Happy National Coffee Day, everyone. And to celebrate, I'm sharing some photos from my trip to Henry's House of Coffee in San Francisco this past April.
I love traveling. Love it. Add in a photo shoot and I love it even more. Add hand roasted coffee and I'm pretty much in heaven. So, when friend and fellow designer Mike Sterner asked if I could hop a plane to San Francisco to get photos for Henry's House of Coffee, I jumped.
April was a busy month and the trip ended up being a really quick endeavor: fly in Tuesday evening, shoot all day Wednesday, then catch the red-eye home and wind up back in Wisconsin early Thursday morning– a bit of a whirlwind. But the shoot was amazing. And so was the coffee.
I've been a firm believer in coffee for a long time. I would even consider myself devout. But to be honest I didn't know that much about it, except for the simple truth that it makes me bearable to anyone that has to talk to me before noon. (Thank you, coffee; we are all grateful). Over the course of our shoot, Henry and his son, Hrag, gave me a crash course in coffee, and I seriously should have taken notes. We talked about everything from roasts to flavor profiles to the origins of different beans. I was even treated to a cupping of three of their coffees to compare. It was simply amazing.
But even more than the education in coffee, it was amazing to watch them at work. One of the things I love about assignment photography is getting to watch someone do what they do best. You never fly across the country to take pictures of someone who's mediocre at what they do, right? You go to see someone who's great, someone at the absolute top of their game.
Coffee roasting is a family tradition for the Kalebjians. Henry and Hrag are second- and third-generation roasters. They are masters of their craft. And, for a photographer, it doesn't hurt that the tools of their trade are pretty photogenic, too. The back room is filled with burlap bags and wooden barrels of green coffee from around the world. The walls are lined with handmade shelves filled with tins of freshly roasted coffee in every tone from lightest tan to the richest chocolate black.
And then there's the roaster. Planted right in the corner of their Noriega St. shop for all the world to see, it looks like something out of the 1800's: all black steel and brass knobs with a round glass portal into the roasting drum and a green enamel cooling pan.
To watch Henry at the helm of that magical machine is to watch an artist at work. He's constantly checking the sampling tube, smelling the roasting beans, listening for the "first crack"–the sound that indicates a change in the roasting beans. All with stopwatch in hand, tracking the minute details of each batch for his records. And at the precise moment, the hatch is lifted and Henry disappears in a blue swirl of smoke and steam as the beans tumble out into the cooling pan, stirred by mechanical arms as they come down to room temperature. Let me tell you, the smell in that room is absolutely incredible.
Great coffee, great photos, great trip.