Inspiring the next generation of women coffee roasters

The team behind Swiss-based Gipfelstürmer Kaffee stumbled into coffee in the most unlikely, and punishing of circumstances. After pushing their bodies to the limit in training sessions for the triathlon, their first instinct was to recover after a long swim with a reviving coffee. It was a hard-won qualification for the Ironman competition in Hawaii in 2007 that brought them into first contact with specialty coffee. “In Kona, it was refreshing to see this new coffee culture that was different to Switzerland – it was a fun way of expressing coffee so we decided to bring this experience back home,” says co-founder Denise Morf.

 

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Denise, along with her business partner Simone Ernst, initially started to import roasted coffee from Hawaii. They soon realised that they could offer fresher coffee at a better price to their customers following a conversation with the roaster who supplied Simone’s parents family-owned restaurant. Following a spell of slot roasting on a Probat UG 22, they decided to invest in a Diedrich IR12 and launched Gipfelstürmer Kaffee near Zurich – meaning ‘conqueror of the peak’ – and since then, have not turned back. Revered for its ‘infrared’ burners that offer a very precise degree of control over radiant heat in the drum, Denise says that the Diedrich offers consistency over the entire roasting process while ensuring full flexibility in batch sizes.

 

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Understanding their customer taste and flavour preferences for clean, fruity coffees has been key to their success. With this in mind, they seek to accentuate the punchiness and cleanness of their coffees with a focus on roasting for filter which they cup weekly for quality control. Gipfelstürmer Kaffee is also well known at food festivals and events across the country where they serve their single origins to customers from the back of a distinctively converted Volkswagen T2 camper van.
As people become more informed about specialty coffee in Switzerland, Denise and Simone are on a mission to democratise coffee culture in the country by broadening the base of coffee drinkers who appreciate a good brew. For them, it is important to encourage people to think about coffee in a different way; an approach that means working more closely with restaurants and coffee bars.

 

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“We want to grow the business overall but it is about raising the level of good coffee in a broader sense,” adds Denise, “our customers want to discover and experience filter coffee in the way they do with craft beer. They want to know the story behind the product and where it comes from. As the industry moves closer to origin, it is important to educate the consumer and hold both ends of the value chain together”.

 

When asked about direct trade, Denise feels that the term is often overused. Although there are many good reasons to trade directly in the specialty coffee industry, she says, it still requires the necessary pre-financing, understanding of production and post-harvesting practices, logistics, and a lot of time and dedication. In other words, direct trade should not be a unique selling point in itself, but rather the story behind it should be unique. And to reinforce the point, the question she often asks of herself as a roaster is ‘what does the producer want to emphasise through this product?’

 

The feedback from their first algrano coffee grown by smallholder farmers that form the Cocarive Cooperative in Mantiqueira de Minas, Brazil, has been positive. Roasted for espresso, the pulped natural processed yellow Catuai has balanced notes of hazelnut, milk chocolate and offers a rich body that many of their customers look for.

 

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After more than five years’ roasting specialty coffee, Denise is also confident about the growing prominence of women in specialty coffee – especially through initiatives such as Barista Connect run by Sonja Zweidick (twice Austrian Barista Champion) of La Cabra Coffee, Aarhus. In fact, she points out that there are more women in the industry than people actually recognise; think Anette Moldvaer of Square Mile, Anne Lunell of Koppi, Joanna Alm of Drop – just to name a few leading roasteries who have women in charge of roasting and green coffee buying. “In order to attract more women into the industry, women in key positions need to show themselves more and show what they do – so they can be role models for the next generation,” adds Denise.

 

Judging by the growth of their roasting business and commitment to quality, the two-strong woman team at Gipfelstürmer Kaffee – soon to be rebranded Vertical Coffee Roasters in early 2017 – are doing a pretty good job at inspiring the next generation of women coffee roasters themselves.

 

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This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain
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