Secret Knowledge: Thriving in a Small Space

Next in our continuing series about the Secret Knowledge held by Sightglass employees is Sam Abbott, a barista at 7th Street and the Ferry Building Farmers Market. Tiny houses, #vanlife — living in small places is hot. Always one step ahead, Sam has lived in 120 square feet for 6 years in an efficiency studio in the Tenderloin.

Trim the fat. “All my shirts are A-game.”  When you sleep under your clothes (Sam’s bed is inside his closet to save space) you don’t have room for those shirts that you’re definitely, for sure, probably going to wear someday if you finally lose those 5 pounds and you need to go to a funeral or a Hawaiian shirt party.

Make it do double duty. “You can use a Crock Pot as a heater when your apartment is tiny, and you also have hot food when you wake up in the morning.” Sam owns two Crock Pots. Keep your other kitchen stuff minimal: “Four bowls and four drinking cups and you’re set until the end of time.”

Hobbies take up space. “I want to do everything in this life, but it’s also good because this apartment has capped me a little.” That guitar that you’re probably not going to play? Gift it. But also embrace your passion; one corner of the apartment is soundproof so that Sam can make his awesome music. (Listen on Soundcloud!)

Make room for a pinecone. Sam collects a few things, but he keeps it reasonable; in addition to a single pinecone, he keeps one smooth piece of wood, the head of a guitar and seven quarters that are painted either red or blue.

(Ed. note: Why are some quarters painted red or blue? They’re “shill coins” that a bar uses in their own jukebox.)

Embrace saturation.  Living in a little room means that you, the essential, deep you, is distilled and concentrated. Also, “You own all your messes.”

Get the good stuff. Instead of many mediocre things, get one really high quality thing that will last. Sam’s last piece of advice? “Buy the good toaster oven.”

Secret Knowledge: Tarot

“I’ve always just been interested in divination.”

Divination, soothsaying, clairvoyance–all just different words to describe the universal human need to know what the hell is going to happen next. Juan Elias, coffee roaster extraordinaire, also reads tarot cards, one of the most common forms of fortunetelling.

“The cards are modeled after different archetypes,” Juan says, mythical characters that represent universal aspects of the human experience.  He uses the Rider-Waite deck, first produced in 1909, and the most popular version of the tarot deck in use today.

He starts by finding a quiet place to work, then shuffles the cards and has the subject of the reading cut them. “You want to get their energy into the deck.” If there’s a specific question, he asks it now and then decides the ideal layout, either a simple four card arrangement or a larger, more complex one. He walks through the cards, explaining what he sees and offering interpretations to help guide the subject to the answer they seek.

“Is it psychological, or is it spiritual? I tend to think it’s somewhere in between.” The cards can offer a simple flowchart of possibilities, but they also don’t just feel random; certain congruences and harmonies present themselves, so Juan has developed his sense of intuition and ability to read symbols. Those skills that are also useful beyond tarot:  “There’s a lot of guessing and intuition involved in roasting coffee.”

Science or magic? Maybe a little of both. Einstein called quantum entanglement, “spooky action at a distance,” and two of the quarks are named “charm” and “strange.” But Juan comes down firmly on one point. Ask him a simple question: “Do you believe in ghosts?,” and there’s no hesitation.  


Secret Knowledge: Tuvan Throat Singing

“First, you start purring like a lion,” says Chris Harris, a Coffee Educator & Account Manager at Sightglass. The art of Tuvan throat singing involves producing multiple tones simultaneously, including a low bass note like that of a big cat.

Chris learned Tuvan throat singing as a hobby, but it’s still widely practiced in the Russian republic of Tuva, which borders Mongolia.

The way our voices sound is the result of two separate phenomena, pitch and tone. Pitch is a fixed measurement, usually measured in hertz. No matter if you’re working with a kazoo or a french horn, any particular pitch is the same. But differences in tone are what make our voices distinct; why you might say one person’s voice is rich, and another’s is screechy.

A musical instrument can’t change its tone because it’s a rigid piece of wood or metal, but our bodies are soft and flexible, so our voices can create multiple tones. Tuvan throat singing takes advantage of this.

