How NBA star Jimmy Butler started his coffee brand, Big Face

Photos courtesy of Big Face; Design by Maitane Romagosa

The day I spoke to Jimmy Butler, he’s already had four cups of coffee, and it’s only noon. I’ve had a cup myself and can feel my heart race from a combination of caffeine and jitters when we jump on a call. “How not to become anxious after four cups of coffee? I ask, puzzled. “I love it,” is his simple response. “One cup easily turns into four when I’m sitting with friends, telling stories and sharing a coffee.”

Relationships and storytelling are central to Butler’s enthusiasm for coffee, but it wasn’t always that way. Butler began his coffee entrepreneurship in the pandemic-induced bubble during the 2020 NBA season. It started off as a joke. Butler knew the coffee available in Orlando was not up to par with what he and other NBA players were used to drinking, so he brought his own espresso machine to earn some cash. Unbeknownst to him, this was the start of an entire brand of coffee, big face.

“As I sat in my hotel room in the Orlando bubble, all I could think about was how I could get these guys out of their money,” Butler deadpans. The hustle and bustle came through the coffee – lattes, pour over, cappuccinos, you name it, it had it. Regardless of size, each drink costs $20 cash, a high price for the average person but a fair trade for professional basketball players. “I knew people had cash and no one was using it due to covid so decided to take cash.

“One cup easily turns into four when I’m sitting with friends, telling stories and sharing a coffee.”

Butler’s hope was that his teammates and other players would pull out their $100 bills – or “big faces” as he called them – and that he would be able to shrug his shoulders when he didn’t have change and pocket the money anyway. “It never really worked,” he laughs. “Nobody ever gave me a hundred.”

In fact, Butler himself was being scammed by his then-teammate Goran Dragíc. “While I was trying to kick people out of their money, Goran was literally shoving me out of my coffee,” Butler says, “and I didn’t realize it until after he had never paid for a cup.” According to Butler, Dragíc was strategic: dropping by for a few cups of coffee, swapping stories with Butler about summers in Slovenia, or strategizing for the next day’s game, before sneaking off to practice, three cups down and none. money exchange.

But Butler is in good spirits about it and says the whole experience has only heightened his interest in coffee. He drinks everything: pour overs, cappuccinos and mochas. His goal with every cup is to improve the way he does it, including challenging others to latte art competitions (although he admits he can’t “do a damn thing” when he’s is latte art). His milk of choice is oats, but even using that no art emerges in the foam. “My hands are too big and shaky,” he laughs.

ice cream jimmy butler van leeuwen coffee big face
Photo courtesy of Big Face

It makes sense that someone who drinks more than eight cups of coffee a day would be enthusiastic enough to launch their own brand. After the 2020 NBA season, Butler began pursuing Big Face with gusteau. “Passion is everything. When it comes to anything I do, whether it’s basketball or playing UNO, I’m very passionate about being the best,” he explains. “And with Big Face, it’s another opportunity for me to learn and start fresh. And if I’m being brutally honest, it gives me a great opportunity to travel.

So far he has explored Costa Rica and there are plans to visit Africa. He also desperately wants to go to Brazil, not just for the coffee culture, but because his favorite footballer, Neymar, is from the South American country (he hopes for a Big Face collaboration with the famous football star in the future ).

Currently, Big Face currently sources grain from Ethiopia, Honduras, Colombia and El Salvador. “I can go to all of these amazing countries and learn about their cultures and what it takes to make the perfect cup of coffee,” Butler says, “and just be thankful and grateful to the people who dedicate their life’s work to a coffee farm.

Coffee growing is an exhausting process, and Butler has witnessed it up close and is humbled by every sip of coffee he’s had since. “Every day they wake up and they creak, and I honor and respect that more than anything,” he says. He likens it to his own job as a basketball player: getting up early, hustling and making people smile.

big face coffee jimmy butler
Photo courtesy of Big Face

Although Big Face is a coffee brand, Butler wants so much more. He hopes to educate people about coffee and uplift coffee farmers – something he admits he still learns every day. He launched a collection of merchandise that includes a tennis two-piece, hoodies, hats and coffee mugs. He also teamed up with Ben Van Leeuwen of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream for a limited edition Big Face affogato flavored ice cream.

Like coffee, ice cream lends itself to being the perfect vehicle for conversations, so combining the two seemed like a no-brainer. The ice cream is based on Big Face Beans from Ethiopia swirled with a milk custard base and is currently available in Van Leeuwen boutiques and online.

The collaboration is just the first of Butler’s many aspirations for Big Face. “I dream of having a bunch of cafes around the world, where people from different backgrounds and cultures come to enjoy coffee,” he says wistfully. “I want people to come together and talk about life, and learn from each other – only good things.”

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Kat Thompson is senior food and drink writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.

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