Competing in specialty coffee without compromise

When it comes to serving specialty, compromise is strictly off the menu for the caffeine heads at Coffee Proficiency. It is this motto that sets the scene for the collective vision at the roastery and coffee bar based in Kraków, Poland. Above all, their desire to compete at a national and international level has helped to consistently offer a high quality product for their customers.

Head of Quality at Coffee Proficiency, Lukasz Jura, explains how his first steps towards competing at the highest level took him on a path that led him quit his international studies and pursue a full time career in coffee: “During my studies, I was looking for a job and got hired as a barista at Coffee Heaven. I learned how to work efficiently, follow hygienic procedures and after eight months I managed to pour my first rosetta. Luckily for me, my manager was the first Polish Barista Champion. He asked if I wanted to compete for the national Barista Championship in 2006,” before recalling: “My first presentation was a total disaster, but the important thing was that I met many different people”.

“Back then, only a few people knew about specialty coffee and they started to invite me to trainings and lectures. It gave me the extra boost that I needed the following year and I went on to become the Polish Barista Champion. Then I competed in Tokyo for the World Championships and finished in tenth place,” he adds.

The experience brought Lukasz into contact with the wider specialty coffee community, particularly in Scandinavia. He began to spend more time with leading coffee professionals such as Einar K. Holthe of Stockfleths  – partly owned by Solberg & Hansen, Norway’s largest specialty coffee roaster – and was invited to work at their internationally renowned coffee house in Oslo. Spurred on by the enriching experience and exposure to new ideas, Lukasz went on to compete in 2009 where he was crowned World Aeropress Champion. His three-year stay in Oslo also saw him working with the Norwegian barista team for the Nordic Barista Cup.

But the call to return to Poland was too strong and the 33 year-old decided to move back where he devoted himself to barista training at the Warsaw School of Coffee. Although he still continues to train and run workshops, Lukasz has been working full time on all aspects of quality at Coffee Proficiency for four years now. He highlights how transparency guides the green bean sourcing in the roastery: “It’s not only about the business, but also about the taste. We try to pick unique coffees every time – especially if it has something rare and unusual that highlights the terroir,” before adding, “we are looking for the ‘wow’ effect”.

Roasting on a 30kg Coffee Tool made in Greece, the nine-strong team supply their own coffee bar as well as independent coffee shops, high-end hotels and for retail. They try to rotate their coffees frequently to ensure their green beans are as fresh as possible.

Lukasz does look back at his early days with fondness, adding that although he is now much more discerning, specialty coffee never fails to surprise him: “I’m much harder to impress now. I remember my first experience with naturals and it was the first time I tasted strawberries in coffee. But when I’m judging in championships, I still sometimes have this feeling of surprise again”.

 

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

Miro drives forward one batch at a time

While studying for a masters degree in business down under, Daniel Sanchez got a taste for antipodean coffee culture. And when a local coffee shop opened in his Melbourne neighborhood, his enjoyment of specialty coffee soon developed from a daily ritual into a career.

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“The Monday after the opening, I picked up a cappuccino on the way to collect my laundry. Later that day I went back and talked to Ben, the owner of the café The Final Step. I started to hang out in this coffee shop so much that he told me I could be useful and clean the dishes,” says Daniel before adding that he went on to hone his craft working with espresso behind the bar.

It was only when Daniel moved back to Switzerland with his partner three years later that he realized that a promising career in corporate branding and marketing was not for him. A spell of working in a coffee shop was enough to convince the 36 year-old that there was a future in specialty coffee. And with the purchase of a 5kg Probat and some bags of green coffee, Miró was born in partnership with his brother David in 2014. Daniel says that his formula is to search for, and roast, the best green coffee available with an ambition to present the sweetest coffee they possibly can to their customers and guests: “Passion and attention to detail are central to us,” he says.

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A thoughtful approach to being engaged in the supply chain as much as possible is also an important consideration at Miró. This includes placing importance on establishing a ‘direct trade’ relationship with their customers: “We carefully examine the process and communicate with our partners or suppliers as well as our private customers and guests. This means we are constantly exchanging with people so that we can collect the relevant information and pass on our know-how with pleasure”.

One example of Miró’s efforts to share their knowledge with the wider coffee community is the range of espresso, brewing and roasting masterclass’ on offer to those who want to learn more. Daniel’s team of five are also dedicated to sharing their skills and knowledge with their customers on the road around Zurich through their bespoke converted coffee truck complete with a two group La Marzocco Linea PB and Mahlkönig set up.

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Miró’s philosophy is to change their portfolio of coffees at a fast pace which means that they are constantly on the lookout for fresh new arrivals. He says that the challenge of establishing a direct trade relationship with a producer can be a lot of effort when they are sourcing just three to four bags at a time.

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“It depends on what point you are buying the coffee. Do you buy from directly from the farmer? Does he have the ability to mill and ship it to port or you have to organise the milling, transport to the port?” asks Daniel. “This is why I really like the concept behind algrano because the one thing that I find most important is its simplicity. We bought a Costa Rican coffee, La Bella, and the head barista at one of customer’s, Auer Co, cupped the coffee and took the whole lot – it was very cool.”

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As Daniel and his team look to the future, it is clear that they are focused on growing the roasting business alongside their mission to help drive the education of their customers one espresso shot, one brew, and one small batch of freshly roasted coffee – each step at a time.

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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