Swiss food and beverage giant Nestlé surprised the world this week by announcing that it had taken a majority stake—68%, with the rest remaining in the hands of management and employees—in Blue Bottle Coffee.
Why the surprise? Because Nestlé is a colossal company with 29 household brands in its portfolio—among them Nespresso, Kit Kat, Smarties, Stouffer’s, Vittel, and Maggi—and Blue Bottle is an Oakland, Calif.-based chain of so-called third-wave coffee shops that’s a favorite of Silicon Valley technologists. (In 2011, Fortune called its chief product “the best coffee you may ever drink.” The company also made it to our list of best small coffee makers that year.)
In other words: Conglomerate, meet craft.
In truth, Blue Bottle Coffee has never been shy about its ambitions. It has stores in major cities (New York, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., San Francisco, not to mention Tokyo) across the country, a line of brew-it-at-home products, a subscription service, and tens of millions of venture capital dollars in the bank, enough to make us wonder if the company was a good investment. Oh, and a host of investors with star power, including Twitter co-founder Ev Williams, actor-turned-rocker Jared Leto, Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom, and WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg.
Still, the Blue Bottle brand stands for small, artisanal, authentic—and Nestlé quite the opposite.
So how did people react? With a double espresso-sized dose of passion.
“Silicon Valley Weeps,” screamed a headline at the tech website VentureBeat. “Soon, thanks to an influx of corporate capital, the entire world will be able to experience the exact same sense of individualism that comes with staring at the drip-drip-drip of their own personal cup of coffee being made just for them,” writes Chris O’Brien.
“Whoa,” one customer wrote on one of the company’s social media pages. “And with that, I’m no longer a Blue Bottle fan. Nestlé is a brutal, inhumane company. Congrats on selling your soul.”
“I knew Blue Bottle sucked before you even knew about them let alone before Nestle bought ’em,” said BoingBoing co-editor Xeni Jardin, tongue firmly in cheek. “Also, you can’t name even one of their albums.”
“Every cool hip ‘authentic’ food or beverage startup soon sells to Big Daddy FoodCo,” wrote another customer—who, admittedly, once worked at this magazine.
The barbs continued. “Cannot wait for Nescafé by Blue Bottle by Nestlé to hit the shelves,” tweeted writer Brock Winstead.
“A generous spin on monopoly and consolidation,” San Francisco customer Maggie Nyce wrote in response to the company’s buttoned-up announcement.
Further reactions were mixed. “Nestle bought off Blue Bottle, as if this week couldn’t get any worse,” wrote one customer. “I love quality coffee and am excited by this play,” wrote another. “Blue Bottle eats Tonx. Nestle eats Blue Bottle. The world gets progressively more awful. Yay capitalism,” wrote one user on Twitter. “Wow! Mixed feelings…but excited to see what the future holds,” wrote another.
“With the acquisition, will quality change?” wondered Alejandro Gonzalez. We’ll soon find out.