Throat singers create two sounds simultaneously, one in the throat and the other in the mouth. The learning process can be slow. “There’s a lot of hyperventilating involved,” says Chris. Once a low base tone is established in the throat, the singer produces another tone in the mouth simultaneously. “When you get it really strong you can feel it; it hovers in your mouth and you can move it around.” These two tones combine to form the distinctive sound of throat singing.

“There’s skill and a technique, but it’s not like virtuosity in a musical instrument. I didn’t need an instrument, I didn’t need a teacher, it was something I could just try on my own and practice until I could figure it out. It’s exciting to be able to do something with your voice that you would never normally do.”

“Secret Knowledge” is a regular feature that highlights an unexpected skill explained by a Sightglass team member.

Do What Comes Natural

If you went over to Mother Nature’s yurt and she served you a cup of coffee, what do you think it would taste like?  Probably really jammy and sweet, and a little wild in the very best way.  (Her yurt would also smell like Dr. Bronner’s and weed, but that’s not totally relevant here.) In any case, her coffee would certainly be naturally-processed, like our new Yetatebe, Natural, available in our webstore now.


As opposed to washed coffees, where the fruit is removed immediately after harvest, naturally-processed coffees are sun-dried with the coffee cherry still intact, so that the fruit slowly concentrates during the processing. Eventually that fruit forms a hard shell that is then milled off, leaving behind the coffee bean. This is actually the most common, ancient way to process coffee, and it can be dead simple: pick the coffee, put it in the sun.


Naturally-processed coffees can also be polarizing, a love or hate type thing. That’s because if the drying isn’t done really carefully, the coffee might taste boozy, fermented and earthy. The flavor can also be one-note; a big punch in the mouth of fermented fruit flavor.

BUT. And this is very important to note: when it’s done correctly, a natural is as delectable,  delicious, and unique as any coffee we offer. When we first tasted this coffee, we knew we had stumbled across something special; the cleanest, sweetest naturally-processed coffee we’ve come across in our many years of roasting. Punchy flavors of strawberry jam and milk chocolate up front, combined with a lingering, honey-like finish, produce a cup unlike any other natural we’ve ever enjoyed.


We shouldn’t have been surprised. The estate that produces this coffee is the same one where we source our much-loved washed Yetatebe. They’re well-known for producing amazing naturally-processed coffees, and they’ve won quite a few awards for them. We’ve been to the estate and seen with our own eyes just how meticulous they are about their methods and equipment, and we always trust our partners at Yetatebe to only offer the finest coffees.

So give this Yetatebe, Natural a try. Burn some incense, light the beeswax candles you bought at that crafts fair in New Mexico, comb your beard. Get all hygge, and brew a cup that shows Yetatebe in a whole new light; a delicious take on an old favorite. Namaste, friends.

Yetatebe, Natural is available in our webstore now!

Yeah, We Made That

Ok, so that took a little longer than we thought.

blog_divis_open_brosBack in the heady days of 2014, when we were still young and dangerous, we signed a lease on a former produce market on the corner of Divisadero and Page. After literally rebuilding from the foundation up, we opened our new store on July 28th.

In some ways this is where we always wanted to be. Jerad and Justin, the brothers who founded Sightglass, were living right up the street — Jerad still lives on Laguna now — when they got Sightglass off the ground back in 2009. They looked at spaces along Divis at the time, but nothing was quite right, so they put the idea in their back pocket. Sightglass opened in Soma, the Ferry Building, the Mission and at SFMOMA, and, as the song goes, the wheel in the sky kept on turnin’. Which brings us to today.

Honestly, this space is special to us. We’ve been working with some of the same people to build our stores since the very beginning (we’re looking at you Rainbow John) and they’ve struggled with us over the perfect angle for banquette seating, looked at too many plaster samples, and told us yet again that we can’t afford a neon sign. (Yeah, we finally got one anyway.) They’ve been to our weddings and shared a few Hamm’s.These are amazing craftspeople, and they’re working at the very top of their chosen trades. We couldn’t do it without them.

