New on Bar: Vanilla Paste Latte!

Frankly, we didn’t know if we were the “vanilla latte” types. Vanilla is the world’s most popular flavor, and a lot of its uses are a little, well… basic.

But we don’t do basic at Sightglass. So when we decided to add something new to the menu, we work-shopped with a single goal: creating something so. damn. delicious. The result is a perfect balance of sweetness and complexity, a true showcase for the ingredients, and importantly, full of that essential hygge vibe.

So what makes the difference? Well, the espresso for starters. Obviously any drink made from Owl’s Howl is special. And the Double Eight milk, from those cows up in Petaluma, is as rich and creamy as you’re ever gonna see. But it’s the vanilla that makes it a vanilla latte. (duh.)

First thing to know: only 1 percent of the vanilla flavor in the world is from actual vanilla pods. Generally, the synthetic version is made from wood pulp, or, and we hesitate to say this because it’s gross — the scent glands of mature beavers.

BUT NOT THIS VANILLA. This is super-premium vanilla paste from Nielsen-Massey, a company founded in 1907. Grown in Madagascar, and known as “bourbon” for the same reason as the “bourbon” coffee variety (they both originally come from Réunion, the island previously known as the Île Bourbon) this stuff is world-famous for being rich and creamy, the quintessential example of that “old-fashioned” vanilla flavor.

The result is indulgent and complex, but never too sweet. The floral qualities of the vanilla complement the taste notes of the Owl’s Howl (cacao nib, stone fruit, and candied orange peel), and the milk from local Jersey cows provides the deeply satisfying creaminess that latte dreams are made of. (Yeah, we dream about lattes. Sorry.)

So, in short: brand new, mega delicious, ultra premium, not from beavers. It’s available now in all our locations so give it a try and spread the word!

Sweet and Clean: Our New Packaging

Do you remember when you were a kid and you got permission to rearrange your room, and you felt really proud of it, and you showed your parents and said “hey, that’s really nice,” and you thought, “new room, new me!” That’s kind of how we’re feeling right now.

After nearly 10 years, we just launched packaging with a clean new look. The aesthetic is straightforward; our logo in silver and a nice clear circle to highlight the name of the coffee and the farm where it was grown. On the back, some basic information about why we select the coffees that we do. Our goal was pretty simple: to help customers pick exactly the right coffee by giving them the best information they need to make that choice.

But color too! We’ve always been fans of the earthier tones, and we’re not going florescent now (and there’s not a drop of millennial pink to be seen), but these new colors—a dark charcoal, a gentle blue, our signature fudge brown, and bone white—feel exactly right to us. They look handsome on the shelf and they also help customers choose a single origin (brown), a blend (blue), or an espresso (charcoal), which is how folks have let us know they like coffee choices to be organized.

We’re also particularly proud of a new custom font designed specifically for us. It echos the original hand lettering that was created for our logo, but it adds new letterforms and additional sizes and styles. Creating a new font is an old and time-honored craft, and (even if mostly involves computers now and not as much hot lead) we’re glad to make it part of our company’s legacy.

Most everything else is staying the same. This is the same sustainable material, Biotre 2.0, that we use now, and the size and the prices aren’t changing either. And of course, they’re still filled with the same wonderful coffees, which is the only thing that really matters.

Honestly though, it feels like we’re growing up a bit. This design communicates even more about the values that we’ve developed (and continue to develop) over the last decade. You’ll see the phrase on the back of the bag, “The Perfect Cup is Out There.” We’ll let you know more about that as time goes on, but we’re confident when we say that we’ll never stop evolving, improving, or searching out the best coffees that we can possibly find.

Introducing: Sightglass Cold!

Until just a few years ago, coffee was hot.

The steam, the nice thick mugs, the cozy vibes — when someone asked “You wanna grab a cup of coffee?,” you just knew it was going to be piping.

Then coffee went cold. Suddenly everyone was carrying around a cup of iced coffee, and not just in summer either, but all. the. time. (And in those early, long-forgotten days, everyone struggled with getting the stupid sugar to dissolve.)

