Blue Bottle Studio by wrk-shp Serves as a Sensorial Stage

10.24.23 | By
Blue Bottle Studio by wrk-shp Serves as a Sensorial Stage

Hiding in plain site within the nondescript commercial husk of a former Melrose dry cleaner can be found Blue Bottle Studio. The coffee brand’s first residency in the United States, the intimate Los Angeles space hosts a mere eight seats, each awaiting to serve a thoughtfully composed and choreographed exploration of the beloved beverage spanning brewed leaves and flowers, to fermented berries, and across numerous surprising expressions of roasted coffee all surrounded by surfaces, sounds, and aromas curated to elevate all of the senses.

Front angled view of the entire Blue Bottle Studio wood and brass bar with a coffee dyed fabric backdrop and8 walnut seating, illuminated with overhead pendant lighting.

Photo: Gregory Han

Designed with longtime Blue Bottle collaborators Airi Isoda and Ryan Upton of architecture firm wrk-shp, with the support of Capsule Manufacturing, Blue Bottle Coffee’s founder, James Freeman, Global Head of Innovation, Benjamin Brewer, alongside Global Head of Cafe Design, Cary Cheng conspired to impart every detail of their coffee bar with omotenashi, the deeply-rooted Japanese value of hospitality transcending expectations of guests. The intention inhabits every corner of the interior layout, with each piece of serving ware, ceramic pendant, all the way down to the hyphen-shaped brass chopstick stands used to gently elevate each card presented across the 8-course menu serving a sense of serenity.

“The Studio is our answer to this question: How hard can we work to reveal the essential nature of an extraordinary coffee and present it to a handful of guests in a modest room?” explains Freeman. “We wanted to create a space for the experiential rather than the common educational, informational coffee tasting.”

View from back of Blue Bottle Studio showing the wall length expanse of coffee dyed fabric partition dividing the front entrance and the main seating/serving area with long wood and brass surface bar, with walnut seats for guests.

Embodying the concept of ma – the space around/the space between – the Studio unfolds to offer guests a spatial and holistic experience transcending taste, inviting negative space as a participant. \\\ Photo: Gregory Han

That experience begins with guests breaching a wall of coffee-dyed curtains into the Studio. Designed by fiber artists Niki and Yusuke Tsukamoto of Lookout & Wonderland, each patchwork panel was dyed with various blends of Blue Bottle coffee beans, creating both a visual and aural barrier between the world from where guests have arrived and the realm of the senses awaiting on the other side.

Blue Bottle Coffee’s founder, James Freeman, pouring coffee leaf steeped tea into ten glasses behind the Blue Bottle Studio bar. He's wearing a white button up long sleeve shirt and dark eyeglasses.

Blue Bottle Coffee’s founder, James Freeman. For the first course coffee leaves, flowers, and fermented coffee berry are poured to present an entirely new spectrum of flavors unknown to most. \\\ Photo: Gregory Han

One cannot but think of a sushi bar upon sitting behind the purpose-built expanse of the Studio’s bar. Designed to serve hot liquids, the wood is paired with an inlaid brass surface dulled into a darkened patina from where the small team of Blue Bottle baristas operates a studied and purposeful choreography of steeping, stirring, and pouring their coffee omakase throughout the 90-minute experience.

Front angled view of the entire Blue Bottle Studio wood and brass bar with a coffee dyed fabric backdrop and8 walnut seating, illuminated with overhead pendant lighting.

The intimacy of the seating and depth of the Studio’s bar invites those in attendance to lean forward to engage in conversation. \\\ Photo: Blue Bottle Studio

Detail of two of the eight dark walnut Windor wood chairs.

Photo: Blue Bottle Studio

Aged brass was selected for its durability and timelessness (Freeman exhibits a habit of wiping away the smallest wayward drop with admirable finesse), complementing the row of walnut Windsor chairs situated across the bar, angled ever so slightly to silently welcome guests on arrival.

Selina Viguera, cafe lead for Blue Bottle Studio, speaking with a guest with shaved head from behind the Blue Bottle Studio bar.

Selina Viguera, cafe lead for Blue Bottle Studio, speaks with a guest. \\\ Photo: Gregory Han

Mobility and adaptability were emphasized from conception, permitting the Blue Bottle Studio team to move the brass coffee bar, architectural partitions, and curtains without too much hindrance when required.

A pair of vintage Altec Lansing VOTT A7 speaker, turntable and tube amp with a vinyl album propped on a display behind the bar counter.

A pair of vintage Altec Lansing VOTT A7 speakers, turntable, and tube amp selected by noted audio specialist Benjamin Brinkman are stationed to accompany every part of the menu, with personal album selections from James, Benjamin, and other Studio baristas’ personal vinyl library adding yet another sensorial layer. \\\ Photo: Gregory Han

Reinforcing the importance of sound, the walls of the Studio are designed to be audio baffles with sound dampening materials such as cork to aid with the overall acoustics of the room.

James Freeman pouring a coffee digestive from a glass bottle into eight small white ceramic cups.

James Freeman concluding with a coffee digestive. \\\ Photo: Gregory Han

Shallow wall mounted bookshelf displaying Japanese ceramics, coffee pour-over kettle, and ceramic vase with a cut branch of possible coffee leaves and berries. Walls are coffee stained in color.

A small selection of ceramics and extremely limited coffee products are sold at the front entrance. \\\ Photo: Blue Bottle Studio

It’s a bit of bittersweet realization that it was twelves years in the making for the Blue Bottle Studio to arise in Los Angeles Studio (a followup to 2023’s Kyoto and Hong Kong outposts serving similarly conceived menus). But impermanence was always intentionally designed into the Blue Bottle Studio. Like a haiku, the Studio’s nature is intended to be brief, and only open until November 5th with reservations.

Gregory Han is a Senior Editor at Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at