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Legacy business: Coffee-crazed SF is the birthplace of Folgers

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For today’s San Franciscan, the best part of waking up probably does not mean Folgers in your cup.

Instead, it could be a single-origin pour-over from Ritual Coffee Roasters, Four Barrel Coffee or any other trendy San Francisco-born roaster.

But rest assured, Folgers — arbiters of instant coffee and other convenient ways to imbibe — is the most authentic cup of joe in The City.

Whereas the owners of Four Barrel Coffee can only simulate the lifestyle of the 19th century in black-and-white advertisements of the rugged outdoors, James A. Folger actually handed out samples of his historic brew to real 49ers. He’s the Levi Strauss of coffee.

Folgers Coffee Co., founded in 1850, is one of the oldest businesses created in San Francisco. While it no longer roasts coffee in The City — the company experienced a dramatic expansion in the early 20th century when it built a plant in Texas — it started here at the Pioneer Steam Coffee and Spice Mill on Powell Street between Broadway and Pacific Avenue.

Twenty years after its founding, Folger would buy out the other partners and rename the company. In 1905, after Folger’s death, the company built an office space and processing plant in South of Market that exists to this day.

A San Francisco Examiner article published days after the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed The City said the Folger Building at Howard and Spear streets was one of the few structures that remained standing.

Luciano Repetto, owner of North Beach roaster Graffeo Coffee that was founded in 1935, said that the coffee industry in The City has changed dramatically since his company started.

“Independent roasters were around in the early 1900s everywhere,” he said. But mass marketing after World War II shifted the industry away from small coffee joints and toward companies like Folgers.

“Now it’s coming back to individual roasters,” Repetto said.

Sure, Folgers might be the most original, but according to Repetto “you’re not gonna get a first-class product.”

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