Sunday, December 1, 2013

Allegra Symposium Talk

The future Specialty Coffee Roasting in Belgium and Europe

10 years ago Caffenation was a small espresso bar in the heart of Antwerp. After some good and bad experiences in a previous professional life it felt like important to start low cost and all alone.

Nevertheless the low budget and the solo performance i managed to do 1000 kilos of coffee (machine use or over the counter sales) in the first year. I doubled the figures (in sales and staff) the year after and never looked back again.

Around 2006 my coffee life changed seriously when i started to compete at Barista Championships.
At once your look on coffee and on the coffee world changes quickly, but i had to stand strong against the conservative outer world. It felt like i was standing on 1 side of a table, with 130 roasters and as much coffee sales people on the other side of the table, looking at me like i was a fool.

Why you ask me?
Well, lets say that the average coffee in Belgium 10, or 20 years ago, and it still is in a lot of places up to today, was a lungo, or a tall 15cl coffee made on a very hot and not well maintained espresso machine.
In those days i still offered lungo's myself, but the focus was on espresso and espresso based coffees and a coffee approach that we called the 3rd coffee wave soon after.

The basic philosophy at the other side of the table was that you have to give the people what they ask for.
And the espresso? That was prepped with the lungo grinder (mostly a Santos one), 7 grams of relatively coarse coffee and a 5" extraction.
The milk? A UHT milk steamed as mad men up to 95 degrees- boiling hot- while using 1 pitcher, without rinsing, for a full day.
If that's what the people asking for?
Maybe, but it's not what i like, so i won't serve it.

In 2010 we became a bit frustrated with the beans coming in from our roaster and started to roast our selves, looking at most things from a different angle and quality perception.
To my knowledge I was the first experienced Barista in Belgium or the Netherlands to start up a serious roasting plant. All 200 other roasters were roasting without Barista back ground and looked at things totally different.
For me the weakest link in the chain, from seed to cup, is the making; the last 30". On this domain was, and still is the biggest progress possible.

Now we are 2013 and working very hard and focused for a full decade and see the future of coffee roasting and bar managing the following way :

5 Things we focus on regarding Roasting and coffee sales :
1) We need to bring more information on the coffee. The wine model is a good way to go. You want to buy a bottle that's says : Red Wine, or you want a certain grape from a certain terroir from a certain cuvee?
2) Roasting and Blending : it seems logical to most of people, but roasting dark is the past.  Blending : blend post roast, not pre. And stick to 2 or 3 beans.
3) Be as transparent as possible. Competition is weak on this. And it keeps you Sharp and honest.
4) Seasonality : rotation gives you freshness, a good story and the big advantage towards the bigger roasteries.
5) Buying : cup (blind) till you drop.

5 Things we focus on regarding Bar and Barista Management :
1) Go Slow : promote filter coffee. It's a sleeping giant. Competition is weak on slow coffee. At Caffenation we started to sell specially roasted filter coffee only 5 years ago. Today we sell 5 times more filter then espresso (in retail). 
2) Brewing Advise : the more the better.
 Bags. : Bean
Roasting date
Classes. Blogs. Shop sales. Most competition is week on brewing advise. Remember the fact that we are Baristas from origin and they aren't. Make your clients smart and they will spread your message around.
3) Do competition. You learn more and faster then behind the bar.
4) Change flavors. Espresso and Filter Week. We do 40+ coffees a year!
5) Travel and follow the trends. Also flavor wise. Taste filter and espresso on 2013 and you'll noticed it's dramatically different compared to 5 years ago

Paris is on the right track.
Rob Berghmans

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