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Falcon Crests - By pkane - June 22, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Falcon Crests

(Photo by Peter Lawrence Kane)

“Driving this crazy old truck is part of the process,” says Buffy Maguire, founder of Lady Falcon Coffee Club.

The vehicle in question is a 1948 GMC walk-in delivery van that Maguire bought for $1,800 from a guy in Berkeley who had mulled over the possibility of turning it into a coffee business of his own, only to abandon the project by moving to New York. It’s stationed in Alamo Square on the day the park’s renovation is unveiled, and business is brisk as Maguire and I sit on a nearby stump and talk.

She’s been a coffee professional for two decades, roasting her own beans since 2008. After what she calls “some life events,” the solitude and the intense focus inherent to the task became meditative. The idea for Lady Falcon had, as Maguire put it, “been percolating for awhile.”

“It’s a concept I’ve thought of and cultivated over the years in terms of where coffee was going, and where I fit into it as a woman who was a coffee professional and didn’t always feel like I belonged,” she says.

Initially, she chalked that up to being “in the boonies” — which is to say, the Outer Sunset — until she realized there was more to it.

“It didn’t quite feel like a home, and I realized [the issue was] the prism through which we were looking at coffee,” she says. “It was all one way — if it was deemed good. I’m a little rebellious, so I thought, ‘Let’s turn that on its head and embrace the femininity.’ ”

So Maguire and her team launched Lady Falcon. The truck’s build-out took 18 months, during which time they fit it with a generator — that can also be plugged in, to keep things quiet during indoor events — plus gray-water and freshwater tanks and an Art Nouveau mural of a winged, redheaded nymph.

It took a little more work than that, though. Like a Winnebago camper, Lady Falcon had to “engineer a pop-out” to add workspace in the rear half. A hand-crank pushes out the walls to add room, and they raised the roof and installed Volkswagen bus windows for a little fresh air and comfort. Getting the specs right involved a tiny bit of industrial espionage.

“There’s only one other coffee truck that I know about: Intelligentsia’s Citroën on the High Line [in Manhattan],” Maguire says. “So I went there, and I noticed that the baristas kept getting in and out. They were like, ‘You’ve been sitting here watching us.’ So they gave me the low-down, which was that it was too ‘on-top’ of them.

“We had such a learning curve,” she adds. “If we were planning on a second one — which I’m not going to do — we would have welded things.”

At almost-70 years of age, the truck holds 30 gallons of water, which can handle “about three very busy hours,” Maguire says. While waiting for permits to go through on Lady Falcon’s brick-and-mortar roastery on Wawona Street in the Outer Sunset, they’re hoping to bring the truck to Alamo Square frequently.

“We are working very closely with Rec and Park and the neighborhood,” Maguire says, with utmost diplomacy. “We’ll be very happy to be here when we’re invited back — which we anticipate.”

In the meantime, Lady Falcon’s truck is often parked at Off the Grid or the Beach Chalet, or hanging around the venerable Wise Surfboards in the Outer Richmond. As it turns out, a young Bob Wise founded his surf shop in 1968 in the same Wawona Street location that will shortly become Lady Falcon’s roastery. And its Street Cred Espresso and Rwanda Kivu Kanzu beans can be found at Bi-Rite Market, Gus’s, and elsewhere.

Although this particular venture is new, Maguire’s team had already been with her at her other brick-and-mortar coffee shops: Beachside, and the two Java Beach Cafes. It’s an eight-member, all-female crew built around hard work and the shared excitement of poring over roasts for the subtle gradations in flavor.

As far as her own palate goes, Maguire says she loves “a sweet grapefruit.”

“I tend toward sweet and not savory, typically,” she says. “I love for the coffee to speak for itself, the different terroirs. We have so much fun when we’re cupping it. It’s not just the cherries but, which kind of cherries. Or is the grapefruit a ruby grapefruit? I appreciate good coffee, wherever it is, however it forms itself.”

Of what she serves to the general public, she adds, “We can be their gateway drug, like, ‘I like this, now explain it to me?’ It’s ‘Taste first, and they can be indoctrinated later.’ ”

What further characterizes Lady Falcon’s approach is a repudiation of Starbucks-like consistency. Working with Oakland’s Coffee Shrub, and through direct trade with Guatemala, Maguire likes purchasing beans in small lots, and isn’t afraid customers will feel peeved or disappointed if something they’ve come to love suddenly disappears until the next growing season (if it ever comes back).

“A lot of roasters want to find a good bean and find a whole season of it, and I respect that,” she says.

Speaking of her relationship with growers, Maguire says, “I’m like, ‘Oh, you only have four bags of it? Cool.’ It’s not always price-savvy, but I like the excitement of meeting a new coffee. So, for me, I wanted to build a very personal coffee company that was how I liked to do it, that was fun, and really pushed those barriers down and poked at what all of these givens were.”

These innocent jabs at third-wave coffee’s insularity, finickiness, and self-seriousness are partly in jest, as Maguire professes respect for her forerunners in the industry — and counts herself among the haute practitioners. (She makes herself pour-over in the morning, with “this special grinder that will scale.”)

“I don’t think I could poke fun at it if it wasn’t such a given in coffee,” she says. “They really laid that foundation, and now it’s sort of post-Third Wave. We’re there, and we know we’re going to have these practices — and I embrace them. But can we not be so grim? Can we just have fun and have pretty things? My relationship with coffee is a fun relationship.”

Lady Falcon Coffee Club
The 1948 truck can be found around town, and its roastery will open at 3620 Wawona St. later this year.
ladyfalconcoffeeclub.com