This early iced coffee, to be entirely honest, wasn’t very good. Some people just brewed hot coffee and then let it sit in the fridge. Then came the rise of the toddy, which steeps the coffee in room temperature water for twelve-plus hours to create “cold brew.” We knew it could be better. So what’s the solution?


Introducing Sightglass Cold!

What is Sightglass Cold?

Sightglass Cold is cold coffee without compromise.

We’ve loved cold coffee for years, but to us the standard brewing method—soaking ground coffee in water for hours—offers an uninspiring cup. Without the addition of heat, the magical coffee alchemy that produces special acids and compounds never happens. And if the coffee is brewed hot and then left to cool, oxidation completely destroys the nuance and complexity.

We’ve known for a long time that one solution is the Japanese-style method of pour-over brewing directly onto ice, but it can be very difficult to control the amount of cold water in the solution, too often leading to a diluted (or overly-concentrated) cup. 

Sightglass Cold is the solution. By brewing the coffee hot, chilling it immediately, and then maintaining anaerobic conditions in airtight containers, we capture the aromatics and compounds that offer the elevated coffee experience our customers expect.

The result? The truest expression of the roast profiles that we’ve tirelessly refined over the last 10 years.

So How do You Make It?

Sightglass Cold is brewed using custom-engineered equipment in a commercial space in the Mission. We’re starting with our beloved Blueboon blend, singing with of notes of milk chocolate, mandarin and honeysuckle, and soon we’ll offer some of our favorite single origin coffees as well.

Our method extracts all the volatile compounds found in roasted coffee and uses commercial heat exchangers to drop the temperature instantaneously to lock in flavors. To eliminate oxidation, we flush and pressurize our containers and then keep the coffee cold until the moment it’s served. A Sightglass Cold is as fresh and delicious as a cool breeze on the single hot day we have each year in San Francisco.

When and Where Can I get This Amazing Stuff?

We’re launching Sightglass Cold at our Divisadero and Seventh Street stores on Saturday, October 27. We’ll carry it exclusively in our retail locations initially, and in the coming days it’ll be available in all our stores, including Twentieth Street, SFMOMA and the Ferry Building Farmers Market. Soon after, we’ll work with a few select partners for wholesale distribution.

Secret Knowledge: Roller Skating

“They’ve had skating beef for thirty years.”

Learning to roller skate isn’t hard; it’s mostly about learning to push with the bottom of your feet and maintaining your balance. The trickier part is finding your place in a group of people who have been cruising the streets of San Francisco for decades.

Lucy took up rollerskating about three years ago with a set of used Riedell skates and a day-long lesson. “It’s scary at first because you’re going to fall. And you do fall.” Now she skates almost every Sunday, mostly at the Skatin’ Place in Golden Gate Park near 6th Avenue.

The scene in San Francisco isn’t as big as those in Chicago and LA, but it’s long-standing and tightly knit. Colleen, Terrance, Miles have been at The Skatin’ Place for decades; Palmer skates a huge loop through the city while wearing a sailor hat and sequins, and the owner of Skates on Haight rides in traffic, without brakes. There are aggro derby girls, and extreme speed rollerbladers, but Lucy skates in a style that’s more like dancing.

Lucy learned her moves from Terrance, who has been at the Skatin’ Place  for thirty years. Which brings us to the beef: due to various romantic entanglements, Terrance and a man named Miles have been at odds for years. A picture of Terrance from the 1980’s includes Miles in the background, “so angry, just glaring at him.” They still haven’t reconciled.

For the most part though skating is incredibly positive, welcoming and wholesome. “It just makes you happy. It’s like dancing but it’s on roller skates. Just like anything else in the world, people can ruin something that’s simple and good, but most don’t.”

With the closure of  Redwood Roller Rink and the rumored closing of Golden Skate, the Bay Area scene may be in decline. But Skatin’ Place is still going strong, hosting tons of skaters under the towering eucalyptus every weekend. Lucy remembers thinking that the skaters she saw were thirty-somethings, only to find out some of them were in their sixties. “They’ve been skating for 45 years, and they’re never going to stop. It keeps them young.”

Photo credit: William Rittenhouse

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.