San Francisco can now tout a new ultra-lux coffee company. Luis “Luchi” Pincay and Christina Minju are the minds behind Sāe Coffee Studio, “sae” being the Korean word for bird. They’re former techies and best friends, bantering so much it almost seems like they have a secret language as they riff about rare coffee micro-lots and roasting methods. They describe their business as “the Dom Perignon of coffee,” a luxury operation importing, roasting, and selling only the finest coffees from around the world via delivery service or through intimate events.
After selling their first coffee in June 2023, the two are now taking rarefied roasts — mining the popularity of coffees that sometimes go for thousands a gram through auctions such as the Cup of Excellence — to the Bay. While Asia and the Middle East drive much of the luxury coffee market, if there’s anywhere in the United States primed for such a leisurely and craft-driven approach, they say it’s San Francisco. Their coffees are much like uber-fancy spirits in that these are rare, seasonal coffees that, so far, only your super rich, nerdy friends are group-buying on Reddit threads. “This isn’t your everyday table wine,” Minju says. “This is your special occasion.”
And there’s no doubt that Sāe Coffee Studio’s offerings are upper-end. The business sells high-end coffees that can be delivered to customers’ homes. All the coffees are 88 points or above, according to the Specialty Coffee Association’s rating system that determines coffee quality. For instance, the two sell a high-acidity, honey-processed, syrupy-bodied El Salvadoran coffee for $47 per 150 grams, which, for those in the know, is actually still cheap. At pop-up events, such as an August 2023 team-up with Deluxe Queer, Pincay and Minju presented coffees like these in pourover and cocktail form. They’ve popped up at cycle shops and have aspirations for coffee-paired sound baths, too. They compare their coffees and coffee experiences to similar offerings in the high-end whiskey and wine worlds; it’s always about getting that unexpecting drinker the gateway sip. “We’re trying to let people rediscover coffee,” Pincay says. “And the cocktails get them there.”
Rediscovering coffee, after years of viewing it as merely a caffeine vehicle, resonates for the entrepreneur. Pincay spent eight years working at AirBnB after growing up in Bahia de Caraquez, a city in Ecuador where his family farmed shrimp. He went to culinary school, then served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He started on AirBnB’s culinary team as a line cook, but climbed the ladder until he was on the company’s experiences team, ideating big events and activations for AirBnB users throughout Latin America. Then he was inspired by an old friend from Ecuador, who was taking his grandfather’s coffee farm into the specialty world. “Once you get the bug, it never leaves you,” Pincay says. “And I didn’t see a lot of Ecuadorian coffee in coffee shops.”
Minju could relate to the grandfather portion of Pincay’s stories, as her grandpa, Sang Hong Park, was a world-class coffee scholar. She moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin from Korea when she was 5 years old, and people would come to learn his extraction methods from all over the world. She never quite understood what all the coffee fuss was about and went into marketing and public relations at Facebook and Wieden+Kennedy, the firm responsible for the endlessly quotable Old Spice Man. Still, the good times with her grandfather visiting coffee shops never quite left her, and the pandemic brought a long-held passion for coffee to the surface.
The two future business partners first met in 2016 while Pincay was cooking at a mutual friend’s house party pop-up, a classic Bay Area meetcute. They tried out their shared love of coffee by taking a trip to Mexico City with their partners in 2021, trying out various coffees and discussing how the cafe culture and experiential angle mingled with the quality of the drinks. “It sparked a renaissance in us of ‘What are we doing with our lives?’” Minju says. “We’re both immigrants. There were a lot of cultural influences that made us want to be in stable jobs, climb the corporate ladder.”
The two are already scheming how to get their coffee in front of new eyes. They became certified Q Graders in January 2022, the coffee world’s equivalent of a sommelier certification, and started digging into the research end of things. They worked with Willem Boot, the same coffee journeyman and arcanist who served as Obi-Wan to the Tenderloin’s Luke Skywalker, Mokhtar Alkhanshali. They’d love to open a permanent location someday, a coffee shop or a tasting room depending if you ask Pincay or Minju, but experiences at pop-ups like Deluxe Queer are perfect for them for now. As they chat, the ideas never stop flowing, percolating over and over. “How do we create conversation and community around coffee?” Minju asks. “We’re matching this fandom and changing the industry to value it.”
Customers can buy coffee and inquire about private events, pop-ups, and courses on the Sāe Coffee Studio website.