AN INTERVIEW WITH BADASS OWNER
Two years ago, we were dreaming of what we wanted to do with the back of our rather large flagship. In the beginning, we tried workshops and hosting night-time events. But, it just didn’t feel quite right. Deep down, we knew we wanted to build a place for every-day community, a space where anyone and everyone could gather. The best way to do this, we thought, was with a cafe. And, the only cafe we wanted was one that was centered around a small, crafted, woman owned coffee brand called Lady Falcon Coffee Club out of Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Thinking about this dream we laugh. We laugh because we were very specific in our dream yet we had not yet talked to Lady Falcon about our vision. In fact, at that point, we didn’t even know each other. But, being a fan of their brand and everything they stood for (from afar), we were determined. And so, we contacted Lady Falcon and told them about our vision. And, well, to make a long story short (after over a year of planning, permits, demo, construction, followed by more demo, construction and inspections), we got SUPER DUPER lucky to finally have our dream realized. One thing is for sure: without the guidance, education, and training of our new partner Lady Falcon, it may have been impossible. They are the bees knees. The real deal - in craft and kindness.
Buffy Maguire, the founder of LFCC, along with her kick ass team of women have infused the male dominated coffee industry with a level of authenticity, personalization, and accessibility that was lacking within the craft and specialty coffee industry. And most importantly, they brew an insanely good cup of joe. It is by no mistake that the coffee tastes so good - the craft and science behind what they do is meticulous. We learned more about coffee in our first three hour training session with LFCC than we had in an entire lifetime. It was mind blowing, which is why we wanted to sit down with Buffy herself so that we could share more with you about Lady Falcon and why what they are doing is so gosh darn special.
NH: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the coffee business!
BM: In terms of Lady Falcon, I am the founder, master roaster, tastemaker and creative lead of Lady Falcon Coffee Club. Some term this CEO. I think any true title of mine would need the word creative in it and I have an AMAZING team that makes Lady Falcon extra special.
In terms of me, I am a mother of all boys, wife to my partner-in-all things, most especially love, Pat, for over two decades and counting, a daughter, an aunt to 29 nieces and nephews and a friend to many whom feel like family. I was born in San Francisco to a family that has been in San Francisco’s west side of the City for generations. I attended college in Western Massachusetts and graduate school in Belfast, Northern Ireland and then I came home. I missed the Pacific Ocean so much.
I didn’t think of [Lady Falcon] as starting a business, but instead I thought of it as a creative project in coffee. And one creative project gave way to another creative project and they were connected, but I didn’t immediately put together that they were connected. First of all, I love roasting coffee so I thought I needed to spend my days doing something I love. Roasting coffee can be solitary and meditative and it requires your full attention for short periods of time and it was the perfect salve to my mind. I did more and more coffee roasting and experimented and just let myself dive in deep for the love of roasting. I would do all sorts of roast profiles and taste it and taste it and taste.
NH: What inspired you to start your own company?
BM: Lady Falcon Coffee Club is an independent, female-founded coffee roaster born in San Francisco’s Ocean Beach neighborhood. In terms of our start, Lady Falcon began as a rebellious daydream and mental manifesto. It was the only way I could envision myself in coffee. It was a way for me to add something to the conversation about the direction in which the coffee world was going. According to Roast Magazine, women comprise less than 13% of the world’s coffee roasters. Coffee roasters are the gatekeepers and tastemakers, and ours is a male-dominated world. What kind of impact has this had on our experience of drinking coffee? For me, coffee is a craft and, as a consequence, it is personal.
Also, I simply love roasting coffee. I wanted to focus on coffee as the sensual experience of enjoyment and pleasure. I love the cerebral aspect of coffee as well as all of the science advancements. But for me, coffee begins and ends with these questions: How does it taste to you? Do you like it? Lady Falcon Coffee Club is a taste-forward coffee company, first and foremost focused on honoring our customers’ voices.
Finally, we’re often asked about our name. Lady Falcon Coffee Club is a respectful nod to an era in San Francisco’s Ocean Beach history. In the 1880s, an impromptu neighborhood of abandoned street cars on Judah Street became Carville-by-the-Sea. Carville housed many a freethinker. The Falcon Ladies Bicycling Club was one of the first cars in the bunch and helped shape the legend of Carville. These women were rebels in their own way, in their own day. Ladies straddling bicycles in the late 1800s—women couldn’t even legally vote then and were restricted by corsets and petticoats. With bicycling, the freedom of movement liberated them. They must have felt as if they had wings!
