Written by Jordan Michelman.

For a lot of people working in the coffee industry, Trish Rothgeb needs no introduction. She is a career coffee professional whose work history spans several decades and touches on a host of major moments in 21st-century coffee. She is credited with coining the term “third-wave coffee”. She is an enormously respected educator who has taught and lectured all over the world, from Ethiopia to Indonesia, Germany to Singapore, and across the United States, as part of her work with the Coffee Quality Institute. She’s been on the Roasters Guild Executive Council and the WBC Board of Directors and was the co-creator of the World Coffee Roasters Championship. 

She is also the founder, CEO, director of coffee, and roastmaster at Wrecking Ball Coffee Roasters, an independent coffee bar in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco. These days you’ll find Trish at the cafe and occasionally behind the bar working on the shop’s La Marzocco Strada espresso machine; whether the shop’s ardent regulars are aware of their barista’s incredible CV is another matter entirely. In early 2024, Rothgeb launched a new venture, an educational and training consultancy called Good Form, in partnership with fellow industry veteran Dan Streetman. 

Conversations with Trish tend to be wide-ranging, frequently laugh-out-loud, funny, and always thought-provoking. We caught up with her on a busy day of meetings and coffees across San Francisco. 

Trish — I want to start by asking a huge question. Are we in “post-pandemic times” now in 2024? 

I keep having this conversation with people. This keeps coming up! The truth is, I think I see indicators that we’re in post-pandemic times but I wish it would impact my bottom line a little more. I hope this trend continues. I see some indicators—I think we could be getting there. 

I’ll give you an example. 5 years ago, before the pandemic, here in San Francisco everyone was pitching a fitness app. Every tech startup had a fitness tracker component. But now, in 2024, all the new ones I’m seeing popping up are like, “meet-up” apps. Tech that helps you meet people in physical places and do things together in real life. Apps to help you figure out how to be a human being in the city again. And I think this is a good sign for post-pandemic recovery and the role coffee shops can play in that.  

I have honestly a million things to say about this but let’s not derail our interview quite yet. Why do you like working with La Marzoccos? How long have you worked with their machines?

The thing for me about La Marzocco is honestly, I’m not a gearhead. I buy green coffee. I roast. I run my company. But I was never a gearhead person. I like these machines because it’s a solid brand, honestly. The build of it, the expertise behind it… it suggests a kind of instant credibility. There is just something about having these machines behind the bar that gives even laypeople, regular coffee drinkers, a special feeling, like they know they’re safe. And on the bar at Wrecking Bar it sits in a way that’s very elegant. 

You know, the other side of it is, it’s almost like having a Ferrari. They are awesome to look at and very high performance, but you need to know how to maintain them and fix them. But I’ve had this Strada on bar for ten years now. I can’t imagine the space without it.

Many years ago, you worked during a very influential era of coffee in Seattle at a very influential coffee bar called Zoka. Were you working on La Marzoccos then?

Yes, but I was green-buying then. I rarely worked on bar but I remember we had GB5s. There was some folklore around the machines even then because there were the original generations of La Marzoccos that Kent Bakke and that crew brought into America, many of which went to an earlier era of Starbucks. Even then, people would come in off the street and it just meant something to them. It added to the landscape of the cafe in an important way, and I still get that feeling now with our Strada today. Even just for laypeople, people off the street, they see this machine and it’s like they know what it means. 

Wrecking Ball is located at 2271 Union Street San Francisco, CA 94123.

Visit their official website and follow them on Instagram for more information.