains, forests, and water bodies. Sapporo Coffee Kan started its journey as a coffee company in the central ward of Sapporo in 1982. In the beginning, Sapporo Coffee Kan was not a café but a shop where people of Sapporo city could come and buy premium quality coffee beans and tea leaves.

Since 1984, Sapporo Coffee Kan has had its own roasting machine which could roast 20lb of coffee at a time, using a particular roasting method, which is still rare in the world even today – The charcoal roasting method.

Sapporo Coffee Kan

As you can imagine, word got out about Sapporo Coffee Kan. It kept on gaining popularity as they brought something that people had not tried before – premium quality coffee roasted using a technique that is a rare artisanal method from Japan. In 1986, they opened their first café in Sapporo city westward, where they brewed the Sumiyaki charcoal roasted coffee using the Nel drip manual pour-over method. It soon became popular among the locals and outsiders, and Sapporo Coffee Kan has now expanded to ten different coffee shops in other parts of Japan. So today, even if you live outside Japan, you can have Sapporo Coffee Kan’s premium quality coffee shipped right to your doorstep.

Although Sapporo Coffee Kan’s history of roasting has deep roots in Japanese tradition, its background story has a deep connection to different coffee-growing regions of the world. The second president of the company had been traveling to various locations around the world in search of the best coffee. He has been doing so since 2003. Since their first contract with a coffee farm in Brazil, Sapporo Coffee Kan has signed exclusive farm agreements with coffee farms from different places such as the Tabih village of Bali and Indonesia’s Mandheling Berkat Lintong.

If you would like to read more about the fascinating history of Sapporo Coffee Kan, you can do so here.

The values and visions of the two companies

Blue Bottle coffee

Blue Bottle coffee's mission is to "connect the world to delicious coffee." This is visible in everything blue bottle coffee is known, starting from their premium single-origin coffees to their freely available educational coffee-related videos. By staying true to its core values discussed below, Blue Bottle coffee brings outstanding coffee to the world year after year.

Blue Bottle Coffee Co.
  • Sustainability – Blue bottle coffee's commitment to sustainability, from coffee farming to how their cafes are run, is one of the big things Blue bottle coffee is known for. They consider staying sustainable as a karmic responsibility. All of the waste (mainly coffee grounds, more than thousands of pounds a week) coming out from their cold brew brewery is composted through an independent farm. They source organic ingredients as much as possible and use compostable straws at their cafes. They are also striving to be carbon neutral by 2024.
  • Innovation – At blue bottle coffee, they are always asking, "what's the future of coffee, what's the future of cafes, what's the future of brewing coffee?" You will see that blue bottle coffee is always pushing the boundaries and bringing innovative products to the world. Blue Bottle coffee is also the most favorite coffee company among the Silicon Valley tech community. Blue Bottle coffee has received funding from elite tech companies such as Twitter. The motto of Blue Bottle regarding technology is to find a perfect balance between technology and human needs to create a beautiful coffee experience.
  • Community – For blue bottle coffee, coffee is a community built around the story of coffee. Before coffee becomes a cup of coffee, it is touched by the hands of so many people – farmers, roasters, and baristas. Blue Bottle coffee aims to tell the stories of all these people to their customers through their coffee and to create a community built around the shared joy of coffee. 

Sapporo Coffee Kan

Sapporo coffee kan was founded on the core principle of “Making specialty coffee available to as many people as possible.” Decades have passed since Sapporo Coffee Kan’s establishment, but the founding policy has remained unchanged. By becoming a coffee roaster that supplies coffee even outside Japan from a regionally famous coffee roaster, it is still going strong on its mission to make specialty coffee from Japan accessible to many people around the world.

Sapporo Coffee Kan - black coffee
  • Keeping the original qualities of coffee alive: The pursuit of the most delicious single-origin beans from different regions of the world is at the heart of Sapporo coffee kan. These coffee beans are brought to Japan and roasted and brewed in a way so that the coffee beans do not lose their original taste, flavor, and aroma.
  • Keeping a great Japanese artisan industry alive: Once the coffee beans from parts of the world such as Brazil, Bali, and Indonesia reach Japan, they are turned into beautiful roasts by the hands of artisan roasters who roast the coffee beans using a traditional Japanese technique. This is what make Sapporo Coffee Kan a rare gem in the specialty world. The beans are roasted using charcoal roasting method using top-quality binchotan charcoal.

