Kevin Bohlin is a one-time middle school teacher and student of theology and cultural anthropology who parlayed his passion for specialty coffee into work for Ritual Coffee Roasters. Now he runs Saint Frank Coffee on San Francisco’s Russian Hill, where he teams with Ritual on exclusive roasts, frequently relying on relationships he established at origin. On December 26, Bohlin took a break from running his new shop and prepping for the Big Western barista competition to share insights into his coffee connection.
What’s the very first cup of coffee you ever remember drinking?
When I was in high school I traveled to Guatemala with friends and had my first full cup of black coffee, probably brewed in a cloth filter. It was mildly sweet with a nice acidity. It was so authentic and romantic to me at the time. I had a cup every morning in the cool mountain Guatemalan weather, and it was really special. I wouldn’t have coffee that balanced again for many years, after my Starbucks stage…
At what point did you know you’d work with coffee for a living? Also, what were you doing for a living leading up to coffee?
I was in grad school and took a job at a coffee shop, while fancying myself as a “coffee snob” which at the time meant I bought Peet’s instead of Starbucks and made espresso at home on a Plastic Breville Espresso machine. When I started working with a variety of fresh coffees and commercial brewing equipment my obsession took off. I started a barista training program and manual along with organizing educational coffee events in our little college town. That was just a part-time gig during grad-school so when I saw how much creative energy and passion I was spending on coffee I started realizing where things were heading.
Before coffee I studied art in college and then taught middle school art, I was “Mr. B” at McKamy Middle School in Flower Mound, Texas. Seems like a lifetime ago. Those kids are college now…I always had a strong interest in theology and philosophy with some real formative life experiences in different cultures so I had an opportunity to go school studying theology and cultural anthropology. But when I took that part-time barista job coffee totally consumed me. At the same time my studies in cultural anthropology and the significance of cultural diversity and appreciation definitely inspired my direction in coffee.
What inspired you to start Saint Frank Coffee?
I didn’t really realize I was an entrepreneur until I became one. I moved to San Francisco with the idea of starting a coffee venture that connected to coffee producers and inspired community through-out the industry from producers to consumers. Coffee was this beautiful and incredible thing to me with so much potential for connection, enjoyment, and appreciation of life. I wanted to be able to develop and drive my own vision for shaping and realizing that potential.
San Francisco is an influential world-class city with so much creative energy, given that the city is named after Saint Francis I thought it was a great name and theme for specialty coffee. Francis saw everything as special and significant, but also as having real connections and relationships that we should appreciate. I want Saint Frank to be a coffee experience and orientation that celebrates coffee and people and connection.
What would you say are some of the characteristics that distinguish Saint Frank coffees?
My palate was definitely developed at Ritual and we still work with Ritual coffees for the most part sourcing our coffees with them in the same places. Ritual roasts all our coffees for us so you can expect our coffees to be a lot like Ritual. I love clean sweet and bright coffees roasted for clarity, but that’s not incredibly novel in our industry. To me, balance and flavor are so important, so we prepare all our recipes with those values at the forefront. But really, I’d rather be distinguished by unique service and experience than unique coffee profiles.
What motivated you to start roasting that very first time, and how did your very first batch turn out?
Honestly, roasting isn’t my passion, connection is, so the only roasting I do is very simple sample roasting, which serves that purpose of connection. I don’t think I’d be a very good roaster. Sample roasting is that first peak into a coffee’s character and also allows me to roast small batches for educational purposes. My first ever roast was under the tutelage of Ben Kaminsky at Ritual Coffee Roasters. I roasted it too dark…according to Ben, but that isn’t surprising to anyone that knows him.
Who else in the specialty coffee community do you look to for inspiration, guidance or advice?