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Interview: Justin Morrison of Sightglass Coffee

We speak with one half of the SF-based coffee bar and roastery about their new video brewing guides

by Graham Hiemstra
on 20 August 2013

While artisanal coffee roasting has been a subject of conversation for many years now, it's always exciting to learn about people bringing the quality coffee movement to new levels. And that is exactly what brothers Justin and Jerad Morrison have been doing since 2009, with their San Francisco coffee bar and roastery Sightglass. An impressive production facility and shop in its own right (one that took two years of constant construction to reach full operation status in July 2011), Sightglass launched their new website last spring, which aims to share their extensive knowledge online through video brewing guides and informative bean supplier profiles.

Even to self-proclaimed coffee snobs, the simplified step-by-step brewing guides are a welcome resource. So to learn more about sourcing the good stuff, story-telling and what went into making the video guides, CH recently spoke with Sightglass co-owner Justin Morrison.

Tell us a bit about the new site—the level of content is pretty impressive.

With the new site we wanted to really take the opportunity to be as much of a coffee resource as possible. You know, Jerad and myself, we travel pretty extensively throughout the year and we work directly with all the producers who we buy coffee from—these are longterm relationships. Year after year they have either different struggles or different successes and we want to try to do as much as possible to educate people and get them to realize coffee is more than just that brown liquid you drink every morning.

Really, for us this site was just a way to give some insight into all the things that we're doing here, and also a platform for all these different sourcing trips that we're going on as we travel the world.

We love the video brewing guides. Did you have to step back and try to see coffee from the average Joe's perspective to make them as informative as they are?

Well, yeah. I mean, a lot of times we take this stuff for granted. This is what we do every day. We do it as a profession, and so a lot of these very simple things for us just are—they're so commonplace. But the general consumer doesn't really have any idea how to use an AeroPress or how to use a V-60. And it's intimidating—or it can be.

How did you settle on video as the avenue for your guides?

Doing a brewing guide was something we've wanted to do for a long, long time. And trying to figure out the best way to do it was literally like a year and half long project. We were looking at writing it step-by-step and then next thing you know, we had three pages for one—one brewing method. And you're just like, "No one is gonna take the time to go through and read this, I wouldn't even want to take the time and do it." So ultimately we ended up going with video. It's so straightforward because you actually see someone going through the motions in very, very general steps and procedures.

That's really where we found that happy medium—a combination of these videos that are fun, playful and pretty approachable, and then below that there's more descriptive texts of each step. We found that that was the most accessible way to do a brewing guide. And that was really the goal: To create a brewing guide that people could watch and walk away from it like, "I could totally do that."

Who helped with the illustrations and graphic design within the videos?

We work with designers—good buddies of ours—Geoff Halber and Kyle Blue. They own a company called ETC, Everything Type Company. They're based out of Brooklyn. They did all of the illustrations and the graphic stuff within the videos and the newspaper we did to launch the new website. Those guys are amazing.

So you've got a few minutes to make yourself a cup; what brewing method would you go for?

It's hard because it really depends on the day. People ask what's your favorite coffee, and it's kind of like choosing who's your favorite kid. I don't know, it depends on which one is behaving better that day.

But if I was stranded and I only could use one method, I personally really like the Chemex. It's been around forever, since the '40s. And for me it creates a very, very clean, refined cup of coffee. It has a thick paper filter, so it really, really cleans up—it's not the most heavy-bodied brew as the end result, but it's really transparent with the flavors and characteristics that the coffee has.

To purchase Sightglass coffee, visit Sightglass online or visit them in-person at one of the soon-to-be two locations in San Francisco. Lead image by Karen Day, all others by Michael O'Neal.

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