big face coffee jimmy butler

Photos courtesy of Big Face; Design by Maitane Romagosa

On the day I talk to Jimmy Butler, he’s already had four cups of coffee—despite it only being noon. I myself have had a cup, and can feel my heart racing from a combination of the caffeine and nerves when we hop on a call. “How do you not get anxious from four cups of coffee?” I ask, bewildered. “I just love it,” is his simple reply. “One cup easily turns into four when I’m sitting with friends, telling stories, and sharing coffee.”

Relationships and storytelling are at the heart of Butler’s enthusiasm for coffee, but it wasn’t always this way. Butler began his coffee entrepreneurship in the pandemic-induced bubble during the 2020 NBA season. It started somewhat as a joke. Butler knew the coffee available in Orlando wasn’t up to snuff to what he and other NBA players were habituated with drinking, so he brought his own espresso machine as a way to make some cash. Unbeknownst to him, this was the beginning of an entire coffee brand, Big Face.

“As I was sitting in my hotel room in the Orlando bubble, all I could think about was how I could hustle these guys out of their cash,” Butler deadpans. The hustle came by way of coffee—lattes, pour overs, cappuccinos, you name it, he had it. Regardless of size, each drink cost $20 in cash, a steep price for the average person but a fair exchange for professional basketball players. “I knew people had cash and no one was using it because of 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’s hope was that his teammates and fellow players would bust out their $100 bills—or “big faces” as he referred to them—and he’d be able to shrug when he didn’t have change and pocket the cash anyway. “It never really worked,” he laughs. “Nobody ever gave me a hundred.”

In fact, Butler himself was getting swindled by his then teammate, Goran Dragíc. “While I was trying to hustle people out of their money, Goran was literally hustling me out of my coffee,” Butler says, “and I didn’t realize it until after the fact that he never paid for a cup.” According to Butler, Dragíc was strategic: he’d swing by for a couple of cups of coffee, exchanging stories with Butler about summers in Slovenia or strategizing the following day’s game, before slinking off to practice, three cups down and no cash exchanged.

But Butler is good-natured about it, and says the whole experience only heightened his interest in coffee. He drinks everything: pour overs, cappuccinos, and mochas. His goal with every cup is to improve how he makes it—including challenging others to latte art competitions (although he admits that he can’t “do a damn thing” when it comes to latte art). His milk of choice is oat, but even using that, no art emerges within 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 only makes sense that someone who drinks upwards of eight cups of coffee a day would be enthusiastic enough to start his own brand. Following the NBA’s 2020 season, Butler began pursuing Big Face with gusteau. “Passion is everything. When it comes to whatever I do, whether it be basketball or playing UNO, I’m very passionate about being the best,” he explains. “And with Big Face, this is 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’s explored Costa Rica, and he’s slated to travel to Africa. He also desperately wants to head 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 famed soccer star in the future).

As of now, Big Face currently sources beans from Ethiopia, Honduras, Colombia, and El Salvador. “I get to 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 grateful and thankful for the individuals that are putting their life’s work into a coffee farm.”

Farming coffee is a grueling process, and Butler witnessed this up close and is humbled by every sip of coffee he’s had since. “Every single day they’re waking up and they’re grinding, and I honor and respect that more than anything,” he says. He likens it to his own craft in basketball—waking up early, hustling, and putting a smile on people’s faces.

big face coffee jimmy butler
Photo courtesy of Big Face

Although Big Face is a coffee brand, Butler wants so much more for it. He hopes to educate people on coffee and uplift coffee farmers—something he admits that he is still learning about every day. He’s launched a merchandise collection that includes a tennis two-piece, hoodies, hats, and coffee mugs. He’s also partnered 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 be the perfect vehicle for conversations—so combining the two felt like a no-brainer. The ice cream relies on Big Face beans sourced from Ethiopia swirled with a milk custard base and is currently available at Van Leeuwen scoop shops and online.

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

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Kat Thompson is a senior staff writer of food & drink at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @katthompsonn.