Spring roasters grow new shoots in Basel

The quest to serve high quality coffee is an all year-round endeavor at the ever-popular Café Frühling – meaning Spring Café. After four years’ catering for Basel’s growing thirst for specialty coffee, the Hohlmann brothers have expanded their Swiss-based coffee enterprise with a 12kg Diedrich.
Felix, who heads up the roasting operation is excited about the new addition to the family: “The Diedrich is totally different to the roasters I have used before. It has a different drum where the inflow of air is pre-heated. It stays between the drum and the bowl so if you give more airflow, you also give more energy”.

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Demonstrating a tireless passion for his ongoing education in coffee, he quit his studies to join his elder brother Benjamin; one-time Swiss Brewers Champion (2014) and current German Cup Tasters Champion. The rising star in the specialty coffee scene founded and now runs the well-respected coffee training academy, Kaffeemacher.

 

Felix is also well known on the competition circuit in his own right and came second in the Swiss Barista Championship last year. He explains: “My plan was to come here for one year but I stayed for longer – now it’s been seven years already. In that time, I started to help my brother who was working in gastronomy. Then I began university but quit my business studies after a year because I was already to much affected be the virus called coffee passion. I focused more and more on coffee and planned how to continue my own education in the coffee world by doing courses and competitions. That’s how I learnt most about coffee. At the same time, we started Kaffeemacher, the coffee academy where I was assisting the trainers”.

 

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The 26 year-old maintains that the academy, which runs the SCAE Diploma, remains neutral in the market where its students have access to a large range of different espresso machines, grinders and roasters to experiment on. The academy allows the brothers to focus on raising skills and knowledge in the coffee industry whilst Café Frühling offers the perfect platform for them to showcase their passion in specialty coffee to Basel’s coffee-loving public.

 

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The arrival of their Diedrich enables them to do just this, he says: “Café Frühling is our coffee shop but the beginning of this year we have started a new roasting business which is called Spring Roasters. Our main focus is the coffee shop and home users. If there are other coffee shops and restaurants that want to know more about where the coffee comes from, they are welcome to work with us.
The defining moment that opened Felix’s eyes to the importance of a coffee’s origin and provenance was a trip to Nicaragua in 2012: “It was game-changing for me because you realise how many hands the beans go through until they arrive to Europe. When I came back in the coffee shop, I realised how much work is behind it when I push the button”.

 

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In the spirit of collaboration, Café Frühling, continue to source their coffee through a ‘coffee pool’ with other roasters in Switzerland and Germany. One standout coffee was a pulped natural processed coffee from Sítio Forno Grante, Espirito Santo, Brazil, sourced directly though algrano. “It is much fruitier”, he adds, “it’s totally different to a normal Brazilian coffee. I would have loved to play a bit more with a filter roast profile as we roasted it for espresso last year. It was really like a cup profile where everybody can find something in there – no matter what the person’s experience”.

 

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With Felix at the helm of the roasting operation and brother Benjamin keeping a close eye on quality control, the Hohlmann brother’s are looking forward to bringing a new season of Espirito Santo’s crop to the tulip-adorned tables of Café Frühling this year. And just as their Diedrich is sign of promising new shoots for Spring Roasters, their seasonal coffee menu for espresso and filter will continue to ensure that exciting new specialty coffees will continue to spring-eternal in Basel.

 

