Written by Jordan Michelman. Photos by Cory Sponsler.

I first met Reef Bessette as an accomplished coffee competitions competitor, an identity that he continues to hold at the national and international level across multiple events. But there is another side to Reef: his work as co-founder and co-visionary behind The Coffee Movement, a coffee company with two cafes and a robust events catering calendar in the city of San Francisco. 

The original Coffee Movement opened in 2019, unknowingly into the teeth of the looming pandemic as a tiny—200 square foot!—coffee bar on the cable car line, just above San Francisco’s Chinatown. This is, in my opinion, one of the most picturesque, could-only-be-here sorts of cafes in the country, serving espresso and signature drinks from near and far, and all of it oriented towards outdoor seating. The cable cars go clanging past, the sky changes, rain falls, wind blows, the Coit Tower looms; you could only be here, in San Francisco, at this one very particular cafe. 

In 2023 Bessette and his partner, Bryan Overstreet, opened a second location of Coffee Movement, this time in a much larger cafe space in the Richmond District of San Francisco. In some ways it’s a very different cafe experience—more traditional, perhaps, and more controlled from a design perspective—but there’s a through line of quality and functionality to both places that make them uniquely part of a whole. La Marzocco and Modbar products are at the crux of this work, as Bessette told us over a chat as he commutes between these two utterly distinct must-visit cafes, in one of America’s most beautiful cities. 

a barista steaming milk on a Modbar steam wand
A barista steaming milk at The Coffee Movement.

Hey Reef — thanks for chatting. You run two very different cafes, and yet there is a connection between them. Tell me how you’ve achieved that.

Honestly, the bar flow between them models along the same ideas, and this is a very important factor. Both cafes share staff, and our team also helps us run our catering business, so consistency is huge. And to be honest, in terms of espresso service, we use Modbars at both of our cafes, and our cafes run on an identical system for bar flow. We didn’t change anything when we opened the second space: both have a two group Modbar, and both utilize a system where the customer orders directly from the barista. I think the biggest difference is that our new cafe doesn’t have a 90 degree angle behind the bar—it’s more of a clean, straight line. We’ve also added a pitcher rinser at our new cafe which helps with some efficiency, especially for shot glasses. But otherwise you’re talking about two similar systems, in two different sized spaces. 

This consistency is especially important because our staff bounces all over. That’s one of the reasons we use La Marzocco products across the board; our catering service uses GS3s and a Strada, and we have Modbars at the cafe, so there are *some* differences but honestly, you can pick up shifts throughout the company and nothing is all that different.  

A barista steaming milk on a Modbar steam wand while another barista preps drink orders behind them

When did you get started using La Marzocco equipment? And with the Modbar, have people’s reactions to it changed over the years? 

We’ve been using La Marzocco exclusively since we started, all the way back to our earliest pop-up days using our coffee truck, which has a GS3, back in 2019. That’s five years now. 

We think the Modbars are so important for what we do, because they offer an open kitchen aesthetic. We like having our customers see the whole process. We’ve integrated those machines into the design of our space. And I think in San Francisco, technology is a part of daily life in an interesting way—people are curious about new technology. We would get asked about it so often when we started, but now I think undercounter machines are more understood here. Honestly, I get asked about it the most from guests who are visiting us from out of town. I love that moment, when someone comes up to the bar and askes, “Do you make espresso drinks here?” They’re unsure because they don’t see a machine on the bar! This gives us the opportunity to start a conversation, and talk about why we love these machines.

a barista

The Coffee Movement is located at 1030 Washington Street and 1737 Balboa Street in San Francisco, CA.

Visit their official website and follow them on Instagram.