Tonx Acquired by Blue Bottle Coffee

Earlier today, the coffee-by-mail outfit that supplies half of my coffee beans announced that it is merging with Oakland, California–based Blue Bottle Coffee. Tony Konecny, Tonx’s co-founder and namesake, posted the announcement on the company’s blog.

As Tonx has grown we’ve added friends to the team, assembling top talents in green coffee sourcing, coffee roasting, software development, design, marketing, and customer service. One thing we lacked though was a dedicated production facility that would allow us to continue growing and improving. Getting there meant either raising a serious wad of venture capital (no picnic!) or finding a partner in the industry that shared our values and ambitions.

With Blue Bottle, we have found a more established company that still has an innovative startup culture, continues to evolve, and is dedicated to improving people’s experience of coffee on an ambitious scale. And they have resources we could only dream of.

Blue Bottle coffee has had a presence here in New York City for a few years, primarily through a coffee shop and roasting facility in Williamsburg.[1] Although I appreciate the dedication to their craft, they lack the quirkiness and personal touch of Tonx. They strike me as just another Bay Area–business that takes itself too seriously.

Waiting in Line @ Blue Bottle Coffee

With Tonx, I got both great coffee and a measured sense of excitement when our beans arrived. Whenever we received our biweekly box of Tonx, a ritual ensues at our place:

  1. We play a guessing game: “Africa or Latin America?”
  2. We read the card that describes the coffee.
  3. We read the charming note that the staff writes about our silly coffee obsession.
  4. Finally, we brew two batches: one of the newly arrived shipment and one of whatever beans we have left. With these two batches we can appreciate the new beans.

Even if the new subscription program remains just as good and quirky as Tonx, it won’t be the same with the Blue Bottle label. I liked that mail order was the only way to get Tonx coffee. it felt like something special.

The tasting notes to Tonx biweekly coffee, from Cotecaga in Rwanda, roasted on March 23, 2014.

The tasting notes to Tonx biweekly coffee, from Cotecaga in Rwanda, roasted on March 23, 2014.

With Tonx going under the Blue Bottle name, I may as well get coffee from any other “third-wave” coffee roaster, such as Ritual, Heart, Stumptown, or Counter Culture that all do mail-order. Or, better yet, I’ll just get it from one of the local roasters, such as Coffeed, Sweetleaf, or Cafe Grumpy.

Forgive me if I sound like a guy whose favorite band just signed to a major record label because nobody likes that guy. As a fan of their company, I’m happy for the folks at Tonx to see their success. They have come a long way in three years, and now apparently, their success has led to this acquisition. As a consumer, mergers and acquisitions are almost universally bad for us, with a diminished product, higher prices, or both. I hope that this one will be different, but I don’t see how it can be.

Also, it looks like Blue Bottle bought out Handsome Coffee, another Los Angeles–based roaster. I blame this on the Dodgers losing two out of three to the Giants this past weekend.

  1. They also had a short-lived shop in the Rockaways and continue to operate one in Chelsea.  ↩

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