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​How We Choose Music in Our Cafes

Thoughtfully, and with feeling

Music cords on a cafe floor photo by Rachel McCord Creative
Photo by Rachel McCord Creative

Like a venerable groundskeeper caring blade-by-blade for a humble lawn, we’re particular when it comes to orchestrating the music in our cafes. Whether it’s changing the playlist to a guest’s signature soundtrack when we see her walk in, or putting on a record that’s scored for the day’s weather, we’re as much dialed into the music we’re playing as we are dialed into our coffee.

After all, “you can't create a painting without the proper canvas and base,” says Dean Street Manager Nicole D’Orazio, “and you can't build a warm, hospitable, community-creating cafe experience without music.”

For us, music is another way of sharing something we love with our guests. Playing an album we’ve treasured feels like choosing a personal detail of our lives to reveal to a cafe full of people, asking them to accept or reject it. In the best cases, it’s an invitation for them to share something of themselves, too. In between pulls and pours, we love the I-remember-this-album-when and the This-song-always-makes-me moments our guests extend to us.

Ask any barista, and they’ll also tell you: The time of day plays a crucial role in our behind-the-bar deejaying. Brett Garrett, Regional Director of Retail for Blue Bottle in Los Angeles, says that cafes, like people, have moods. And the morning mood is noticeably different from the workday meeting mood, the weekend brunch mood, and the twilight rush hour mood.

Bryn Garrehy, Barista and unofficial audio architect at our Mint Plaza cafe, likes to think of selecting cafe music as reaching out to people at just the right moment and setting the stage for them to connect. “If you play Miles Davis’ “Porgy and Bess” as the sun tips into the golden hour and people are on dates in your cafe,” he says, “you probably made a good decision.” His other secret for a “nearly guaranteed moment of connection”? The Beatles.

Like a seasonal menu meant to reflect the individual beauty of a place and time, our playlists help us express our unique neighborhoods and the diverse range of tastes our baristas have. So there’s never one “right” way to think about our Blue Bottle Coffee cafe sound. But if there were, maybe it would be something Aoyama’s Barista Shou Takahashi mentioned: “Music that’s full of feeling fits our cafes best, because our coffee is full of feeling, too.”

To hear some of the tracks our NY, SF, LA, and Tokyo baristas think are most full of what they’re feeling right now, tune in to our playlist and visit us. (Yes, we take requests.)

Currently spinning in our New York cafes:

"Black Coffee" by Peggy Lee

"Retrograde" by James Blake

"Summertime Sadness" by Lana Del Rey

"Shoulda" by Jamie Woon

"Billie Holiday" by Easy Living

"Coffee" by Sylvan Esso

"Stay" by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs

"God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys

"Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)" by Father John Misty

"Across 110th Street" by Bobby Womack

"I Loves You Porgy" by Miles Davis

In the mix at our LA cafes:

"Baby" by Ariel Pink

"I Don't Know" by Beastie Boys

"Lady Day and John Coltrane" by Gil Scott-Heron

"Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac

On repeat in our Bay Area cafes:

"Moanin'" by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers

"Slow Hand" by The Pointer Sisters

"Logan Rock Witch" by Aphex Twin

Some favorites of our Tokyo cafes:

"Heart is a Drum" by Beck

"Like an Arrow" by Lucy Rose

"Taro" by Alt-J


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By Blue Bottle Staff

Published May. 27, 2016

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