The woodwork, most of it milled from a single Monterey Cypress tree, feels like the soul of the project, but the metalwork, tiling, even the plasterwork, are all careful custom work. We uncovered original windows with intricate four-by-four panes, and had the original frames remade, using mahogany that should last a hundred years. The plaster is hand-troweled and the mirror frames in the bathrooms (along with all the other pieces of metalwork) are custom fabricated. It’s an incredibly carefully designed space, but it feels warm and fuzzy, happy and hopeful.

We also have a walk-up window! We’re still not sure exactly why it feels so amazing to buy coffee from a window on the street, but trust us on this one. We have a special menu available that’s designed for faster service; this is a major crossroads with three bus lines within a block and the Wiggle right up the street, and we want to put a cup of coffee in your hands and get you on your way.

We have our full menu available inside, with cold drinks, including cascara shrub, vanilla cold brew, and a few others, all on tap. We have pastries from Neighbor Bakehouse, b. patisserie, and Piccino. We have comfortable banquettes, a community table where you can meet friends, and benches along Page Street where you can read, or talk, or just look at your phone for a while, like a normal person.

We have the best neighbors. Over the years we’ve had a few beers at The Page (and spilled a few on the Coral Parfait carpet), got our Tintin fix at Comix Experience, and coveted the vintage egg cups at Cookin’. We’re also joining a group of businesses — Nopa, Bi-Rite, The Mill, 4505 Meats, and many, many others — who have genuinely changed the way that San Francisco eats and appreciates food. Their thoughtful, honest, quality-driven approach is an example and an inspiration.

We’re here. We can’t wait to see you. We want to give you coffee. We want to be your new friend and not in a weird way where maybe you make plans to go indoor rock climbing but then realize half-way through that you have nothing in common. We want this to be chill, and happy, and to serve you some of the coffee that we talk about all. the. time. Seriously, we talk about coffee constantly. Which makes sense, because we love it. And we love you. Come see us on Divis.

Our New Cow Buddies

A few years ago, we noticed that every cappuccino we tasted at our Ferry Building farmers market location had some quality that felt a little bit magic, something we couldn’t quite identify. So we went home and messed with all the variables—the grind settings, the temperature of the brewing water, and extraction ratios—and eventually we figured out the secret: the milk.

It was different milk than what we used in our other cafes; it came from a farmer named Benoît de Korsak, who had a stand near ours for his business, St. Benoît Creamery. We knew this milk was good because you have a sip and, unlike the industrial milk you might pour on your Cheerios, you genuinely notice it. The creaminess, yeah, but also the complex flavors of butter and fresh grass. So a few weeks ago, we decided to use it in all our stores.

We’re super happy to be working with Benoît, a tall, gangly Frenchman who moved to the Bay Area fourteen years ago and couldn’t find any good yogurt. So he did what anyone would do: he drove around Sonoma County until he saw some Jersey cows. He talked to a few farmers, built some equipment, and pretty soon he was producing yogurt like he remembered from home. Bottling milk came a few years later. The license plate on his Ford F-150 says “YOGURT1” so you know he’s legit.

St. Benoit's F-150

St. Benoît’s F-150

Benoît de Korsak

Benoît de Korsak


“That’ll kill ’em.” The farmer, who had the phrase “calf mom” tattooed on her body, was listing threats to her beloved Jersey cows. Illnesses, difficult births, poisonous plants; these cows were living in a dangerous world. It fell to her to protect them, provide nourishment, and maybe even love them.

We had come here to Sonoma County, out at the edge of the world where the gentle green hills drop into the Pacific, to visit the creamery and the farm where the milk is produced. The first thing we noticed is that everything is smaller than we thought it would be. The creamery is a tiny building. The bottles of milk get filled one at a time, and someone watches every single one. Even the cows are smaller, but more on that later.

Everything is little because it doesn’t need to be bigger. Benoît doesn’t need storage, because he calls over to the farm the night before and orders as much milk as he needs for the next day, and after it’s bottled it goes onto a truck to the city, and then pretty much straight into your coffee.