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

A passion for coffee past and present

Stefan Bracht’s coffee obsession took root as his expanding collection of coffee-making paraphernalia grew. His assembly of antiquated hand roasters, brewing equipment and grinders soon became a focal point for the growing community of coffee lovers in Berlin. Frequently, they would meet in the basement of his architectural practice to talk, brew and taste coffee.
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His first coffee shop, Kiez Coffee Bar, was already one of the early pioneers in the city’s burgeoning specialty coffee scene. But Stefan still needed a home for his historic array of coffee equipment that he had amassed over time. In a joint-venture with Karlheinz Rieser, of Coffee Star, the duo decided to combine both of their eclectic collections for the coffee-loving public: “I was already using the basement for a long time to meet people in the coffee scene and decided to fund the opening of a museum with Karlheinz Rieser,” he says, “we started in 2006 with the aim of educating people through information and our collections about coffee history”.
A year later Stefan began to roast his own coffee following a number of trips with his wife, Tahereh, to coffee producing regions in Kenya, Ethiopia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico. Their passion for travelling to origin countries to establish long-term relationships with coffee producers has born fruit and directly-traded coffee now accounts for more than a third of Kiez Rösterei’s importing and roasting operation.
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“For us, the main point of selecting green coffee is both quality and origin. At the moment we have twenty-five different coffees and two blends using robusta. Our coffees come mainly from Latin America; that’s where our preferred single origins come from. We want a direct contact with producer and other people involved in the coffee”, adds Stefan.
Kiez Rösterei currently roasts approximately 10 tons a year on their Giesen W15 and small batch W1 which supplies their own neighbourhood coffee shop as well as a broad mix of local and international customers in Berlin, London and New York. Stefan says that they also supply a number of resellers across Germany, Austria and Holland. This international portfolio of customers keeps Stefan and his team of five extremely busy with the addition of a trainee to help him keep up with demand in the roaster.
“Specialty coffee production in small roasteries is coming more and more to the market, especially as people are more interested in food in general. There is a growing interest but it’s still a hard way to go”, insists Stefan. He says that the challenge of importing directly takes a lot of time and effort but the rewards are often recognized by his customers before going on to add, “people are willing to pay a higher price for the coffee if they can follow the coffee from the producer. It’s very important for us to know the people behind specialty coffee and the kind of quality we can expect”.
Stefan is already planning his next trip to visit producers in Honduras next month and continues to source a large volume of his Brazilian coffee through algrano. The natural process Sitio Fortaleza do Gilson has sold well in his coffee shop as a single origin and as the base component of their popular Roasters&Baristi blend. The 56 year-old says he particularly enjoys the connection with producers through the platform – especially as he finds sourcing specialty coffee from Brazil a perennial challenge.
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For Kiez Rösterei and its customers, algrano represents a reliable route to closer co-operation and communication with coffee growers. Now that the new year is in full swing with many exciting new arrivals ahead, Stefan is setting his sights on expansion to the Middle Eastern market; a move that will no doubt grow the business and his growing collection of coffee-related devices – both from the past and to the present.
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This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

Quality and transparency is the new black

Neues Schwarz is a striking-looking coffee shop where a harmonious balance of form and function meet. Nestled in the town of Dortmund-Mitte, in the eastern Ruhr region of Germany, the coffee shop’s understated central espresso and brew bar helps to put the spotlight on the real star of the show. A Probat P12 roaster also takes pride of place to one side of the coffee shop which complements the practical two tone surroundings. The open-plan interior communicates a strong ethos at the heart of the coffee enterprise. From the meticulous design aesthetic to the roasting operation and regular cupping sessions – the enjoyment and appreciation of specialty coffee is clearly designed to take centre stage.

 

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Founder of Neues Schwarz, Benedikt Heitmann, says that his background in urban planning helped him to start his coffee business in 2014. “You look at the complete system and you try to optimize things – which means that you go to parts of the city where there is a lot of empty space. You try to connect to the landlords, understand the dynamic, and try to push to use the space for galleries or social projects”, he muses.

 

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A keen eye for good design combined with two-and-a-half years of experience learning his craft as a roaster at Nuremburg-based Machhörndl Kaffee exudes from every detail at Neues Schwarz; meaning New Black. The carefully thought-through space and select single origins on offer is testament to Benedikt’s obsession with quality: “I really like the fact that with green coffee, you have normally less or no idea how it is going to taste. Once you have roasted it, you reveal all the complexity and the flavour that people are looking for”, he says. “As some of our customers normally drink coffee that is darkly roasted, it’s a lot of work for us to educate them. We roast light but not too light. They often think it’s flavoured with syrups – they’re surprised that coffee can be so complex and there are so many flavours you can taste. We have a lot of people going out of the shop asking themselves; ‘what was that?’ Once they get it, they turn into a regular customer”.

