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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.




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.
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”.

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