There are a few tanks, a machine for filling yogurt jars and one for milk bottles, and a couple other contraptions. Everything in the entire process is basically within shouting distance. If the person running the yogurt machine needs a hand, he can yell to the woman driving the milk truck, who can yell to the cows. No one here would yell at a cow, but still, you get the idea.


Beyond the deliciousness, this milk is special for other reasons too. It’s gently pasteurized to keep the good bacteria alive, and it’s easier to digest than typical industrial milk. It’s better for the environment because St. Benoît avoids plastic and they reuse their glass jars. They also carefully manage water use, and feed returned yogurt to livestock on the farm.

About those Jersey cows: They are the best cows.

First, they’re famous for their “genial disposition.” Second, as mentioned earlier, they’re smaller than other cows, which makes them super cute, but also well suited to the hilly terrain in Sonoma. Third—and this is key—they make really, really rich milk.

Milk from Jersey cows has about thirty percent more fat than other milk, so it’s sweeter and creamier. And in the spring, when the weather is cool and wet and stress levels are low, it’s even CREAMIER. So we’re talking some pretty damn creamy milk.

Jersey calves

Jersey calves


As an historical aside, in 1789, the same year George Washington was elected president and the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille, the residents of Jersey, a tiny island in the English Channel, were busy debating another serious political issue: banning the import of cows. The result meant that for 214 more years it would be illegal to bring any new cows onto the island, which kept the breed as sweet and kind as you would ever want a cow to be, and their milk just as delicious.


To be serious for a minute, even though these cows are cute enough to cuddle, and the milk tastes like morning dew, the milk from St. Benoît is so wonderful because people work really hard to make it that way. They carefully manage an organic herd of cows, they pay very close attention to how the milk is handled, and they refuse to cut the corners that might improve profit, but would harm the milk and the people who drink it.

In short, they’re careful, driven, and—not to be discounted—they’re kind. All of that makes for a delicious bottle of milk, and a product that we’re proud to add to the coffee that we love. Come by and let us pour some in your cup, and we’ll show you the pictures of the cows we now all have on our phones.

We Put Your Coffee in Sweet New Packages!

We wish we could just come over to your house with our pockets full of coffee, give it to you in handfuls, and maybe take a few minutes to talk about what’s good with you these days (How is Kelly anyway? Did her dog win that cool prize?), but until then we still need to sell it in bags.

So we decided to start using the very best bags we could find. There are two things we should let you know about this new packaging: First, the amount of coffee will increase to 12 ounces from 8 ounces. Second, these bags are super focused on environmental sustainability. So, in short, more coffee, better bags. Win, win.

Some of you out there are saying “Wait, you just changed your packaging a year and a half ago.” You are correct. We did. We loved the look of those boxes, and we loved the 8 ounce size. But after using them for a while, we realized that most people prefer to buy 12 ounces of coffee at a time; it’s the right amount to last two coffee drinkers about a week. We also realized that there was a lot of extra packaging involved. Live and learn.

Our new bags are way better for Mother Earth, and we’re actually the very first company in the world to use this material commercially. It’s called Biotre 2.0, and it’s composed of 99.6% renewable plant-based resources, like wood pulp and sugar cane. Still not 100 percent perfect, but in terms of sealed packaging with an oxygen barrier and a one-way valve that keeps your coffee as fresh as possible, it’s the most progressive thing we could get our hands on.

We should also mention that the price of the coffee itself won’t be changing; it’s the same cost per ounce. The 12 ounce package will cost more than the 8 ounce package, but just because there’s more coffee. No funny business.

Feel free to email us at if we can answer any questions. We can do our best to talk more about the science involved (the supplier gave us some very intense-looking PowerPoint slides) or walk through anything else you’re curious about.

We’re very serious when we say that our first priority is always to bring you the best expression of coffees that we love, and this new packaging helps us to do just that. Thank you for your support, and for helping us continue to do what we love: sourcing, brewing and enjoying beautiful coffees with you.

