For the professional ice hockey player turned roast master, Leonard Wild’s journey into coffee was never straight forward. Shortly after hanging up his blades from a career playing for the German Ice Hockey League, he decided to open a popular build-your-own sandwich store near Munich, Germany. His quest to serve the best coffee in the area propelled his fast food enterprise to become the highest coffee-income generating shop in the Subway franchise worldwide, he proudly claims.
When Leonard decided to sell his shop in 2008, he had already been keeping the flame of an old 12kg Probat alive during his spare time for more than two-years. This innate curiosity and competitive desire to roast the best coffee he could was not without its early mishaps: “I started to experiment, which was quite difficult and I burnt a lot of coffee!” he laughs, “there were no workshops offered at this time but by experimenting I got more and more professional. I started to do origin trips to learn more about coffee, especially cupping, and asked for lots of information. I had to inform myself as there weren’t many specialty coffee roasteries in and around Munich at the time”.
At first, Lenoard experimented continuously and cupped mostly alone until he met Goran Huber, a coffee consultant at
Kaffee Institut: “I had the good luck to meet Goran in Hamburg who became a good friend of mine. We started to experiment and to cup together. It was great to finally have another opinion and not just to rely on my own.”
Following a serious injury that his ski-pro wife, Stefanie, sustained whilst she was competing on the slopes; they both decided to focus on establishing Wild Kaffee in 2010 – and Leonard’s years’ of trial and error began to pay off. Together, they have pitched in hard to scale up their specialty coffee roasting operation and coffee shop in Garmisch-Patenkirchen which now employs ten people. The roastery boasts two Dutch-manufactured Giesen and a Genio roaster made in South Africa: “We now have three roasting machines at the moment,” he says, “a one kilo Giesen where the cylinder speed and airflow can be chosen. This is how we do all the test roasting as well profiling new coffee arrivals – it’s perfect to see how the coffee reacts. We also have a 6kg Genio which we use to roast all our specialty coffee.” As a complement to the 45kg Giesen which handles much of the production volume roasting for larger clients, a Probat UG22 will soon be added to the stellar line up early next year.
Leonard is finely attuned to the ‘personality’ of each of his roasters and develops his profiles according to the coffee and roast degree required by a wide variety of his wholesale clients and local customers. He explains, “we are roasting many different styles, for example from classic to very light coffees. With the Giesen we do the classic roasts, and with the Genio we do the light and fruity coffees. It’s perfect to have different roasting machines – the Genio reacts better than the Giesen because he’s built lighter. But the Giesen is much more energy-efficient. Changes of temperature or air are more immediate on the Genio, which fascinates me the most”.
He still likes to roast on a Saturday alongside his fellow roaster, Josef Staltmayr, when it is quiet in the roastery and they can both fully concentrate on the batch in hand. A big fan of Kenyan coffees, the 37 Year-old also likes to roast naturally-processed coffee because they are more of a challenge to develop.
In addition to the time that he spends profiling new coffees, Leonard places a great deal of emphasis on traceability. Wild Kaffee’s Long Miles project in collaboration with growers in Burundi is a good example of the value his team place on working more directly with producers. It’s an aspect of coffee sourcing which initially attracted him to sourcing coffee through algrano. In fact, Leonard was the first to source coffee through the tech-platform in 2015 and Wild Kaffee have continued to be an active member of the community ever since: “We always want to want to know where it comes from and have standards of quality for each coffee” he says, “before we buy, we always cup to see if it fits into our menu or not. It’s our philosophy to know the farmer and tell the client about him. They value this a lot more than just the label on the package, and to pay a higher price for good coffee – it has to be a fair deal”.
Like many specialty coffee roasters, he still faces the challenge of communicating to his customers how greater acidity can carry much of the complexity in the aroma – whilst at the same time balancing this with the preferences of his end-consumers. It’s a fine line that he continually treads in his search for good coffees to complement Wild Kaffee’s diverse offering of single origins and espresso blends. But unlike many, the strong reputation that Wild Kaffee have carefully built over the years means he can be more selective with the clients that he now supplies. It may seem like a luxury in an increasingly competitive market but Leonard takes the long-term view to growing the business: “At Wild Kaffee we are looking for sustainable partnerships – not only customers”, he says.
In a nod to his earlier days on the ice as a professional sportsman, this pioneering approach relies on a desire to be the best in the field but also on raw gut instinct. He adds confidently, “there are no concrete plans over the next few years except to buy good coffee and become better and better. There will always be a lot to learn with coffee. If you work in an authentic and honest way, partners and customers will follow”.
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This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain