2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Artisan Charlie Habegger of Handsome Coffee Roasters

2014 Los Angeles Rising Star Artisan Charlie Habegger of Handsome Coffee Roasters
May 2014

Native Californian Charlie Habegger left Oakland for the East Coast just as coffee houses like Blue Bottle and Ritual were taking off there. Eventually he’d return and become part of the progressive West Coast coffee scene, but before all that, he earned a degree from Boston College and a master’s in psychoanalysis from the University of Chicago. While studying in Chi-Town, Habegger worked in a serious coffee shop—his first professional job in java—but his sincere interest in coffee had percolated earlier, during travels in Europe and North Africa.

Fascinated by the caffeinated world at the shop, Habegger decided to pursue a coffee career in earnest, pushing aside PhD program applications, almost as if he had no choice. In 2008, he landed a gig with Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea. Habegger remained in Chicago for the next five years as an educator and green coffee buyer for Intelligentsia, where he honed his skills and was fully immersed in coffee.

Habegger returned to the West Coast to join former Intelligentsians and two of the founders of Handsome Coffee Roasters Tyler Wells and Michael Philips. As director of coffee, Habegger curates Handsome coffees, directs roasting, sources green beans—and is helping put Los Angeles on the map for coffee. In 2013, he also was a United States Barista Championship finalist.

Interview with Los Angeles Rising Star Artisan Charlie Habegger of Handsome Coffee Roasters

Antoinette Bruno: You’re Director of Coffee at Handsome Coffee Roasters, what’s your educational background?
Charlie Habegger: No culinary school, I have a master's in social sciences from University of Chicago, class of 2008.

AB: What was your first F&B job? 
CH: I worked at an ice cream parlor in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, called White Mountain Creamery.

AB: Where was your first coffee industry job? 
CH: Istria Café in Hyde Park, Chicago.

AB: Where else have you worked? 
CH: Intelligentsia Broadway and all the other Chicago Intelligentsia locations.

AB: Who are your mentors? 
CH: Geoff Watts, the co-owner and lead buyer for Intelligentsia. Tim Varney, the roaster for Tim Wendelboe, until last year. Nick Cho, brewer extraordinaire; Andrea Correa the pastry chef at Parallel 37; and Michael Kirby, the former head roaster at Intelligentsia. 

AB: What’s your favorite roasting resource?
CH: The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo.

AB: What’s your favorite tool? 
CH: The cupping spoon.

AB: What’s your favorite coffee to drink? 
CH: Currently, the San Isidro cooperative's coffee from around Puno, Peru, because it's such an accomplishment for that country.

AB: And to make? 
CH: All coffee is fun to make.

AB: What do you think is the most underrated roasting or coffee ingredient?
CH: An extraction palate.

AB: What coffee trend would you most like to see take hold? 
CH: Cleaner espresso roasts.

AB: On your mornings off, what do you drink? 
CH: Coffee and roti buns with the roommates.

AB: Which coffee area of the world do you most want to visit? 
CH: Currently, Santa Bárbara, Honduras.

AB: What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path dish and restaurant?
CH: Tacos from Guerrilla—anything Wes makes with vegetables will floor you. Santouka Ramen in Culver City, too. Honestly the produce out here is so good that I never want to cook food anymore, I just want to eat the ingredients on their own.

AB: How do you like to brew coffee at home?
CH: I make filtered coffee at home. I bring filtered water from work, where we have a finely tuned water purifier. We can count ppm of mineral count. Coffee you drink is 98.5 percent water. I make coffee very generically at home. I use a good coffee grinder, a Burr grinder, and boil water in a pouring kettle. I pour over a scale to make sure the ratio is exact.

The way I like to drink it is, I brew into a 12-ounce glass caraf and I have 1-ounce tea cups. I pour myself an once at a time. Each sip cools off differently. I like to drink from teaware, they make a beverage feel sacred. We talk about the crop, roasting, etc., but we serve it in clunky, ugly coffee mugs.