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

Images courtesy of Big Face; Designed by Maitane Romagosa

The day I spoke to Jimmy Butler, he already had four cups of coffee—although it was only noon. I’ve had myself a cup, and I can feel my heart pounding from the mix of caffeine and nerves when we’re waiting for a call. “How not to worry about four cups of coffee?” I ask, puzzled. His simple response is “I just love him.” “One cup easily turns into four when I’m sitting with friends, telling stories and sharing coffee.”

Relationships and storytelling are at the core of Butler’s passion for coffee, but it wasn’t always that way. Butler started coffee entrepreneurship in the pandemic-induced bubble during the 2020 NBA season. It started out somewhat as a joke. Butler knew the coffee available in Orlando wasn’t up to what he and other NBA players used to drink, so he brought his own espresso machine as a way to make some money. Unbeknownst to him, this was the start of an entire coffee brand, Big Face.

“While I was sitting 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 came by coffee – latte, pour over, cappuccino, you name it, he had it. No matter the size, each drink costs $20 in cash, which is a steep price for the average person but a fair exchange for professional basketball players. “I knew people It was Cash and no one was using it due to Covid so I decided to take cash.”

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

Butler had hoped that his fellow players and fellow players would blow their $100 bills – or “big faces” as he referred to them – and he’d be able to shrug it off when he didn’t have the cash and pocketed the money anyway. He laughs: “It never worked.” “No one has ever given me a hundred.”

In fact, Butler himself was cheated on by his then teammate, Goran Dragic. “While I was trying to get people out of their money, Goran was pushing me away from my coffee, and I didn’t realize it until after the fact that he never paid for the cup,” Butler says. According to Butler, Dragíc was strategic: He would swing for two cups of coffee, exchange stories with Butler about summer in Slovenia or strategize for the next day’s game, before he trained, three cups without exchanging cash.

But Butler is cute about it, and says the whole experience fueled his interest in coffee. He drinks everything: pour a large amount, cappuccino and mocha. His goal with each cup is to improve the way it’s made – including challenging others to latte art competitions (although he admits he can’t “do anything” when it comes to latte art). The milk he chooses is oats, but even using that, no art appears inside the foam. “My hands are big and trembling,” he laughs.

Jimmy Butler Van Loen Ice Cream Big Face Coffee
Image courtesy of Big Face

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

So far, he has explored Costa Rica, and is due to travel to Africa. He also desperately wants to head to Brazil, not just for the coffee culture, but because his favorite soccer player, Neymar, is from the South American country (he hopes Big Face collaborates with the famous soccer star in the future).

As of now, Big Face is currently supplying beans from Ethiopia, Honduras, Colombia and El Salvador. “I go to all these wonderful countries and learn about their cultures and what it takes to make a perfect cup of coffee, and I am grateful and thankful for the individuals who put their work to life on the coffee plantation,” Butler says.

Growing coffee is a stressful process, and Butler has witnessed it up close and has been humbled by every sip of coffee he’s had since. “Every day they wake up grinding, and I respect that and I respect that more than anything else,” he says. He likens it to his own basketball career – getting up early, hustling, putting smiles on people’s faces.

Big Face Jimmy Butler Coffee
Image courtesy of Big Face

Even though Big Face is a coffee brand, Butler wants more for it. He hopes to educate people about coffee and raise the bar for coffee growers – something he admits he’s still learning about every day. He launched a merchandise collection that includes two tennis pieces, hoodies, hats, and coffee mugs. It also partnered with Ben Van Leeuwen of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream for a limited edition Big Face flavored ice cream.

Like coffee, ice cream lends itself to being the perfect medium for conversation – so combining the two seemed like a no-brainer. The ice cream is based on Big Face cereal sourced from Ethiopia covered in a milk custard base and is currently available in Van Leeuwen scoop stores and online.

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

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Kat Thompson is a senior food and drink writer for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter Tweet embed.

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