“Our coffee roasters are overbuilt,” pronounces Bill Kennedy, the formidable, grey-bearded owner of San Franciscan. “Like this fan.” He indicates a handsome brass-bladed table fan in his office, part of a collection of gorgeous old fans and radios. “It’s a hundred and two years old, and it can still blow the paper right off my desk.”
Such is the sensibility of the middle-school principal turned coffee roasting machine manufacturer: things should be built to last generations. They should be built right, or not at all. And they should definitely be built in the United States, from materials sourced in the United States.
“Most coffee roasters are built like today’s Maytag washing machines,” he explains. “They’re made from parts stamped out in China or India and then assembled in locations around the world. They’re intended to last about five years. They’re throwaways.” This disposable sensibility rankles Kennedy, a self-confessed “history nut” with a deep appreciation for the past. “Our machines will give you twenty years of life and then they can be refurbished,” he explains.
“Our sheet metal is mined, refined, and milled in the US,” he explains. He eschews the use of recycled steel, which doesn’t heat evenly because of its impurities. When roasting specialty coffee, it’s essential to precisely and quickly increase and reduce heat at different points in the roast. Only mild carbon steel delivers that sort of responsiveness--even the classic cast iron roasters of yesteryear can’t reduce heat quickly. The key to a great coffee roasting machine, says Kennedy, is the ability to control conductive and convective heat transfer.
Kennedy’s uncompromising devotion to quality has attracted a devoted following among coffee brands who want, well, the best roaster in the world. San Franciscan is a privately held family company, and not beholden to outside investors who might question the wisdom of building coffee roasters meant to last for generations. But Kennedy is driven by heartfelt passion: “Coffee is sacred to the soul of the consumer,” he says, his eyes lighting up.
Think locally, roast globally.
Kennedy purchased the coffee roaster company, which had been started in California but moved to Fallon in 1993 by its founder. Kennedy rebranded the company and moved it to Carson City. In that purchase came a small Fallon coffeehouse, which Kennedy dubbed Telegraph Coffee & Tap, and which serves as a family-run “test kitchen” for coffee roasted on their machines. Just as important, it’s a way to stay connected to the experience of his customers, the roasters themselves: “I wanted to be able to tell my clients that I feel their pain.” says Kennedy.
San Franciscan Coffee Roasters is located in an inconspicuous light industrial park that sits on the northwest end of Carson City. The area is chockablock with small to midsize family-owned businesses producing an array of specialized products. In a 15,000 square foot building, San Franciscan’s workers cut, bend, and weld steel, readying machines for a who’s who of international buyers. Other employees ready machines for shipment all over the world. San Franciscan just took over another large building and soon will have close to 30,000 square feet for its burgeoning operations.
Kennedy notes that there’s “about one degree of separation in the specialty coffee world,” so it’s not surprising that he and Coffeebar’s Director of Coffee David Wilson had actually “taken the Q” (Q-Grader licensing exam) together.
When Coffeebar decided to roast its own coffee, David considered a Probat or a Loring, as those machines have very good reputations.
“I even roasted on a Probat with another roastery to trial it,” says David. “But I didn’t love the lack of control or ability to manipulate. Same with the Loring. I’m a tinkerer, and like to be able to play with ever more variables. And at that time, SFR was adding more control options, like variable fan speed and variable drum speed, which further increased the quality and potential of their roasters.”
It seemed like kismet: one of the best coffee roaster companies in the world was just half an hour down the road from Reno--not in another country.
Our new San Franciscan roaster was not just built like a brick coffeehouse, it was powder-coated with our signature Coffeebar orange. (Here’s a time-lapse video of the beautiful beast actually being built, a process that actually takes about 160 hours).
We think it may be here 102 years from now, too.
Want to experience some fabulous coffee roasted on the legendary San Franciscan? Visit our online store.