My wish list for a personal coffee company was long because I had been in the coffee industry for years and, yet, I did not feel at home in coffee circles. It felt stifling and prescriptive and it didn’t fit me. Specialty coffee, which I love, had become so rigid and pretentious. This was so counter to my daily life at Ocean Beach, which was down home and welcoming of all different eclectic perspectives. I thought what if we could turn the whole paradigm upside down, what if I liberated myself from all the constraints and just did what I love about coffee?
NH: Are Craft, Specialty, and 3rd Wave coffee the same things? If not, how are they different?
BM: Some might say those concepts are all interchangeable and mostly I agree. I think it is correct to say that coffee progress has been cyclical which I believe is the idea behind the concept behind third wave. But there is also an element in coffee that is similar to a pendulum swinging from one extreme to another. I gravitate towards the concepts of specialty and craft. Specialty literally is a certain high score the coffee receives; it is quite literal. Craft connotes small batch to me, but it also implies that there is an emphasis on the art of it and the hand made art of coffee.
Third wave tends to rely more on science and I like those advancements for certain, but I start with coffee as an art, a craft, handmade specifically, uniquely. I identify Lady Falcon Coffee Club specialty because we only use the highest scoring green beans and craft because we roast by hand, by senses in small batches.
I feel like there is a bit of a judgment in the wave concept that isn’t always consistent. (For instance, there are third wave coffee companies that don’t roast in small batches. But, they likely buy coffee with high scores.)
NH: If this is the third, what are the first two waves?
BM: The wave concept attempts to describe phases in coffee’s history. First wave was Folgers era coffee and second wave is Starbucks and Peets. It sometimes refers to a darker (sometimes oily) roast. But it treats coffee in the stages sort of “progress.” I am not sure this moment in coffee is third wave. I feel like third wave was about 2010-ish. I think we are past the third wave, but not thinking of it as fourth wave.
NH: Beyond superior taste, are there any added benefits to choosing craft coffee on a local, international, and global scale? Perhaps from an ethical and sustainable standpoint?
BM: Specialty coffee is definitely better tasting; it also often costs 4 times more than the regular index coffee. In theory, farmers should be getting paid more, too, which means they are able to farm more sustainably.
NH: What is your favorite part of your job?
BM: I love roasting coffee. I love visiting coffee farms. I love creating new blends. I love telling our story creatively and dynamically and I love training women how to do it all. I love my team! And I love showing my sons how to start something from just an idea and what can flower from it.
NH: What makes Lady Falcon different from other craft coffee brands out there?
BM: Lady Falcon Coffee Club is a taste-forward coffee company.
I wanted to focus on coffee as a sensual experience of enjoyment and pleasure. I love the cerebral aspect and love, love the origin story, but that needs to come second to the most important factor: how does it taste?
Many other craft coffee roasters concentrate on the cerebral qualities of the coffee and its origin and I understand why, but I think something has gotten lost along the way and it created an elitist coffee climate.
The prism to “good” coffee was narrow and stifling—the antithesis of coffee culture of acceptance and inspiration. The coffee aisle was a longgg brown-bag bummer of the same bags with the same beans differentiated only with a different rubber stamp. I can be rebellious so I thought to myself “Let’s turn that on its head and embrace the femininity.” Pink bags, why not? Who says we can’t? And aren’t they pretty?
NH: What do you see for the future of Lady Falcon? For the coffee industry in general?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to grow Lady Falcon Coffee Club thoughtfully. My vision is that we continue to distinguish ourselves as a sort of “couture” coffee. By this I mean, custom made coffee that is roasted by hand in small batches.
I see spending time developing a robust region driven Cascara menu, visiting coffee farms and connecting with farmers. The beginning of 2020, I will be returning to Oaxaca, Mexico for harvest. I hope to visit more farms in Latin America in later months of 2020 and dreaming of a visit to Africa one day soon where I want to go to farms (most especially, Ethiopia and Rwanda).
Against this back-drop, I see the future of coffee roasting becoming more mechanized and less personal and moving out of the Bay Area. Most of these changes are motivated by costs and efficiency and make sense on paper. So I think in that way, Lady Falcon is going against the bigger trend in coffee-- we roast in the Bay Area in small batches. But for me, Lady Falcon is about creating something unique that we have touched and creating something that genuinely motivates me to get out of bed in the morning and it seems to be resonating with people and that’s exciting.