For most of her life, Juliana Falk hated coffee.
But that was before she bought a historic house in Charleston’s Ansonborough neighborhood and became obsessed with learning about the man who built it.
As she notes on her Instagram page, dubbed “The Accidental Preservationist,” where she chronicles her extensive research on the house, it has been an “unexpected journey.”
A few thousand people follow her journey, made up of side roads such as her newfound love of coffee and, later, the creation of a coffee blend inspired by her house.
That, too, was an accident.
While she was walking around the Charleston Farmers Market several years ago, a local coffee roaster called out, “Want a sample?”
Falk told the roaster the truth: That she wasn’t a coffee person. She only drank it with heavy helpings of cream and sugar.
Robbie Dietrich had heard that before.
“A lot of people tell me they don’t like coffee,” Dietrich, of Cup Fine Coffee & Roasters, said. “Usually, they’ve just had really bad coffee. It’s actually rare to have had really nice coffee. It’s hard to come across. You have to seek it out.”
As he does with many customers at his shops, Tricera and Bakehouse, Dietrich began to educate Falk about coffee. The coffee found at national chains and in bags at grocery stores tends to be lower quality, he says, and “roasted until it’s burnt so it doesn’t taste quite as bad.”
“It’s a slow process getting people to change their minds,” he said. “There’s a lot of education involved.”
He’s committed to the process, because, in his words, “really good coffee is really amazing to have in your life.”
Now that she’s had it, Falk agrees.
“It totally altered my relationship with coffee,” Falk said. “I had only ever had really dark roast with really high acidity. It turns out there’s more out there.”
And, as those who enjoy the effects of caffeine can attest, it’s no exaggeration when Falk says, “He really has changed my life.”
'Not a normal thing'
Around the time of her coffee revelation, Falk was a few years into her ongoing home restoration project.
It started soon after she moved to Charleston in 2010 from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in search of “less winter and more walking.”
“I was just looking for a place, really, to live,” she said. “That’s all.”
She found that in a three-story house built in 1810 on Laurens Street. She also found something she wasn’t looking for: a years-long preservation project with no end in sight.
“I found out that the house managed to stay intact over two centuries, which is really unusual,” she said. “Of course, back then, I didn’t know how unusual it was.”
Her goal is to return much of the home to its original condition.
“A lot of people ask me if I’ll ever be done,” she said. “It’s a good question, but I really don’t know. The more I learn about it, the more I am intrigued. It’s sort of contagious living here.”
Falk has become particularly interested in the home’s original owner, the merchant and French consulate Simon Jude Chancognie.
Among her many findings, Falk discovered he spent time in Saint-Domingue, the French colony that is now Haiti, which in the late 18th century was a major coffee producer. His father-in law also owned coffee plantations there.
And, he thought it’d be fun to make a coffee blend in honor of Chancognie. She posed the idea to Dietrich, saying, “Wouldn’t that be cool?”
He was up for the challenge.
“No one has ever asked me to make a coffee for a house before,” he said. “It’s definitely not a normal thing. I thought it sounded fun.”
He told Falk it would be hard, if not impossible to order coffee from Haiti, especially in a specialty grade.
“Instead, we tried to emulate the flavors of Haitian coffee,” Falk said. “Which is a type of coffee we had never tasted.”
Near the end of 2017, Dietrich roasted a medium blend, with caramel and chocolate flavors and had Falk try it.
She instantly fell in love with the blend, which they named Chancognie Coffee.
Since then, Dietrich has regularly roasted 15 pounds of the coffee at a time for Falk.
“At first, it was me and my mother drinking it,” she said. “It may not sound like a lot, but 15 pounds is a lot for two people.”
She started having her friends taste the custom blend; they started asking for their own supply.
“We just put it out and it’s already selling well,” he said. “I think people are interested in the name. They’re like, ‘What does that mean?’”
Dietrich, who has yet to visit the house that inspired the name, would rather Falk answer that question.
Uncovering the house's history
On a recent visit, Falk opened the front door and walked to the back of the house, where a 1988 addition had been built and, in early February, ripped from the ground because Falk wanted to know what was underneath.
“You’re standing in what used to be the kitchen,” she said. “Right now, it’s sort of dangerous.”
The demolition left Falk’s backyard looking like an archaeological dig, where she spends her spare time carefully sifting through layers of dirt.
Following the outdoor tour, Falk went inside to her makeshift kitchen, which is doubling as her laundry room.
She said she sometimes imagines how Chancognie spent his days in this house, where, 200 years later, she spends hers.
“If I just found his journal, I’d have the answers to all of my questions,” she says.
Based on the evidence she has uncovered, Falk is sure of a few things about the man. He liked to throw parties and drink wine. He decorated with ornate wallpaper. She has unearthed hundreds of artifacts, such as pieces of glass bottles, vases and, yes, coffee mugs.
“I definitely think he would’ve been drinking coffee,” she said.
There's no way to prove it, but she has a hunch Chancognie would enjoy the coffee that shares his name.
Then, she walked over to the coffee pot and made herself some.