 

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The 33 year-old is proud of his expanding team of seven coffee professionals. He sees their role as pioneers who are helping their customers to understand the wider story behind coffee – particularly at origin where he takes a principled stand towards greater transparency. “We try to trade coffee as directly as possible”, he comments, “but we are not yet in the position to do it completely direct, our team is too small and we don’t have the capacity to travel a lot. We are still looking for producers which we can establish a long-term relationship with. There are a couple of coffee producers where we bought from two years in a row now and that’s the way we want to go”.

 

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Benedikt’s appreciation of the work of the coffee grower is coupled with concern when he thinks about the impact of climate change is having at origin. “Most traders and scientists say that global warming brings less production of arabica coffee. Specialty coffee is climbing up the hills, but there is a point where it can’t climb any higher. Roya is still a big concern in central America – we will have to see what happens in the coming years”.

 

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For the customers at Neues Schwarz, a low-acidity Brazilian coffee roasted for espresso and brew is a consistent house favourite: “That’s the coffee we sell most. It’s less complex, but easy to brew and extract. Lots of people are asking for lower acidic coffee”. But his commitment to quality and transparency is also rewarded by some of his more curious regulars who are happy to pay a premium for different sensory experiences offered by more expensive coffees.

 

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Benedikt feels strongly that the role of the farmer is often absent from the conversation about transparency in specialty coffee and that’s why he wants to buy as directly as possible. It is this knowledge that plays a crucial part developing a relationship, he says, with his customers, adding: “The way to make the value chain more sustainable is by communicating to customers. That’s why I like doing trade through algrano – there is an indication on what’s going to the producer. I really like the idea of connecting farmers and roasters direct via the platform. Sustainability is this direct relationship from roaster to a producer – and that’s what we would like to do more of in the future”.

 

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

Keeping it in the family

The Rast Kaffee roastery lies next to a train line in an industrial area on the outskirts of Ebikon, a small village near Lucerne in central Switzerland. Housed in a large warehouse, the imposing exterior conceals the passion that takes place inside. Neither is there any obvious front door to the roastery, rather an industrial-sized elevator that whisks you to the first floor that opens out into a vast production area framed by palettes stacked with sacks of green beans. The air is full of the rich aroma of freshly roasted coffee.

 

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 With a beaming smile, the fourth generation in the family-run business, Beatrice Rast, introduces herself and starts to talk animatedly about her roots in coffee: “I grew up in the coffee industry. In the backyard from the shop, we had the roastery so coffee was always a product that was around us. I’m used to the smell, the fire, it was part of our life,” she recalls.

 

What began as a colonial-style grocery store nearly a century-ago selling bananas, kiwis, cheese, wine and teas under the stewardship of her great-grandparents, Xaver and Anna Rast-Abt, the family business has evolved into a successful high-volume coffee roasting enterprise that now caters for high street chains, restaurants, bakeries, hospitals, schools, offices and retail customers.
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The 34 year-old credits her grandfather as a pioneer who was always interested in the provenance of high quality coffee and, in 1945, decided to take up the craft of roasting himself – long before the term ‘specialty’ was first ever coined. The move into coffee roasting steadily became the backbone of the business and her parents Markus and Trudy Rast continued the tradition in 1978 to become the third generation of coffee roasters. Eleven years ago, the family decided to sell their grocery stores and concentrate their efforts exclusively on the roasting business. Beatrice says that moving into specialty coffee with her sister Evelyne was a natural progression for both of them: “Our philosophy is not just to sell coffee – we want to sell the perfect coffee. It’s a product filled with passion, it’s natural for us, as we live and breathe coffee. Of course, the advantage for us is that we are a family with a long tradition as a family business. It’s authentic and people believe in us, they trust us. We are really close to our customers, we know a lot of our customers personally and many of them come to cup coffees with us”.