About the Jams: Noel Ellis

Our excitement is off the charts for this one! While you may not immediately recognize the name Noel Ellis, listen to this seminal record just once and you’ll never forget it!

Son of reggae superstar Alton Ellis, Noel Ellis is a remarkable talent with a musical style that pays tribute to his famous father and the island beats he grew up with, while bringing a distinctive ethereal quality all his own. Produced by famed Summer Records in 1983, Ellis’ self titled debut showcases his flair for ingenuity, effortlessly combining groovy rocksteady rhythms with playful stylings and ‘a less is more’ production approach. The 6-track record also features contributions from reggae greats Jackie Mittoo, Willi Williams, and Johnny Osbourne.

Over thirty years since its initial release, Noel Ellis is back thanks to the fine folks at Light in the Attic, who’ve remastered and released the reggae jammer once again for your listening pleasure. For a limited time, pick one up for your private collection in-store at both 7th and 20th Street.

Put it on, turn it up, and you’ll have it on heavy rotation for days! We promise.

First Look: Sightglass at SFMOMA

We’ve spent the better part of the last two and a half years dreaming up and actualizing our third brick and mortar coffee bar in San Francisco, this time, partnering with a world-renowned cultural institution we’ve long cherished.

We sought to create an elevated & highly immersive coffee bar experience within SFMOMA, one that would appeal to the varying tastes of a diverse audience. We collaborated with SFMOMA to conceive a space that not only champions efficiency and flow, but also highlights our meticulous dedication to craft and service. Each element is designed with this emphasis in mind, inclusive of our dynamic espresso and drip bars, oriented to showcase quality-focused drink preparation. Every coffee is prepared right before your eyes for your enjoyment and sensory delight.

Coffee Bar Rendering (Boor Bridges Architecture)

Coffee Bar Rendering (Boor Bridges Architecture)

The coffee bar is located on the third floor of the museum, adjacent to both the transcendent grand atrium boasting a 26-foot-wide Calder sculpture and the awe-inspiring John and Lisa Pritzker Center for Photography. Enjoy your coffee in the Photography Interpretive Gallery, a highly interactive and playful new space that invites you to curate your own experience while gaining insight into the museum’s preeminent photography collection.

Enjoy inspiring views of the grand Atrium as you enjoy your coffee.

Enjoy inspiring views of the grand atrium as you drink your coffee.

You’ll find quite a few sumptuous new offerings in our newest home. Our menu features seasonally rotating single origin favorites in addition to nitro & vanilla cold brew on tap, a delectable selection of sweet and savory treats, and even a few elegant loose leaf teas! We’ve also developed a beautiful blend exclusively for SFMOMA, resplendent prepared as as an espresso or drip coffee! Comprised of seasonally rotating beans from Central & South America and East Africa, this versatile stunner boasts vibrant flavors of citrus fruit balanced by sweet, deep caramel and milk chocolate undertones.

After nearly three years of closure and ideation, SFMOMA reopens to the public this Saturday, May 14th. We packed a whole lot of heart and creative collaboration into this small, yet mighty 300 square foot coffee bar. Sharing it with you will be our greatest joy yet!

With Love,


151 3rd Street, SF, CA 94103
Open Daily: 10a – 4:30p Mondays-Wednesdays, Fridays-Sundays; 10a8:30p Thursdays. 

Dispatches: Central America

We’ve just returned from our first sourcing trip of 2016 and have some tremendous updates to share with you all. Central America is a wildly exciting place to source quality coffees, made even more special by the remarkable people, places and experiences. This time around, we traversed Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Honduras – three countries close together geographically, but so very different…

Costa Rica

We landed in San José in the evening, weary-eyed from a long day of travel, but eager to begin exploring. While we enjoy spending time in Costa Rica’s lively capitol, it’s the picturesque countryside that captivates us every time we’re here. There’s nothing quite like breathing in fresh mountain air when the plants are flowering; the aromas so fragrant, they waft into the car through the air vent. Once through customs, we loaded into a school van and began the winding ascent from the humid city into the mountains towards our first destination – Rio Jorco.

