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San Francisco’s Sāe Coffee Sets Sights on Superluxe Coffees

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Sāe Coffee Studio Founders Luis “Luchi” Pincay and Christina Minju at The Crown in Oakland, California. All images courtesy of Sāe Coffee Studio.

A new San Francisco-based company called Sāe Coffee Studio has grand ambitions to bring the highest of the high-end specialty coffees to more consumers.

Signaling those ambitions loud and clear, Sāe is currently leading an unprecedented crowdsourced buying opportunity, whereby anyone can contribute $125 with the promise of receiving a 150-gram tin of Ecuador Cup of Excellence-winning coffee and related perks.

The woman-, minority- and immigrant-owned company’s goals are to source and roast the rarest and highest-quality coffees it can find while cultivating an understanding of the value of those coffees to consumers. Furthermore, Sāe says it wants to use its own high profile to showcase coffee producers, not just for their output, but for their personalities and talents.

Cup of Excellence cupping

Christina Minju at a Cup of Excellence cupping.

Sāe Coffee Studio Goes Live

Sāe Coffee Studio co-founders and certified Q Graders Luis “Luchi” Pincay and Christina Minju share in sourcing and coffee presentation duties.

Born in Ecuador, Pincay worked for eight years at AirBnB, beginning as a cook and eventually joining the company’s “experiences team” as an event organizer throughout Latin America.

Founders & Bird

While spending time in Ecuador over the pandemic and witnessing friends transitioning an old family farm into a more modern operation targeting the specialty coffee market, Pincay’s appreciation for coffee deepened.

Minju, meanwhile, can trace her specialty coffee roots back to childhood, as the granddaughter of Sang Hong Park, a trailblazing trainer and consultant to coffee companies in Korea and abroad.

“They have four founding fathers of coffee [in Korea], for specialty, and my grandpa is considered to be one of them,” Christina Minju told Daily Coffee News.

Sang Hong Park

Sang Hong Park

Minju, who moved to Wisconsin at the age of five, previously worked in public relations and marketing at Facebook and the ad agency Wieden+Kennedy before pandemic-induced introspection led her to specialty coffee.

Minju and Pincay met by chance in 2016, bonding over their experiences as immigrants, as well as a desire to break free from corporate tech jobs. Last year they began quietly coordinating a series of product drops and pop-up coffee events under the Sāe Coffee Studio name.

With his background in hospitality, Pincay drives the company’s events and in-person engagements. Minju’s past work with brands such as Nike informs the company’s marketing approach, which is decidedly geared towards the luxury set.

The Community Buy

Due to recent violence in Ecuador, the Ecuador 2024 Cup of Excellence event is not taking place at a single location, but at calibrated sites throughout the world this week. The winning coffees will be sold at an online global auction on March 14.

For $125, Sāe Coffee customers can join a crowd of buyers, granting them access to one 150-gram portion of an Ecuador COE-winning lot roasted by Sāe. The purchase will also include three tickets to an upcoming Sāe coffee live “experience,” plus discounts on future Sāe coffees.

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The innovative purchasing strategy is designed to boost both collective buying power and interest among consumers in the high-end auction.

“That’s when you try to start getting people to care,” said Minju. “I want people to feel like they’re part of the game.”

Minju, who will also be a judge at the competition, is documenting the proceedings at the Cup of Excellence headquarters in Portland, Oregon, through photos, videos and interviews. The content will be professionally edited and published online to provide full transparency into the Cup of Excellence as well as the fascinating world of high-level sensory evaluation.

“We’re trying to target a mass audience of people who say they love coffee, who have an interest in it,” said Minju. “We see ourselves as a bridge towards the masses, while also giving the space for coffee enthusiasts to play.”


While the costs associated with Sāe products might be considered “special occasion” level, the company is hoping to democratize a tier of the specialty coffee segment that has thus far been largely out of reach of the general public.

“I started investigating, and it turns out some of these coffees don’t even make it to the general public,” Minju said of COE-winning lots. “They’re just distributed amongst friends — like, damn, just some rich friends, man. Damn.”

Sāe Coffee Studio will continue to add limited releases, while the COE community buy is representative of the kind of coffee heights the brand hopes to achieve.

“We’re literally making no money off of this,” Minju said of the community buy. “This whole thing is oriented on breaking even, and we just hope that the story, the compassion, the excitement really get people to start caring, and that it becomes a consistent theme.”

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