 

The range of coffees that Rast roast daily on their seasoned lineage of 90kg, 45kg and 5kg capacity Probat’s is an extensive offering of single estates and carefully crafted blends. Every coffee that is used in a blend is also available to purchase as a single origin. From south American to centrals, a good selection of east Africans to more punchy-tasting coffees from Asia; cleanness and quality takes precedence over price for the team at Rast. The notion that people want coffee that is both organic and fairly traded, but don’t want to pay a premium is something that they also want to challenge over time: “The farmer has more work because he takes care of the coffee better than others, they invest more in harvesting, and it comes with a price,” she adds before commenting that one of the ways to reinforce this message is through further investment in customer training and education.

 

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In their effort to buy more directly traded coffee, Rast are attracted to sourcing coffee through algrano because of the direct trade link with the producer and information provided on the web platform. Beatrice comments that although the coffee bought through algrano costs a little more, the coffee consistently comes out top in blind cupping sessions. As head of green bean buying at Rast, the sociology degree-graduate laments that she doesn’t have the time to travel to origin as much as she would like. “For the company it’s more important that I’m here”, she says, “I have contact with people like algrano and they go hunting for us. With the size that we currently have, it’s not possible that I always can go everywhere myself”.

 

Currently, Rast Kaffee employees 20 people, managed by the fourth family generation. Beatrice says that she is also seeing a trend in the market towards more adventurous coffees. The sensory attributes of a naturally processed Ethiopian coffees is something that she enjoys but, “the balance of fruitiness and over fermented is sometimes a bit borderline, I like it but not all in our company does”. Nevertheless, when Rast have profiled and ready to release a new coffee, her customers are always eager to try it. This increased curiosity comes with higher expectations and she says many people are not prepared to pay for bad quality coffee any more. She notes that the market for lighter roasts in the specialty coffee scene, however small, is also growing.

 

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For Beatrice, this helps them to achieve their goal as specialty coffee roasters: “We want to find the best green beans we can, roast them to a good level, and sell it fresh.” As Rast Kaffee prepares to celebrate its centennial anniversary in 2018, this successful formula has stood the family-run business in good stead so far and looks set to continue for future generations to come.

 

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

The nomads with a mission to put specialty on the mediterranean coffee map

Jordi Mestre’s journey into specialty coffee began on a wet and windy day on the streets of London’s East End with a cup of coffee that changed his life. Lovingly brewed out of the back of a coffee cart in Whitechapel the founder of Barcelona-based coffee company, Nomad, recalls how he tasted one of the most memorable coffees he had ever had: “It was a cold, rainy, early morning. I had everything against me to enjoy this coffee and despite the conditions, the coffee was the most amazing I had ever tried”.
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Inspired by that singular sensory moment, Jordi’s one-month stint to learn English in the capital turned into a desire to stay and join the growing specialty coffee scene. He first established his own coffee business by drawing on his background as a product designer and started to design coffee cards for different roasteries.
But like all nomads, he had itchy feet. Spurred on by the fact that London was fast becoming one of Europe’s premier specialty coffee destinations, Jordi immersed himself as much as he could by attending training courses, gaining valuable experience as a barista, and eventually starting up his own coffee cart serving coffees around London at street food markets.
His big break in coffee came when he landed a roasting position at Nude Roastery in 2010. “It was the most amazing opportunity. I spent a couple of years there, giving trainings and that’s where I learnt a lot such as sourcing green beans and sample roasting. It was one of the best jobs I have ever had,” he says.
But three years ago, Jordi answered the call to return to native Barcelona with the mission of bringing good coffee to the city. Realising that the market wasn’t quite ready yet for a roasting operation selling directly to coffee shops, he opened up Nomad’s first coffee bar – the intimate and ever-popular Coffee Lab – with the aim of demonstrating that there were other ways to prepare, brew and enjoy specialty coffee.
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The two-times Spanish Barista champion says that the early success of the coffee bar can be put down to his customers’ desire to appreciate new sensory experiences and the value they place on quality. “We have been very lucky, we have amazing customers who want to taste and try new things,” he adds. This trend has continued and Jordi has seen a rapid growth in the market over the past couple of years as many of his fellow country men and women return with higher expectations around coffee quality.
Yet putting great coffee on the map in a mature market of coffee drinkers like Spain has not been a walk in the park for Nomad. The bitter-tasting tradition of roasting coffee ‘torrefacto’ which involves adding sugar during the roasting process still dominates Spanish coffee-drinking habits – as it has done for more than half a century.
Jordi remarks that one of the main challenges for his business and growth of the wider specialty coffee movement in the country is communication: “In Spain, we have lots to do to make the specialty coffee scene solid where people see it as a real business and career. We need to increase the base, strengthen the scene and communicate to people that it is more than just about the price. We are offering an alternative”.
For all the attention that Jordi and his small team of roasters and baristas place on their passion for sharing exciting new coffees with their customers such as the sweet and citrusy washed caturra from the La Cocina family, grown in the El Cerro region of Nicaragua and traded bought through algrano, the urge to return to origin remains strong. Earlier this year, the 31 year-old travelled to Costa Rica to visit the farms and experience coffee production and processing at first hand: “We visited a family-owned farm, Las Lajas, where they had invented a new natural post-harvest process. I also went to Rwanda to visit small holder famers and co-operatives. It’s interesting to see how exporters support the producers to increase quality and optimize the resources available”, he comments before adding that he is already planning a trip to Nicaragua early next year.
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Now with three locations across Barcelona including a roastery and a quintessentially repurposed Land Rover so that they can serve their coffees off the beaten track, Jordi sees Nomad as part of a new generation of roasters in the city who are working hard to bring the best coffee to their customers. To keep up with growing demand, they have recently complemented their Diedrich IR12 with a refurbished Probat UG22 as volume increases. He now spends most of his time crisscrossing the city and travelling further afield to deliver his coffee to wholesale clients while running training or consultancy for his customers.
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And as the demand for specialty coffee grows across Barcelona and Catalonia, the expanding team of coffee pioneers at Nomad are unquestionably enjoying the journey but, crucially, have a clear sense of direction: “I believe it is important that we are transparent and try to show absolutely everything we do – there is nothing to hide. We get the best beans we can, roast them the best we know, and pass absolutely all our knowledge to all our baristas, wholesale and retail customers. We are responsible for making good green coffee better. We don’t create anything, we transform it,” says Jordi as he contemplates new horizons for next year’s coffee cherry harvest and sensory adventure.
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This article was commissioned by algrano for the blog series Demystifying the Coffee Value Chain

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

Roasting on the wild side

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.
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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.”
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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.

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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.
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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”.
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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.
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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

A new dialogue in direct trade

A tech-based platform could be set to revolutionise how coffee roasters and growers interact and trade with each other. Algrano, a Swiss-based start up that officially launched earlier this year at Nordic World of Coffee in Gothenburg, Sweden, is shorthand for the Spanish phrase vamos directo al grano, or fittingly translated as – let’s get straight to the point. It’s a simple but effective concept that has already scooped a coveted SCAE award for tech innovation. The pioneers behind Algrano are also setting their sights on nurturing a global community of coffee professionals from opposite ends of the speciality coffee value chain by creating a space for dialogue and direct trade. The first shipping container of coffee grown by producers in Nicaragua – some of the them Cup of Excellence finalists – has already made its way across the Atlantic to the port of Bremen, Germany, and the team are now preparing their second container for growers in Brazil.

Visiting coffee producers in Brazil

As the trend in speciality coffee shops making the jump to roasting their own coffee gathers pace, there is greater interest in having more influence over the coffee’s journey from the crop to cup. Algrano is responding to this need by building the bridge between farmers and roasters  and overcoming the logistical challenges and risks of moving small quantities of green coffee from one continent to another. Price per kilo, export and delivery costs are presented clearly on the platform and roasters have the opportunity to pay a premium above the cost of production to support improvements in agronomic practices or social projects.

The platform also helps to improve transparency in the coffee value chain by enabling farmers to present their coffees to new speciality markets and customers that they would not otherwise have access to. More than just an online marketplace, the ability to strengthen the ethos of traceable ‘relationship coffee’ where buyers and sellers are able to directly engage and share information offers huge potential. This is particularly potent in an industry where established coffee merchants can still hold a disproportionate balance of power in the complex supply chain.