Rio Jorco is the immaculate farm and dry mill we work with in Costa Rica. Our partners here buy coffee cherry, process it on site with an aqua pulper, conduct the quality control and also mill and export the coffees. Once the quality of a lot has been determined, they pay the producer a quality premium. Since we last checked in, they’ve diversified their processing methods to include more natural and honey processed coffees than ever before!

We visited Finca Las Pavas and a few other farms in the suburb of El Cedral, Rio Jorco, cupped some coffees and chatted about production methods and some of the biggest challenges facing specialty coffee producers today. With the onset of El Niño, severe weather conditions are a big one on everyone’s mind. Hot and dry days with little rain and forceful winds have plagued producers and may impact production volumes for next year’s harvest.

Finca Las Pavas in the suburbs of El Cedral, Rio Jorco

Finca Las Pavas in the suburbs of El Cedral, Rio Jorco


Lack of rainfall may impact next year’s production volumes

As our time in Costa Rica was coming to a close, we were fortunate enough to celebrate a birthday party with the Navarro family. Such a heartwarming experience
– we were welcomed into their home and treated like family. Although they have some smaller stunning three manzana farms where they produce coffee for us, in total, they have nearly 70 hectares of coffee plants. Jose Luis Navarro consistently delivers exceptional micro lots, and judging by the progress of this harvest, we’ll have some stunning new coffees to share later this year!

quality time with Jose Luis Navarro

Quality time with Jose Luis Navarro & family


We flew into Managua and drove four hours through desert and tobacco plantations up to Ocotal, the capital of the Nueva Segovia Department of Nicaragua. Aside from the pine forests that blanket the hills above the town, Ocotal is very dry and arid. The soil is sandy and the landscape has a perpetual sun-drenched sheen. Not a place you might expect to find quality coffee, but looks can be deceiving…

The Caravela Nicaragua operation, Beneficio La Estrella, is nestled in Ocotal and is where we set our sights. Here, we spent some time with quality control expert William Ortiz who hails from Oporapa, the same Colombian town as the one-and-only Wilfredo Ule Vargas of Finca Alcatraz. We visited the lab, cupped some fresh coffees and toured the soon-to-be-completed dry mill. Caravela has done a lot of coffee drying R&D over the past few years, cupping coffees from the same producer that have been dried in three different ways: patio dried with full sunlight, dried on plastic in full sunlight and dried on the beds under shade. The three profiles yield very different results. When coffee is dried slower, it is dried more evenly, doesn’t age as quickly and tastes more complex.

My time was up in Nicaragua so I pushed onto Honduras, the land of the mighty (and ever so delicious) baleada!


We drove up to the border of Nicaragua and Honduras and got a taste of border crossing in the good old days – excruciatingly slow and painful. Lines, checkpoints, more lines, frisking and searching, etc. 8 hours of travel later, we found ourselves in Peña Blanca, Santa Barbara – a picturesque town that sits above Lake Yojoa, the largest natural land mass in Honduras. The unique micro-climate here contributes to the expressively transparent cup profiles of coffees from this region.

Norma Azucena & Ben Paz

Norma Azucena Erazo & Ben Paz

For the next week, we visited cherished producers and cupped some incredibly promising lots alongside our great bud and supply partner, Benjamin Paz. We were fortunate enough to spend time (and share a delicious meal or two) with some of our favorite longstanding Honduran producers: Norma Azucena Erazo (Finca Zulema), Salomé and Virgilio Reyes (Finca Salomé), Ramon Jeovany Baide (Finca Baide) and newer partner, David Muñoz.

Salomé Reyes (Finca Salomé)

Salomé Reyes (Finca Salomé)

David Muñoz

David Muñoz

While we cup countless coffees at origin to determine quality and map out our coffee bar menus, the majority of our time is dedicated to finding out how we can best support our partners. We’re really excited about a collaborative project with Norma aimed at improving her wet mill and drying infrastructure.

Stay tuned for more on that and some phenomenal fresh crop from Central America later this year! Until then, we leave you with some trip highlights…