We recently caught up with Buffy Maguire, founder of Lady Falcon Coffee Club and she was telling us about her sourcing trips to Central America and how she found a female coffee farmer in Nicaragua. We needed to know more! Read more to learn about Buffy and Lady Falcon Coffee.
What made you decide to start Lady Falcon Coffee Club?
Lady Falcon Coffee Club started as part daydream, part manifesto during an extremely difficult time in my life, when my eldest son, Kevin, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I would pick the concept of Lady Falcon up and put it down and there was no sense of reality to it, no pressure, no expectations. I was so overwhelmed with life. We were in and out of hospitals, in and out of treatments and everyday was filled with terror. Deep, deep soul shaking terror. One of the things I did to escape the fear and find a happy place was to daydream and doodle. One daydream gave way to another and soon I was creating a coffee company, but not a real one, or, so I thought. In daydreaming, I spent a lot of time thinking about the name. I knew I wanted to pay respect to the legends in Ocean Beach before me. I enjoy studying history and the Ocean Beach neighborhood has fascinated me for the wild and eclectic types that it consistently attracts. From my years out at Ocean Beach, I used to talk to the grandchildren of people from Carville. Carville was an impromptu neighborhood of abandoned streetcars on Judah Street which became a mecca for bohemians, artists and writers in the 1880’s when the neighborhood was a big sand dune still unpaved. The Falcon Ladies Bicycling Club was one of the first cars in the bunch and helped shape the freethinker legend of Carville. I knew a little about these women and then I read more and more to find out what rebels they were and how women’s bicycling clubs across the US and Western Europe helped form the suffragette movement. When visualizing the Lady Falcon Coffee Club name, I kept the idea of a club. It is a club that anyone can belong to and we all just enjoy good coffee and good company. In putting Lady first, I consciously decided to appoint ourselves nobility in the same way that jazz legends like Duke Ellington era did in their time and in the same way that hip hop artists do today. Street credibility becomes royalty when you are shifting the paradigm of givens and opening up a new definition of what is regal.
I had been on my journey in coffee long before Kevin was diagnosed, but I had not yet fully realized how to be me in the world of specialty coffee. As Kevin got sicker and sicker, he would sleep longer and longer and I daydreamed more, but I was always by his side. And Lady Falcon began unfolding and it was such a good pure place to escape to. It was never too heavy and not stressful, but just fun. It was a freestyle jam about what I wanted in a coffee company and what I didn’t. I started to let myself drop all the rules I thought I had to follow to excel at specialty coffee. It was a process of saying no to the brown bags (but everyone has brown bags) and no to the beards and no to the pretension and no to the lumberjack shirts. No because they didn’t fit me. I really never thought I would do anything with Lady Falcon. I thought it was a meditative exercise during an extremely painful time and truthfully that was enough. Kevin passed away 15 months after he was diagnosed at the age of 9 years old and I put Lady Falcon away and didn’t look at it again for a long while.
Tell us about the truck? Was she always part of your business plan?
There was no plan. It all started as a creative project and a tactile version of healing and moving. I knew I needed to be creative in the days, weeks, months, and years following Kevin’s death. And one creative project gave way to another creative project and they were connected, but I didn’t immediately put together that they were connected. First of all, I love roasting coffee so I thought I needed to spend my days doing something I love. Roasting coffee can be solitary and meditative and it requires your full attention for short periods of time and it was the perfect salve to my mind that was racing and sad. So after Kevin died, I did more and more coffee roasting and experimented and just let myself dive in deep for the love of roasting. I would do all sorts of roast profiles and taste it and taste it and taste it.
At the same time, one of my roasters was housed at my friend’s space in Berkeley and I stumbled upon our 1948 GMC bread van in the parking lot there. Over time, I revisited an idea I had years earlier: a mobile coffee bar. I always thought it would be a VW van, but a VW bus wasn’t big enough. I realized the GMC size was much bigger and I became very excited. I could see how beautiful the truck was in its rawest form, it was beaten up, there were no tires on it and it did not run, but she was a nouveau classic. The GMC bread van was everything I wanted: big enough (but not huge) to hold baristas comfortably as well as an espresso machine, brewers, and refrigerators.
From the point at which I purchased the truck for $1800 dollars to the point at which it was complete was likely about 2 years, but active build-out was about a total of 16 months. For the first 6 months, I was on the waitlist with Chris and Mike at Hellcam. This is a totally underground workshop, with no name on their shop and certainly no website, in the shadow of the Burning Man compound of artists in West Oakland. They are an old school group and work only on cars pre-1970. Truth be told, I was in no hurry. But, when my turn came, I was ready. Chris and Mike had never built a coffee truck and, obviously neither had I, but we met every week and took it step by step and it was a long, deliberate process filled with surprises in the good hands of these amazing craftsmen. One day we decided we needed more height, light, and air so we sawed off the top of the truck, created metal ribs, and installed vintage VW camper bus windows all around the top and re-welded it together. This really made the truck unique and one of a kind and created a completely transformative workspace for us as well as into a piece of art. In the end, the truck actually resembles some of the old streetcars of Carville where the Falcon Ladies Bicycling club originated—which is amazing because it is sheer serendipity.
