Pulling Shots With Brian Keeffe
We've called San Francisco home since the very beginning, and are stoked to be part of an incredible community of doers steadily working to carve their corner out of an increasingly crowded landscape—whether through innovation, communication, or by simply working harder. It's easy to walk the street that started it all, Valencia, and see the physical manifestations of vision, grit, and enterprise on every block. The magic has to be in the copious amount of coffee we all consume.
We recently tracked down one of our friends for a quick chat about coffee and how much the Bay Area has to offer. Brian Keeffe has been working in the coffee industry for over a decade and has been a part of the entire process from barista to roaster to sales to marketing. With a positivity that is infectious, Brian bounces through his day with an energy that is nothing short of supernatural. Given his knack for conversation and the gift of gab, we're always stoked to see him on the block and share a cup of jitter juice.
Coffee. Did it choose you or did you choose it? How did you get your start?
Oh man, good question. I'd say it chose me. I mean like many, I loved coffee for as long as I can remember. My first job in coffee was at Peet's Coffee in West Portal back in 1999. I had only worked in our family's business as a gas attendant in the Santa Cruz Mountains up until then. The manager that hired me was from my hometown, and I think she took pity on me being a country kid moving to the big city. Peet's was a great job at the time. I met the girl that would become my wife while working at West Portal and made friends in the coffee world that I still have today.
You've been working in the coffee business for a while. Can you offer a little background on what jobs you have had and what you're currently doing?
I've now been working in coffee for about 18 years on and off. Most of my early years were working as a barista, mainly for Peet's and filling in shifts across San Francisco while in college at random cafes. I was able to manage a bit, and help run a store in Santa Cruz, and helped out on a few opening teams in the South Bay. In 2005 I migrated up to Portland while taking a break from coffee. I happened to be at the right place at the right time cause I walked into the Stumptown roastery in 2006, and got a job in production. Back then it was on 34th and SE Division. I remember at that time Ritual had just opened up in San Francisco, and they weren't roasting at the moment, but they were using Stumptown's coffee. We used to spend all day on Sundays bagging their order up. It was that big that it took an entire shift to bag up! My goal in production was to work my hardest and try to get an apprenticeship roasting. Just a short year later my dreams had become a reality, and I had the opportunity to learn how to roast with some of the most amazing coffees and people in the industry! Through roasting up in Portland but coming back down the Bay Area to visit family, I struck up a relationship with the crew at Four Barrel. I always admired what they all were doing, and we became friends throughout the years. That got me thinking, and so now here you have me in my current job; I manage Four Barrel's wholesale accounts along with a very talented team and help with the growth in our sales department. Talking always got me into trouble in school, and in many other jobs, but now with the skills and knowledge of coffee that I have gained throughout the years, I am able to help others open cafes, create coffee programs, and manage their staffs. I talk all day long!
Portland and then San Francisco—two epic spots for coffee. Which one is the queen of caffeine? Are there different coffee preferences in the two cities?
Tricky question and I don't want to offend anyone. Both cities have had so many monumental players in coffee, and are responsible for bringing coffee to where it is today, but I would have to give it to old Alfred Peet back in 1966 for starting a pioneering movement on Vine Street in Berkeley!
What's next for coffee? Are there emerging trends we should know about?
Coffee is growing so quickly, and so many people are branching out doing their own things every day, I almost feel like I can't keep up anymore! It seems like coffee has gone from espresso focus, to single origin drip, to Cold Brew. I joke with people that the next thing is going to Hot Brew!
What prompted your move back to San Francisco? Seems like a bit of a reversal from the normal migration.
Family. I grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains, and most of my family still lives there and all over the Bay Area. I wanted my kids to know their cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents and get the rich culture that the Bay Area has to offer. I never knew how much I also loved the state of California until I moved back. This is such a beautiful place; I never knew how fortunate I was to grow up here. Four Barrel was a place that I really wanted to work, and they took a risk on putting me into a position I had yet to explore in coffee!
What keeps you busy when you're not in the office? How are you spending your weekends? What keeps you busy when you're not in the office? How are you spending your weekends?
Kids! Cycling! Being a dad! My wife and I have three incredible children. They keep me pretty busy these days. When I am not coaching little league, playing with dolls, rolling around on the ground wrestling, I try my hardest to get lost in the Oakland Hills on my bike. In my past life I loved to race bicycles, but lately, either I am too tired to train, or my priorities have shifted to wanting to spend more time with the little people in my life.
The Bay Area is a pretty amazing place to choose to live and have a family. What do you think is the secret that continues to draw people to our little pocket on the west coast?
It's fucking beautiful!!! There is an energy, a feeling of life, and possibility that the Bay Area has that no other place has. I guess I am a bit bias being born and raised in an area that most people dream about visiting let alone living in, but to me, it's being able to go from Redwood forests to gorgeous beaches in a matter of minutes. It's having incredible farms, and farmers producing every kind of produce imaginable, and being able to have it at your fingertips.
If it wasn't coffee, what would you be up to?
Teaching, or theatre. I have always wanted to teach. Elementary school or high school. I studied theatre, and art and education when I was at SF State, and I still have dreams of setting up my classroom, getting to meet and know a batch of kids, watching them grow and learn, and then maybe I'd run into them 20 or 30 years later and get to see what they have done with their lives.
What's your favorite coffee? From farm to roast to brew—what is your perfect drink? Can you pick just one?
Dude, there is no way I can answer that question. I'd say my favorite coffee is the coffee I have every morning with my wife. I look forward to that cup of coffee each night right before I go to sleep. Cheesy, but it's true.