10 years is a long time in any business, in any industry, in any city. But for Craftsman and Wolves—”a contemporary San Francisco bakery and patisserie”—to call the last decade a sea change would be to underestimate the sea. Opened in 2012 with one cafe on Valencia Street, in the heart of the Mission District, Craftsman founder Lawrence Lai has seen the neighborhood and city around him transformed in a short period of time. Along the way a boom time for San Francisco craft bakeries and pastry shops has sprung up, with many citing Craftsman as a major source of inspiration. Along the way Lai’s brand has expanded, now with two cafes, two market locations (in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale), and wholesale partners across the city.

Coffee has long been part of the equation for Craftsman and Wolves, and in late 2019 the bakery to an usual step for those whose focus is primarily the pastry arts: they started roasting their own coffee using a Bellwether roasting machine. At first the company actually roasted on their behalf—Bellwether is a SF-based company, and Craftsman are something of an icon in the city’s food & beverage scene—but now Lai and his team are at the helm of they own Bellwether unit, roasting coffee to their exact specification to compliment the truffle croissant breakfast sandwich, Kentucky bourbon cake, oolong white chocolate panna cotta, and cocoa nib brownie with puffed rice for which they are so rightly revered.

To learn more we sat down with Lawrence Lai to talk roasting and baking, and to learn about some of his favorite items on offer at Craftsman and Wolves in year ten.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed. 

Hey Lawrence, and thanks for speaking to me for Roaster Spotlight. To start, please tell our readers a bit about the background of Craftsman & Wolves—how and when did the bakery get started? How has your coffee program evolved over the last decade? 

We started Craftsman and Wolves in 2012. It was a collaboration based on a shared vision for a different patisserie cafe experience and pastry aesthetics. While we do not have the same depth in coffee knowledge and technique as some others, we do know the type of coffee we want to compliment our products.

From the beginning, we were already sure we do not want the typical 3rd wave coffee that emphasizes on light roast and the more acidic and fruity aspect. We know exactly that we want a more medium body with flavors toward chocolate, nut, and brown sugar. We started with Bellwether with them roasting for us and moved to roasting our own and experimenting with various blend to create a flavor that is unique and only available at Craftsman and Wolves.

 

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Why is roasting important to your project—what does this control over the product offer your business? What do you like about it? 

We started roasting about four years ago. Roasting ourself is important because we now have the flexibility and control over the type of beans and roasts we want for our brand. We started working with Bellwether, and at first we were a bit nervous about roasting ourselves, but the roaster and the interface are very well designed and user friendly. We became comfortable roasting in a very short period of time.

Tell us—what does being a coffee roaster mean to you? And is there a coffee you find the most challenging to roast?

It means we can ensure the coffee we serve is on par with our pastries. With the roaster taking care of the roasting, we really don’t have a preference over which beans we like more. The profiles are perfect!

What do you consider to be the *best* or perhaps most emblematic/iconic pastry at Craftsman and Wolves?

I would say The Rebel Within has achieved the most notoriety as it is a fun pastry: a savory muffin with pork sausage, scallion, parmesan-asiago cheese, and a soft cooked egg in the center. We are equally proud of our petits gateaux for their complex flavor profile and refined aesthetics.

How has the San Francisco bakery scene changed in the years since you opened?

There are more bakeries and patisseries by young and talented chefs. We love to see their creative pastries as they motivate us to keep improving and innovating.

What is your personal favorite coffee to drink? And what is your personal favorite pastry?

My everyday and all-day drink is our 24-hour cold brew; it is strong AF and keeps me wired. When I want to indulge, I have a mocha with oat milk. The mocha mix is made in house with Valrhona chocolate, making our mocha extra chocolatey and decadent.

My favorite sweet pastry is the blueberry muffin, but it is only available for a couple of months when blueberries are in season. As for savory, I love our mortadella and havarti cheese croissant that we are actually calling Havartadella Croissant. It has to be toasted for the best experience!

Thank you. 

Roaster Spotlight is a feature series on Sprudge presented in partnership with Bellwether Coffee. Read more Roaster Spotlight on Sprudge. 

Jordan Michelman and is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge. 

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