Throughout the build-out, I didn’t even know this was going to be Lady Falcon. I just let the project unfold. Of course, I became great friends with Chris and Mike and I had shown them the sketches of Lady Falcon and I think I even had a sticker made and Chris turned to me and said something like “you realize this is Lady Falcon, right?” I didn’t, actually. I was scared and protective. I wanted Lady Falcon to be an ideal, not a reality. I was hesitant and I still didn’t give in, but a little part of my brain kept thinking if even these really masculine men are into Lady Falcon maybe it is relatable.
In the end, the truck was the beginning of the physical manifestation of the Lady Falcon Coffee Club and it was an authentic and creative way for me to be in the coffee world. I worked on the signature pink coffee bags for over two years scratching countless designs. Choosing the color pink was my rebellious embrace of femininity and part of the paradigm shift.
Can you share about where you source your beans and what makes those farms so special? Where are you in these photos?
These photos are from my most recent trip to Central America. As founder and master roaster, going to origin is an important (and fun) part of my job. One of the cool parts about dreaming up your ideal job is incorporating fun into it. I love traveling and exploring so going too far off remote places is my love language. I am a gypsy at heart and when I am traveling I feel most alive.
Additionally, there is nothing like going right to the source. Women comprise less than 13% of coffee roasters internationally. Coffee roasters are the gatekeepers to taste and exploration in coffee. They are decision-makers. They decide which coffees to buy and how to bring out the best in those coffees. I am empowered to make decisions that can empower other women as well. And I take this responsibility very seriously.
In Nicaragua, I have a direct-trade relationship with another rarity, a woman coffee farmer and importer, Rina Paguaga from Cafe Vidita 1.5 hours high in the mountains above the town of Ocotal.
Here is what Rina says about her unique and bombastically delicious cascara and the photos will show this process too.:
"Our fruit is hand-picked and hand-sorted at the farm. Our team is trained to identify the fruit that is ripe enough to be processed as a Natural or Honey (not all fruit is the same)".
"We dry the whole fruit (Natural) or cascara by itself (Honey) on raised beds and spread it evenly in thin layers to ensure constant airflow. A team of women closely monitor the drying process and hand sort any unwanted quality (e.g. fruit too ripe, leaves, etc.). They constantly move the fruit to ensure airflow on the drying beds and even drying".
Some of the photos are from Helsar Micromill in the West Valley region of Costa Rica, Farmer Ricardo Perez and his daughters work exclusively with scientists at the University of Costa Rica to learn more about how to best process cáscara while maintaining the high level of natural antioxidants cáscara contains. Through this research, they found that cáscara contains 50% more antioxidants than cranberries*. The cáscara we source is wet-milled, pasteurized, and then dehydrated-- a unique process that better preserves the natural benefits of the cáscara. This organic product tastes light and clean, a result of the washing process.
And some are from Pulma, Oaxaca, Mexico where for years I visited the Pluma region for their amazing coffee. I love this coffee!
Tell us all about Cascara!
Think of coffee as a cherry. The inside pit is the seed that we roast into what we know as coffee. The exterior layer/skin is cascara. We steep it into a tea. Cascara is the superfood you’ve never heard of jam-packed with antioxidants with a mellower buzz than coffee and tastes more like herbal tea. We have created three signature cascara blends: cascara-hibiscus, cascara-chai, and cascara-rose. We consider ourselves tastemakers and we are always creating, experimenting, and playing.
In my exploration of coffee, different regions, terroirs, elevations, and traveling directly to these farms, I sought to do a deep dive into cascara which I had discovered many years ago. I knew I wanted to share it because it is so hydrating and feels so clean. I love it.
I came to discover that the act of making cascara is a ritual dating back to an ancient tradition where it was shared as an act of friendship. Cascara is an ancient tradition deep in Yemen and Ethiopia where drinking cascara as a tea blended with different spices is more common than drinking coffee.
It is an aspect of coffee that is not generally known about. It is healthy, it is hydrating, it provides a second revenue for coffee farmers by upcycling a product that would have been considered waste. It is super exciting and delicious and I am so happy to be sharing it with people.
Cascara is lovely at all times of the day, but it is especially lovely for me at around 3pm. It energizes me, hydrates me, but I can easily go to sleep at my regular time.
You mentioned you have a roaster in your garage! Is that where all your beans are roasted? We'd love to know more about your process once you receive the beans from the farm.
