Helping people start their day

Steve Kober, Master Coffee Roaster, Graffeo Coffee, San Francisco, California

Feature | San Francisco, California | 17 February 2022
For nearly four decades, Steve Kober has been perfecting his skills in roasting coffee to produce that essential cup of rich dark liquid that fuels the economy and the morning of people globally. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
When you open the doors to the San Francisco Graffeo Roasting Coffee store, the fragrant and fresh aroma of the finest Arabica beans from Colombia, Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea being roasted to perfection, warmly greets you.

“I’ve been roasting coffee since 1988,” says Steve Kober master coffee roaster. As he gets ready to put a fresh batch of green beans into the roaster. “I started working with Luciano Repetto, the owner, back then and I roasted coffee at this store for about 10 years and then I moved to southern California to work at our store in Newport Beach. I was there for about 7 years and then we had to close. So then I took up a job selling cars, which I did for 10 years”, he explains of his work trajectory.

After staying in the Newport Beach area for almost 20 years, Kober and his wife moved back to the San Francisco area where his wife was hired by the University of San Francisco. “After we moved back here I was just working checking tires and I came around to the coffee store, and I mentioned that I was not working and if there was an opening I would like to work here again. A few weeks later I got a call and now I’ve been working here again for the last few years,” he reveals with a satisfied smile.

Luciano Repetto, owner of Graffeo Coffee Roasting Company, is a second-generation artisanal coffee roasting master. His shop in San Francisco has built a passionate and regular customer base that stretches from the West to the East coast of the U.S. and beyond. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Established in 1935 in San Francisco by an Italian named John Graffeo, the artisan coffee roasting company is one of the oldest in North America. The company was then bought by Repetto’s father who later handed the family business to his son Luciano. Today the company has three locations in California and one in Singapore, and supplies cafes, restaurants, hotels and offices with their roasted beans or ground coffee. In addition to wholesale they also take retail orders from customers all over the country and to some international locations.

“I’ve known Luciano for over 40 years. I first met him when I was working as a manager at a restaurant, he would actually supply the coffee that we served,” he recalls with a grin. “Later on Luciano was looking to hire someone to help roast coffee and that’s how I ended up coming here.”

In talking about the technology used to roast the coffee beans, Steve explains that the roasting machine they use is called a Sivetz Fluid Bed Roaster, invented by Michael Sivetz who spent his life studying the entire chain of the coffee trade, and it can roast up to 175 lbs. of coffee at a time. He also informs us that since the “Industrial Revolution the technology around coffee hasn’t really gone through too much change.”

“We’ve been roasting with this type of technology since the mid ‘70s, which is much newer than the one we have over there in the window,” he says pointing over to hulking roaster. “That was the roaster that was used until Luciano took over from his dad in the ‘70s,” he said. “A lot of people don’t roast with this technology because it’s more expensive to roast this way. You use a lot more gas in this one, especially for a darker roast,” Steve underscores.

The art of roasting coffee starts with procuring the finest beans. Steve Kober has an encyclopedic knowledge of the qualities of each bean and can help his clients better understand the body, balance, acidity and taste of the coffee they crave. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
At Graffeo, they roast the coffee beans three or four times a day, and each roast can take anywhere from 23- 25 minutes depending on the type of roast. “After 75-100 hours of roasting the machine needs to be cleaned,” Kober notes.

Regarding the skills needed for Steve to perform his job he says, “You have to be detail oriented which is essential to getting the right roast of coffee, communication skills are also important as you work with people and customer service and organization are also necessary.”

In discussing the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has affected the business, Steve says, “Our wholesale sales dropped about 70-80% due to many of the restaurants, cafes and offices being closed, but our retail sales to customers went up by almost 50%, so it actually evened out. Because everyone working from home needed coffee, we actually became somewhat of an essential business.”

Checking on the coffee in the roaster, which is almost done, he inhales the fresh caffeinated aroma permeating through the room, and he smiles. “You know if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life!” Kober jubilantly exclaims. “I get to do something that a lot of people don’t get to do for work, and what I do helps people start their day right.”