natural light

Blue Bottle Bushwick - How to find a great coffee shop

The finest outpost of a major third-wave coffee brand to make its mark way out in Bushwick. Bringing the light and design to our little corner of the big city. 

Read on for my ruminations on why coffee shops are great and further thoughts on this lovely establishment.

Blue Bottle Coffee
279 McKibben Street
Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York
February 8th, 2017

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I’ve got a soft spot for coffee shops, I suspect a lot of people do.

They’re our defacto third place, the spot you go to have a conversation with a friend, get a little work done, or spend a little time in quiet contemplation.

Latte Dreamin'

Latte Dreamin'

An overview of Blue Bottle's Bushwick location, from plant wall to BigAssFan to merch bins

An overview of Blue Bottle's Bushwick location, from plant wall to BigAssFan to merch bins

What I like about coffee shops is that they’re often calm and quiet. The rowdiest they tend to get is people having a lively conversation, which is pretty rare, really. For the most part, people are there either to engage in a personal project - like reading a book, writing, drawing, or doing some work on their computer or similar tech, or they’re there to meet with someone or several people. It’s a place for productive work or communion.

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Even better when the place is beautiful and the products they serve are top notch. The quality of what they serve outweighs the atmosphere for me.

So meaning - I’d rather be in a sorta bland shop aesthetics wise that serves great coffee than a beautiful shop that serves terrible coffee. That’s a rare combination, though. I’ve been hard-pressed to find a coffee shop that’s very intentionally designed that lacks great coffee.  But there are plenty of places in the world where there’s a pretty comfy or cozy atmosphere, but the coffee is just not great.

I’ve got some systems for deciding what to order or whether to even patronize a coffee shop. Interested?

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1. - Pourovers. This is my main factor. If they are serious enough to do pour overs, they’ve passed the test and are nearly certain to be no. No bland joint that’s serving lame coffee will take the time to do a pour over. Because they’re time-consuming to produce and the entire purpose is to get a really excellent extraction. Sure, there are probably places that do them and just dump everything right into the filter without intention, but that would probably be more a result of a barista who doesn’t care much vs. a place that serves low-quality beans.

A La Marzocco FB80 gleaming on the counter is a pretty sure sign that you'll be sipping a fine espresso.

A La Marzocco FB80 gleaming on the counter is a pretty sure sign that you'll be sipping a fine espresso.

2 - The Espresso machine - Let’s say they don’t have any pour over setups. I’ll look at their machine to see how serious they are about their espresso game. Pulling good espresso is an art that requires a precise and exacting process. It’s not that everyone is on it all the time, and having a high-quality machine doesn’t automatically mean that they are serious about dialing in their shots, but a fine machine is a good indication that someone cares.

The search for beans is, of course, null at a place like Blue Bottle. What are they serving, I wonder? Probably beans from Blue Bottle. whaddayaknow :)

The search for beans is, of course, null at a place like Blue Bottle. What are they serving, I wonder? Probably beans from Blue Bottle. whaddayaknow :)

3. - The beans. I’ll look around the shop to see if the beans they serve are on display. I’m looking for brands I know and trust, or something new and exciting. I’m also looking for brands I do not care for. So if I come into a place and they’ve passed the first two tests, but the only beans I see are ones that I know I dislike, then I’ve got to pass on the place. Since these likes and dislikes are my personal preference, I won’t air my grievances with certain brands here. It’s up to you to taste different coffees and decides which excite you and which make you run for the hills.

Look closely. You see any gross syrup bottles stashed away where? Of course not.

Look closely. You see any gross syrup bottles stashed away where? Of course not.

4. Syrup bottles.

This is nearly an instant no go. If there’s a huge shelf of Monin syrups behind the counter, you can get you dollars that they’re maying sugary, milky concoctions to cover up the taste of wretched coffee. No one is taking the finest beans in all the land and brewing them up in the perfect extraction just to drown them in coconut syrup. Sure, I got into the coffee world by starting with this junk, but I don’t think that’s the only way to get into coffee. I suspect if you want from Folgers to Devocion, you could easily be a coffee convert without ever having to drink syrupy poison.

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5. Flavored Coffee

This is right up there with the syrup bottles. If they’ve got “french vanilla dark roast” you can be certain the underlying beans are terrible. Again, the logic is simple - Would you take an exquisite product with an incredible, complex flavor and completely obliterate it with flavoring agents? No way. I want no part. Single origins and intentionally crafted blends are the name of the high-quality coffee game, not bizarre alterations.

So that’s all on the subject of the product. It’s nice if they have some tasty snacks, too, like fine pastries or other foods. It’s also nice if they’ve got tea from a high-end brand, because I often enjoy having a cup of tea, especially if it’s later in the afternoon when a cup of coffee would have me up all night long. 

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6. Atmosphere & Design

Now, about the space. This is another major consideration if your intention is to hang out there for a while, which is often quite nice to do and is a big part of what makes visiting a coffee shop desirable. But, it can vary significantly. There are places that are dark, small, and filled with cozy couches and dilapidated antique armchairs. This can be super cozy for settling in with a good book or chatting with a friend, maybe even playing a board game. But it’s not the place I choose if I want to bust out my laptop and get some work done. For that, I want modern. I want a clean, bright, open space with a lot of natural light pouring in. I want some peace in my surroundings so my mind can feel clear to get absorbed in my work. 

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It’s great to have a place that’s well designed so I can bask in the beautiful creation of it. This is what I tend to look for and it often gets me more excited than the cozy-style joints. I do want to find a place that’s got some couches and feels like a second living room sometimes (particularly on cold and dreary winter days), but often what I want is a place with a beautiful interior that feels great to be in, but also has a view out the window for when I want to zone out and watch the world go by.