I do have a roaster in my garage! I actually have two in my garage and one in Oakland. Totally crazy and extremely questionable. These are the roasters I put my hours in on learning the craft. One is a vintage German Probat L-5 blue, cast-iron, and an amazing roaster. I have had some soul searching moments with the L-5 roaster. The other is a Probat two-barrel sample roaster where I can roast very small batches before making a purchase and it’s an amazing luxurious tool I didn’t always have. When I first started to gravitate towards roasting and specialty coffee in about 2007/2008, it was an insular subculture and no would teach me how to roast. After a few years of leaning over rails at hipster coffee places with roasters asking questions, I decided I had no other choice but to buy my own. I always had a baby on my hip and intensity that most certainly must have been annoying. I had so many questions and there was no place to ask. Having grown up a student, there were no resources for me to consult and the people inside the industry didn’t appear too keen to help. So I embarked on an outrageously bold endeavor of teaching myself. Even though I was a student, tactile learning is my happy place. I bought my own roaster and I put well over 10,000 hours in and I deep dived into every question I wanted to ask and I allowed myself to make mistakes and to just really explore the range of the coffee.
I drag my family to remote coffee villages in places like Oaxaca, Mexico, and Huehuetenango, Guatemala. My most recent trip was without my kids because it was harvest time and because they are older now and they have school and a life. I had a lot of stops planned. And as they get a little older, I am freer and freer to do my own thing and come back refreshed.
To that end, I go to Oaxaca two times a year (once a year with my family and once without). There is a little region on the Pluma mountains of the coast of Oaxaca (I love the beach and coffee so when I can combine both it is heaven). It has the altitude coffee thrives in, it has a coast to make the soil extra unique and rich and it sits on the same equatorial line that the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is. It is a majestic place and the coffee truly sings.
What are your daily rituals right now?
I love this question. My main landmark rituals haven’t changed. I still wake up early enough to not-talk-to-anyone and set about to prepare my pour over watering it methodically, smelling, tasting. It is always from my latest roast session, sometimes some blending to see how they mingle. I am thinking about the roast, the bean, the experience. It is my moving meditation. Then, most days, I drink it while meditating.
Then I begin my day which has me spending a lot of time with my sons Conor, 13, and Dylan, 10. It is a lot like when they were little when I was with them 24/7. It is a super sweet and sort of like the last glimpse of them before they embark on puberty. It feels as though I get this last moment of pure boyhood, a stolen moment I wouldn’t have had without the SIP.
Homeschooling is a new ritual! It is a bit of an adjustment, I must say and some days are better than others. I was raised by hippie parents who had a laissez-faire attitude towards me and my formal education. This approach really worked for me as a child so I try to remember this and try to let them figure stuff out first. I think we learn in so many ways and having time and space to work things out on your own can be an amazing experience and build so much confidence.
Other than that, I go on lots of walks around the neighborhood to clear my head, move a bit, and to breathe some fresh air. I especially love my epic night walks with my dog. Since I am less concerned with bedtimes, I have remembered that deep down I am a night owl and I am really enjoying remembering this part of myself.
Any silver linings?
There’s been a ton of silver linings. Personally, as I mentioned, getting these moments with my sons is a true gift. I get to reconnect with them in this very primal way and it feels like I am stopping the clock for a moment. Slowing down has also given me a lot of time to catch up with myself. I am usually moving so fast so it is a trip to sit at the same place daily and take stock. It is not something I would do on my own since I love moving and being on-the-go, but I have grown a lot by seeing the benefits of being still.
In terms of Lady Falcon, our silver lining is our pivot to online nationwide and local delivery of our coffee beans and cascara teas right to people’s doors and the outpouring of our community. We also had a lot of fun coloring in every state pink on the US map on Instagram. From the beginning, pink has been a powerful embrace of our femininity in a male-dominated field and it is so beautiful to see how it resonates. By the way, we are officially one pink nation now. It is a campaign that organically grew on Instagram as people started to realize that we are shipping our coffee. It was a lot of fun and it was a great way to tell our story. We are shipping everywhere and people are giving us the best feedback. We put a wooden coin in every package. It is good for one drink at the coffee truck in Alamo Square when we're-open. I had one woman in Alaska sent a gift of our coffees and teas to her best friend in South Dakota, and, now, they are planning to bring the tokens to the coffee truck to meet. So many touching and fun stories about people connecting around our coffee and cascara.
And who doesn’t love getting a present? We are sending out presents every day and bringing joy. Our signature pink and pastel coffee bags are presents, twined, and wax-sealed. Then, we wrap them, we handwrite a note, put some samples in there and we infuse it with love and attention and get it there really fast because when you need coffee you need it. It is a perfect birthday present, just thinking about you, thank you, hello and sending you love, gifts. It is also a great gift to yourself, too. It is an essential luxury and it feels good to receive and give it. And this is very important to us. We take the time to make it extra pretty and extra special.
Lady Falcon has always been about sharing our craft and empowering people to drink it at home. I have always said our coffee truck is a vehicle to share our story. But without being able to open the coffee truck our pivot to online sales has been our lifeline and it is a pivot that I hope will remain long once we are post-new-norm. And our all-female team has just soared with this. The NY Times came out a few days ago and called this a “She-cession” because women are disproportionately unemployed during this time. I could go on about what this means, but for me, the takeaway right now for Lady Falcon is that we have a healthy, vibrant team of women thriving in some extraordinary circumstances and I am so proud to lead this stellar group of women.