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Sextant Coffee Sweetens the Scene in San Francisco’s SOMA District

All photos by Sextant Coffee

All photos by Sextant Coffee

Sextant Coffee opened its doors in the SOMA neighborhood of San Francisco in May of 2014, yet in barely over a year the company has made great strides in what is already an ardently competitive coffee town. The 2,500-square-foot roastery and café includes an outdoor patio seating area, on-site space for green coffee storage, and a front-of-the-house bar armed with some state-of-the-art kit.

Sextant Director of Coffee Justin Williams does all the roasting both for the café and for wholesale clients on a Probat L12, while maintaining espresso quality and service standards on such top-shelf Nuova Simonelli gear as a three-group WBC Black Eagle espresso machine — the same Simonelli model used in last year’s competition — and four Mythos One Clima Pro grinders.

“We have the ability to serve up to four different espressos at the same time, and the consistency on those grinders is incredible,” Williams told Daily Coffee News in a recent phone call. “We can use more or less the same recipe for all the espressos, and have the volumetric machine spit out the same amount water every time. It’s a dream.” Williams’ previous experience includes a bakery chain that served Intelligentsia, as well as Front Coffee Roasters, another San Francisco micro.

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With equipment like that in a city like San Francisco, patrons can certainly expect some up-to-the-minute beverage stylings. A de rigueur concoction of espresso and tonic is soon to appear on the menu, as is a Tom Collins-style drink comprised of espresso, lemon, simple syrup and sparkling water, alongside other more traditional coffee standards.

The fledgling shop is located just a few blocks down from the original location of San Francisco’s well-established Sightglass Coffee, although coffee in the immediate area surrounding  Sextant is largely served by small delis or non-coffee-focused restaurants. “It was industrial for a long time,” Williams said about the neighborhood. “There are a lot auto body shops, art, and fabric hanging and framing. But pretty much every week there’s a new warehouse being converted into tech offices. It’s about half auto body shops and half tech offices.”

Sextant’s roasting vision is to highlight the inherent sweetness in coffee. “We’re trying to buy sweetness-driven coffees,” said Williams. “We’re roasting to a relative medium. We definitely want to develop the sugars and the overall coffee as much as possible without getting very much roast characteristic, so that we get the fullest development of the coffee while still showcasing where the coffee’s from, and the inherent qualities and flavor characteristic of those coffees.”

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For now, those coffees are being sourced through direct relationships with exporters and other associations in multiple origin countries. Sextant owner Kinani Ahmed is Ethiopian-born, and regularly returns to Ethiopia to visit family as well as some of the producers of Sextant’s coffees, Williams said. Currently Ahmed owns several other food and coffee businesses in the San Francisco area, although Sextant is what Williams describes as Ahmed’s “flagship” brand for focusing on top-quality coffee.

Sextant’s green suppliers also include exporters that work directly with producers in Kenya and Colombia, which, all told, amounts to a lot of sourcing connections for a roaster-café barely one year out of the gates. Williams suggests that direct importing and green coffee wholesaling could potentially be part of Sextant’s future growth plans.

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