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7. Bonuses

I don't necessarily look for these things as qualifiers before I choose to order in a place, but they're very nice to have

  • Baristas who are excited about coffee and the process
  • Friendly Staff
  • Friendly Patrons
  • Plants
  • Nice Products for sale, like coffee brewing implements
  • Beans for sale
  • A short, simple menu
  • Snacks, or even full meals
Snack zone! Bring on the carbs.

Snack zone! Bring on the carbs.

Merch so you show you love to your favorite coffee joint.

Merch so you show you love to your favorite coffee joint.

With all that said, let’s talk about Blue Bottle Coffee in Bushwick. What I like about it: They serve incredible coffee, and the interior is bright and light. They don’t have wifi, so if you’re going to do work, you need to bring it with you. But mostly when I go there it’s to be in the nice, clean space and to diligently enjoy a fine cup. I’m very happy to have an outpost so close to my house.

It’s one of the only ‘big name’ 3rd wave coffee joints around. There are other great coffee shops nearby, but nothing with quite the same clout as Blue Bottle. So it’s really exciting to have them.

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That said, I just realized I haven’t been there for quite some time - because while it is somewhat nearby, it’s still outside of the radius I commonly travel. It’s far enough away that if I’m going to go there, I’m often committed to getting on the train or driving, in which case I’ll often continue on to Williamsburg or Manhattan.

For those time that I want the great coffee experience and I’m going to stay in Bushwick, practically at the top of my list. So if you haven't been, check it out.

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Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, let me know in the comments below!

What's your favorite coffee shop?

Mid-Century Residence

There are few things that make for a more exciting photo project than showing up on location to find that the place is already beautifully decorated and filled with sunlight. They had so much nice stuff here that I was really struggling with deciding what to remove to simplify the images. There we so many cool items and SO MANY PLANTS! Every house needs so many more plants. I need more plants. But these homeowners have it down. You should also also know that they found, I said FOUND, the  massive cacti in the living room and stairwell. There was so much more of this beautiful mid-century modern house that I wish we could have gotten to, but our shoot focused on the kitchen and took most of the day. But trust me, the rest of it is just as gorgeous.

Mid-Century Residence
Client: Imperia Cabinet, Purekitchen
Silver Lake, Staten Island, New York
Project Date: March 23rd, 2017

West 90th Street Townhouse

Townhouse on the upper west side for Purekitchen / Imperia Cabinet. Construction had just finished and we went in quick to get the photos before it sold. Client wanted to keep it simple so we didn't do any staging, just saw the space raw. My favorite is the one point perspective (the first image below) because without the context it could be anywhere. You can imagine your whole dream house around it. The other angles show off the details of the kitchen.

Imperia also made the vanities in the bathrooms, the minibar, and the fireplace chimney surface you see in the background of the final image. I really love the bathtub here, it caught the light so peacefully. 

90th Street Townhouse
Client: Imperia Cabinet
Upper West Side, Manhattan, New York
Project Date: June 12th, 2017

Union Street Condos

This photo project was the day after the Brooklyn Condo, a 1-2 combo of Park Slope condo photography for Imperia. From this set came one of my favorite photos of the year. I use direct flash to create this very poppy, high fashion, high contrast look. It's very bright and has these great strong shadows and specular highlights that shout "mid-century perfection" to me. I also produced images with several different looks in this set, including some with softer light and some with the night-time look, so that the client can use them to market in different ways. There were several condos in the building and I photographed all of the kitchens and vanities. These are my favorites from the set.

Union Street Condos
Client: Cabinet Manufacturer Imperia Cabinet
Park Slope, Brooklyn
Project Date: May 17th, 2017

Brooklyn Condo

This is another favorite architecture shoot from this year. This place completely blew me away when I stepped inside. I couldn't believe how nice it was. I was here to photograph the kitchen and cabinetry for my client, but I couldn't help to explore the house and take a few extra images after I wrapped up in the kitchen. I'll save those photos from share with you another time. For now, the focus is on the work of Imperia Cabinet on this gorgeous kitchen I wish I could have myself. Sergei (of Imperia) and I really like moody, sexy lighting, so here's another spot where I experimented with making some moody night shots in the middle of the day (because we didn't have access in the evening). It required a lot of black cloth and creative editing, and I'm very happy with the results. I also put small lights inside the cabinets to show off their interior details with some sexy light. The objective is to capture the love a homeowner feels for the kitchen of their dreams.

Also: That corner cabinet swing out arm is fkn brilliant.

Brooklyn Condo
Client: Imperia Cabinet
Architect: Shuji Suzumori, Idan Naor
Builder: Madsen Consulting, Concord Consulting
Project Date: May 16th, 2017

Behnia House

Alisher of United Elite Group reached out to me via Houzz and requested that I photograph a renovation they were just finishing up. They wanted photographs to document their work and to help sell their services to prospective customers. It was a fun and relaxed shoot in which one of the firm partners, Guzal, helped me with the staging of each shot. We did a variety of shots with lights on and off to show off both the look in natural light as well as the lighting design.

Behnia Residence
Client: Builder United Elite Group
Upper East Side, New York
Project Date: June 21st, 2017

Mission Workshop

Mission Workshop
Mission District, San Fransisco
Retail Store - Accessories & Clothing
★★★★★

Mission Workshop's retail space is beautiful. It's dark and bright at the same time. Lots of exposed natural wood, and those skylights. It blew my mind how many places all over SF have skylights. New York talks about wanting natural light - but SF actually has it. I love it. MW sells lots of great modular and adaptable bags, and a collection of rugged clothing. They even have a little coffee setup in the corner from Bicycle Coffee.