Algrano co-founder, Gilles Brunner, who has an academic background in international relations and development wanted to explore how the private sector can provide innovative sustainable solutions to global agricultural supply chains. It was after a year of working in the field to support Brazilian coffee farmers achieve certification such as Rainforest Alliance accreditation that the idea of help growers and roasters to interact online took root.

Algrano Co-founder, Gilles Brunner

Brunner developed the idea with co-founders Christian Burri and Raphael Studer. The team was selected by the Startup Chile programme in 2013, and later Startup Brazil in 2014 to work with Fair Trade co-operatives to test the platform. The initial response from growers was extremely positive but it was not until they took their concept to the Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA) to understand the needs of roasters that the platform shifted to a trade platform where coffee could be bought directly from origin.

In May this year, the team met with growers in Nicaragua to train them on how to set up their own profiles and post images or updates onto the platform’s dedicated newsfeed. Gilles feels strongly that content should be largely producer-generated so that an active community can be created from the grassroots up. “Our number one purpose is to connect growers with roasters. Since the launch we’re really happy that 140 roasters have now registered online and can request samples from growers up to two weeks before the container closes. The value that we bring is to consolidate all the demands of the roasters into the one container and ask the exporter to prepare and ship the container to its destination”, he says.

“We don’t import coffee and store it in a warehouse. We want the roaster to choose the coffee that crosses the ocean, and we think this has real value. Roasters tell us that it takes time and money to source really interesting micro lots and we want to make it easy for them and sustainable for producers to do just that.”

The Algrano team are now busy establishing links with coffee farmers in Brazil so that they can present a container with growers and exporters from the world’s largest coffee producer once the harvest of the 2015/16 crop gets underway later this year. Gilles adds, “coffee is a universal language and we’re here to help nurture those conversations between growers and roasters”. It’s the kind of language that coffee professionals and customers are keen to hear more of as the conversation increasingly becomes a chorus for transparent, sustainable models of direct trade.

Seeds of recovery take root in Nepal

Two months have passed since natural disaster struck Nepal but new shoots of recovery are already beginning to take root.

“It has been a massive blow to our people. I fear that our infrastructure and development has been pushed back by two to three years,” says Appa Sherpa, Director of the Nuwa Estate Coffee.

11426758_1006906709346190_2916755166245852401_oSince April, he has been heavily involved in the local relief effort since the earthquake tragically claimed thousands and flattened villages – leaving millions homeless.

And the arrival of the monsoon rains bring an increased risk of landslides  – threatening further damage to livelihoods and crops.

It is particularly acute for Nepal’s fledging coffee industry that has been flourishing in recent years. Production has surged to over 650 tons annually – more than thirty times since the early nineties – and the growing industry now employs more then 25,000 people each year.

“We lost numerous crops that were around two to three years-old and five houses on our estate were turned to rubble, luckily no one was injured,” says Appa.

“We are now slowly returning to stability but still get minor aftershocks and expect several landslides this season that can gravely affect our estate. Coffee plants take time to grow and an even longer time to bear cherries.”

Many of the villagers who work on the farm are still living in temporary shelters of wood and tarpaulin.

11537923_1016773525026175_2725259252730753173_oIn spite of this, the community has come to the aid of the estate by donating compost and helping out with the labour-intensive task of planting of more than 10,000 saplings.

“Monsoon is here and the community are helping out with transferring our saplings from the nursery. All of this done freely by the villagers out of gratitude for all the help that we have provided and are planning in the area”, he adds.

Local coffee farmers have been receiving assistance from the Green Tara Foundation, a charitable NGO set up by Nuwa Coffee Estate that was the first on the scene to provide food, medicines and relief to those most affected.

Aimed at improving the livelihoods by providing income, employment opportunities and the provision of education to under-privileged children, the foundation has successfully constructed two schools so far and provides free coffee saplings, new technologies and training to farmers.

