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Friday, December 17, 2010

Sightglass Brothers Open a Window on the Microroastery

Posted By on Fri, Dec 17, 2010 at 1:03 PM

click to enlarge Sightglass Coffee owners Jerad and Justin Morrison hope to open the cafe portion of their tri-level SOMA warehouse and roastery this spring. - CATHERINE COLE
  • Catherine Cole
  • Sightglass Coffee owners Jerad and Justin Morrison hope to open the cafe portion of their tri-level SOMA warehouse and roastery this spring.

It's been a little less than a year since Sightglass Coffee owners (and brothers) Jerad and Justin Morrison flipped the switch on their beloved cast-iron coffee roaster. They're already roasting a few hundred pounds weekly, both for their shop and wholesale clients, a list that just recently crossed state lines. You don't have to be a Third Wave snob to recognize that this duo are at the forefront of the S.F. coffee scene, but if you needed more proof, Food & Wine ran a profile of the brothers in the August 2010 issue.

click to enlarge Jerad Morrison. - CATHERINE COLE
  • Catherine Cole
  • Jerad Morrison.

"It's exciting to see a wide range of new people coming by daily and sharing our enthusiasm for coffee," Jerad told SFoodie recently, on a day he allowed us to sit in during a typical roasting schedule. Morrison talked about what's ahead for Sightglass and answered our questions about the local coffee business.

Cue the dump trucks

Both Jerad and Justin have worked "in coffee" for about 11 years. Jerad spent a lot of time at Blue Bottle (as a barista and roaster) while Justin was in the Northwest, mainly Eugene, Ore., and Seattle. Both knew they wanted to run their own company, and finally signed the lease on Seventh Street in April 2008. A hell of a lot of sweat equity and 14 dump trucks of debris later (they've done most of the build-out themselves), the Sightglass kiosk opened in August of that year. They served Verve until this past June, when they started doing their own roasting.

click to enlarge Sightglass roaster CC at the German-made Probat. - CATHERINE COLE
  • Catherine Cole
  • Sightglass roaster CC at the German-made Probat.

The mighty Probat

The piece of machinery responsible for Sightglass Coffee's delicate roasts is a German roaster manufactured by Probat, originally built in 1961. Jerad smiles a lot when he talks about it. He and Justin found one in Germany, and used an importer from Oklahoma City to get it here. Since it's mostly cast iron, it handles heat incredibly well, Justin explained. CC, Sightglass's primary roaster (and soon, its green-bean buyer), was handling all the roasting on the day we visited, watching every gauge, grabbing handfuls of beans, and dumping each finished and cooled batch into plastic drums. Depending on the particular roast, a batch takes 12 to 15 minutes.

click to enlarge Roasted and cooled beans are gathered in plastic bins. - CATHERINE COLE
  • Catherine Cole
  • Roasted and cooled beans are gathered in plastic bins.

"Have you ever messed up a whole batch by letting it get too hot?" we ask. No, CC says, then goes on to say how he witnessed someone who was roasting at another coffee company lose track of the temperature, which caused the beans to ignite inside the roasting drum. "You can easily take out a whole building when that happens," CC says. Luckily, the fire was extinguished just in time.

CC and a staff of two others help measure and bag the hundred pounds of Ethiopian, Kenyan, Guatemalan, and espresso blends that will ship out to the company's eight local accounts, and its newest coffee shop customer, Barista in Portland.

Looking around Sightglass's magnificent, 7,000-square-foot tri-level warehouse curtained off from the Seventh Street kiosk, you can't help wondering: When, oh when, will this open to the public?

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Catherine Cole


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