Comparing the coffee from the two companies

Blue Bottle Coffee

When James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle coffee, started his company, his vow was this:
I will only sell coffee less than 48 hours out of the roaster to my customers, so they may enjoy coffee at its peak of flavor. I will only use the finest, most delicious, and responsibly sourced beans.”
Many specialty coffee companies look up to Coffee from Blue Bottle coffee as an exemplary, and they have set a standard of what specialty coffee should be. Let's look at some of the things about Blue Bottle coffee that makes it so unique and what keeps the fan coming back for more every time.

Coffee Blue Bottle
  • Outstanding consistency:
One of the things Blue bottle coffee lovers talk about a lot is how consistent their coffee quality is. You can walk into any Blue bottle coffee store, whether it be in Tokyo, New York, or San Francisco, and you will be rewarded with a spectacularly good coffee that is freshly roasted and brewed to perfection. One of the ways Blue bottle does this is by providing top-notch training to their Baristas. Every Barista has to pass judging by a jury board before they can become Blue Bottle Baristas.
  • Sourcing outstanding coffee beans from around the world:
For a coffee to be 'specialty coffee,' it has to have a score higher than 80 in a 100 scale scoring system. Blue Bottle coffee only sources coffees that have a score higher than 84 on this scale. On top of that, Blue bottle's coffees are certified organic, sourced from small-scale coffee farms.
  • Making sure every roast is delicious and fresh:

Blue Bottle coffee beans are roasted at their roasteries and directly delivered to the customers and cafes in the freshest form possible. To make sure that every roast is perfect, they roast in small size batches, not more than 70 kilos at a time.

Sapporo Coffee Kan

When it comes to specialty coffee, Sapporo Coffee Kan is in a top-tier position in Japan. First of all, it sources single-origin coffee beans from the best coffee-growing regions of the world. Secondly, they have exclusive farm contracts in these regions, ensuring that the coffee beans come from a great coffee-producing country and the best farms with the best community and sustainable practices, often growing and processing the coffee in natural and traditional methods.

Thirdly, the coffee is roasted by artisan roasters at Sapporo Coffee Kan using a unique method – Sumiyaki Charcoal roasting. It is a fascinating and rare method for roasting coffee. If you want, you can read all about it here, but simply put; this adds a delicious smoky flavor and richness to the final cup of coffee that cannot be achieved by any other roasting method.

Sapporo Coffee Kan Shop

Once the coffee is roasted to perfection, it is brewed by a traditional method that has been one of the most beloved brewing specialty coffee in Japan – Nel drip. Instead of using high pressure like in an espresso machine, this delicate manual brewing method is perfected by an artisan brewmaster who slowly brews the coffee using a Nel drip, a flannel dripper with a flannel dripper wooden handle.

his method is famous for producing a velvety-smooth cup of coffee with a dense saturation of flavors. This means that when you order a cup of coffee at Sapporo Coffee Kan, you are guaranteed to be rewarded with a cup that has the most original and innate characteristics of that coffee bean. It is like being able to taste the whole story of the journey of that coffee – from the bean to the cup.

Like Blue Bottle Coffee, Sapporo Coffee Kan also takes the freshness of their coffee seriously, and their coffee beans packets are equipped with valves that trap the air inside the bag and minimize oxidation.

Conclusion

So there it is, my thoughts on two leading companies in the specialty coffee world. Both companies have a deep commitment towards sustainable, delicious, single-origin coffees, and another significant similarity they share is their connection to Japan. Many might not know this, but Blue bottle coffee's founder James Freeman has a deep affection for Japanese coffee and tea culture, and this has played an essential role in the making of the Blue Bottle coffee experience. With their unique strengths, both Blue Bottle Coffee and Sapporo Coffee Kan continue to inspire the third-wave coffee movement in their original ways.


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Japanese Coffee Blog is a collection of articles related to the Japanese Coffee and Charcoal Roasted Sumiyaki coffee which is unique roasting only found in Japan. Coffee culture in Japan has evolved isolated from around the world and has much uniqueness not found in the rest of the world.

Authored by popular Japanese Tea Blogger Kei Nishida, he hopes to reveal the wonderful world of Japanese coffee from a different angle to educate and entertain people who love Japan, Japanese Tea, and now Japanese Coffee.


Author: Kei Nishida

Kei Nishida

Kei Nishida is a writer, a Japanese Green Tea and Coffee enthusiast, and the founder and CEO of Japanese Green Tea Company and Japanese Coffee Company.

His popular Japanese Green Tea and Health Blog has been the go-to place for anything related to Japanese tea.

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