The estate covers more than 25 hectares of agricultural land in the Nuwakot district, northeast Nepal. Located at an altitude of 1300-1400m, it enjoys ample sunlight that bathes the nutrient-rich soil of its southeast-facing slopes. This provides the optimum conditions for growing a washed bourbon varietal that has a complex body with notes of dried fruits and spice.

The organic practices on the farm also encourage greater biodiversity by inter-cropping with ginger, turmeric, and avocados under the shade ‘bird friendly’ canopy of macadamia and hazelnut trees. Harvest season is between December and March each year.

For a country that ranks as one of the poorest globally, Appa believes that coffee can play an important route to providing income security without increasing dependency on foreign aid.

He sees coffee as one of the most sustainable ways in which to help local villages rebuild towards a brighter, more secure future – but it is not without its challenges. Middle men in Nepal continue to act as a barrier for coffee producers such as Nuwa Estate Coffee from accessing international markets.

He says that this is a result of brokers in the country who all but remove traceability by collecting and mixing large quantities of coffee while fixing the market price beyond the benefit of growers.

But Appa continues to remain optimistic about the future: “In the coming years we can expect a more bountiful yield. Nepal is not a large scale coffee producer yet but in time we hope to enter the international market.”

11722143_1016773621692832_1938285150054104804_oAs an emerging coffee producing country, there is huge potential for Nepal to tap into the specialty coffee boom. Benefitting from high elevations free from frost, long hours of sunlight and adequate rainfall, its climate and topography is ideal for cultivating arabica coffee.

“We want to show the world that not only do we have the breathtaking scenery of the Himalaya but we also produce specialty coffee, which has a distinct flavor profile that is be different from the rest,” he Appa.

For Appa and coffee communities across Nepal, sowing the seeds of recovery is now crucial to rebuilding the country as it strives to gain an international reputation as a rising star in the world of specialty coffee.

You can support coffee communities in Nepal by donating to the Green Tara Foundation here.

The pleasures and pains of coffee

honore-de-balzacEver since the age of the enlightenment, the literary canon is steeped in references to the seductive power of coffee to refresh the senses and stimulate mind. From Beethoven to Voltaire, the creative output of musicians and writers has been fuelled by its invigorating properties. But there is one particular writer who stands out in his legendary lust for a drop of the good stuff.

The prolific French writer and playwright, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), had a reputation for taking his coffee addiction very seriously, and often to extreme lengths. So serious was his desire to summon his mighty literary muse from a steaming cup of Joe that he would regularly undertake marathon coffee-fuelled writing sessions. Rumour has it that he would drink immeasurable cups over sleepless days and nights of creative output. Balzac describes how he regularly experimented with grind size and would even consider eating the freshly ground coffee if his extractions of increasing intensity did not adequately satisfy his unquenchable thirst.

But although the Parisian dandy was widely acknowledged as one of the founding fathers’ of literary realism – inspiring Wilde, Engels, Proust, Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Kerouac amongst others, he was not known for working at lightening speed. Instead, his stamina for long hours of focus and dedication were unsurpassed. In his lifetime, he toiled away to produce more than 40 published texts before he bought the proverbial farm at the tender age of 51 years-old. His magnum opus, Las Comédie Humaine, was a collection of short stories and novels that presented a kaleidoscope of colourful characters in a panoramic depiction of French life after the fall of Bonaparte Napoléon – another self-confessed coffee addict. Balzac’s preferred method of writing was to eat a light meal and then sleep until midnight before rising to write for many restless, nocturnal hours. Here, he talks about the creative impact of coffee on his caffeine-starved brain:

“Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labour begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder”.

Balzac’s pleasures and pains of drinking coffee are well documented. His words resonate with such literary force that the words jump off the page like a shot of espresso which arrest the senses with a Herculean vice-like grip; loosening only after its volcanic effects have finally left the system. In his own words, coffee had found its victim – and it would appear that Balzac surrendered to its sublime physiological and psycho-active effects gladly. To a lesser or greater extent, maybe we do share common ground with Balzac in his thumping literary salute to the bewitching brew that has the power to awaken and stir the creative forces in all of us?