Hrag Kalebjian brews some coffee.

Smooth or Bold, Soorj or Coffee — Your Choice at Henry’s House of Coffee


SAN FRANCISCO — If you are in the mood for good coffee, no matter how you take it, Henry’s House of Coffee has you covered.

The coffee shop, in the Noriega district of San Francisco, does not just sell coffee and espresso, but soorj and its accoutrements.

It’s not just at the coffee shop, on 1618 Noriega St., in the city’s Sunset District, which can offer caffeine to those in need of a shot; they can buy coffee varieties on the website (www.henryshouseofcoffee).

The website offers a whole slew of suggestions, from how to coordinate catnaps with cups of coffee for maximal alertness as well as suggesting flavors based on preferences.

“I want to make sure whatever we are in control of is amazing. We want to make sure that coffee tastes like coffee. Our style is the classical coffee that I enjoyed growing up,” said owner and proprietor Hrag Kalebjian, the son of founder Henry.

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Coffee is near and dear to the younger Kalebjian, and he wants not only to caffeinate customers, but to educate them.

The word soorj makes frequent appearances on the website and it is not just popular with the Armenians. The Armenian coffees are a hit with non-Armenian customers.

House of Coffee supports the Armenian Eye Care Project – a non-profit organization dedicated to providing the Armenian people eye care. One dollar from the sale of every bag of Armenian coffee is donated to this organization.

In addition to selling the soorj roasted to extra dark and ground extra fine, they also sell limited edition bags with the bags featuring the art of graphic artist Arpi Krikorian. Henry’s also sells the accoutrements of Armenian coffee, including the pot and demitasses.

Most beans for soorj, he said, either come from Central and South America (Colombia, Costa Rica) or Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya).

Hrag Kalebjian

“Each has a unique characteristic,” he said. There is no good or bad, but he said, he wants to make sure that the coffee process is at its best.

The website also offers a tutorial on how to make the best cup of soorj and how to ensure a rich crema on top.

The business was founded in 1965 by a Romanian-Armenian acquaintance, Antranik Devletian. According to Hrag, the store, then just called House of Coffee, sold teas, jams and bulghur and the like to the local clientele, in addition to coffee.

What Devletian did which was unusual at that time was roast the beans for richer, more delicious flavor and not just serve a regular cup of American joe.

Henry Kalebjian arrived from Lebanon in the 1970s and started working as a draftsman at an engineering firm. When he was laid off, however, he decided to chart his own way. Devletian was ready to sell his business and in 1983, the older Kalebjian took over.

As Henry Kalebjian notes on the website, “My roasting roots began in Lebanon where my father owned a bakery and served coffee to the locals. Back then coffee wasn’t easily sourced, so you had to roast your own coffee if you wanted to drink it. As the business grew, my father pulled me out of school at the age of 12 to help him with the store. My job was to roast the coffee.”

Hrag and Henry Kalebjian

For Hrag Kalebjian, Henry’s House of Coffee has practically been a part of his entire life. “When he [Henry] bought it, I was in kindergarten. I grew up in it. My dad would take me to work with him on Saturday mornings when I wanted to stay home and watch cartoons. I didn’t have fond memories” then, he joked.

He continued to work there through his teens, when he would roast coffee and do whatever else necessary.

Hrag Kalebjian decided to step away from the business and studied economics at college and when he graduated from the University of California, Davis, he entered the world of corporate finance, where he stayed for 10 years.

However, the scent of the coffee was too hard to ignore, and he decided to join his father in the business starting in 2013.

One of the reasons, he said, was the “amazing following and retention of customers” that the shop and the online business have.

Now, he said, he sees it far differently than the chore he saw as a teen working the weekends; instead, he said Henry’s “is telling the story of our family and culture and Armenians. We are educating the coffee culture with our history.”

While the Internet can offer them exposure to the entire world, he said that it was their neighborhood in San Francisco that has been their heart.

“The majority of our customers are from the community around the shop. They are used to the café and the love we show them. People from all sorts of cultures come,” he said.

A Good Cup

Henry’s itself is known for its dark roast, which has no bitterness. Hrag himself prefers the flavors of his lighter roasts. He said at home he brews them in a Chemex, the hour-glass shaped container, with the pour-over option.

“That makes the best cup of coffee,” he said.

Kalebjian noted that Chemex may not work for quick weekday cups of morning coffee, but that is his brew of choice for when he has the time. “It is the purest way to go,” he said.

But before you get to making the coffee, there are the beans to grind. As far as he is concerned, a burr grinder (or burr mill) is the way to go, and not a blade grinder. A burr grinder crushes beans between two discs that are sitting on top of each other and pressing against the coffee, whereas a regular grinder has a blade in the middle at which the beans are thrown for quick but uneven pulverization. The latter, he noted, “works way too fast, burning some of the beans and doesn’t grind evenly.”

The burr, he said, “grinds evenly and [leads to] a nice even extraction.”

He also said he loves the OXO Barista Brain Coffeemaker, which controls everything, including the temperature of the water; for a perfect cup, the water should be heated to 203 degrees, a temperature which many coffee makers don’t reach. In addition, it roasts the coffee for a few seconds for a “much richer extraction.” And finally, it offers a larger spray head which evenly covers the coffee “for full and even extraction.”

Henry’s has also started carrying a line of teas, with a couple from Armenia, one mint, and the other thyme.

Kalebjian and his wife, Taleen, have three boys ranging in age from 8 to 14.

And the namesake of the café, Henry? The younger Kalebjian said that his father still spends a couple of hours every day at the café.

So get some soorj and don’t forget to turn the cup over.

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