Coffee Talk Colombia – meet Juan, coffee hunter, coffee teacher and blogger

After having seen both some of Colombia’s brighter and darker sides in Bogota, I was quite happy to move on and had pretty high expectations when I touched down in Medellin, the City of Eternal Spring. I had heard plenty of rumours about Medellin, it’s tumultuous past, it’s beautiful women and the hospitality of it’s people, the Paisa. My earliest memories of anything I can recall and link to Colombia, would be either football related, Carlos Valderrama’s hair and Rene Higuita’s scorpion kick, or of course associated with coffee and “Cafe de Colombia”. I decided to focus on the latter, and try to deepen my knowledge about Colombian coffee. After having already been in Bogota, it would have been difficult to have not acknowledged the presence of Juan Valdez Cafe, a Colombian multinational coffeehouse chain, which I guess could be seen as a Colombian Starbucks. On my travels I got to see plenty more of these outlets, also on my next stop in Panama.

Similar to me rigorously avoiding Starbucks, the big American baddy, I also chose to avoid Juan Valdez as much as possible. Lucky for me, I was staying near the Toucan Cafe, which secured the quality of my daily caffeine intake whilst in Medellin. However the Toucan Cafe is more than just a coffee shop. They also offer coffee tasting, barista courses and tours in and around Medellin, including a coffee farm tour. I can highly recommend the coffee farm tour as well as the coffee tasting experience, where I got to meet Juan (Cano, not Valdez) who taught us about the meaning of coffee for Colombia, the effort, passion and time involved in the bean to cup journey, the flavours & aromas that exist in different coffees and how to differentiate between the good, the bad and the ugly coffee.

Juan was certainly one of the most inspiring and passionate “coffee people” I met whilst traveling around parts of South and Central America, and lucky for me, and maybe also for you, he took some time to talk to me. With Juan being involved in the coffee industry as a coffee hunter at Mercanta – The Coffee Hunters, teaching people like me about coffee at the Toucan Cafe and also having his own coffee blog, Coffee IQ, there are plenty of ways you can find out more about what he does. To give you a visual impression of Juan in his work setting, I would like to thank photographer Joel Duncan.

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Juan, first of all, how did you end up working in the coffee business? What’s your actual background if you haven’t always worked in the coffee industry?

I have a long history with coffee, however I never really had an interest in it up until 3 years ago. My dad is a coffee producer and my mom has worked in the commercial side of coffee for 40+ years, but I was never curious about it.

Through a good friend of mine, I had the opportunity to taste a very fine coffee from Guatemala and this spurred my interest in the subject. From there I started learning and it became my passion. After a while, busines opportunities started appearing and I just went with them.

Before this, I was managing a real estate agency. I did this for 5 years and my background is sales and customer service for the most part.

How did you learn about coffee, and what made you want to work in the coffee industry?

Initially, I started researching and buying equipment and learning from other people. I also took a couple of courses (one of them at the London School of Coffee) to hone some skills. Through my current job with Mercanta, I continue to learn a lot every single day.

Working with coffee is not your normal 9-5 job, locked in an office seeing the same people every day.

Coffee is fun, far from monotonous and there is a great deal of passion involved in it. These are some of the things that made me want to work in this industry.

You teach people about coffee at Toucan Cafe, you have your own blog with Coffee IQ, you are involved with Mercanta coffee hunters. Can you tell us a bit about your different projects and what you like most about them?

They are all very different from one another and all equally enjoyable. With Toucan, the goal is to teach people where coffee comes from and beyond that, to show them what has to happen so coffee (and good coffee) can be produced and enjoyed by people around the world every day. They learn to look at it in a different way and appreciate it much more.

With Mercanta I do the sourcing of coffee in Colombia, among other different managerial activities. This is the project I like the most: I get to  visit farms, meet new people everyday, and obviously I get to cup and drink LOTs of coffee! It doesn’t get any better! lol

The blog is just an extension of what I do. It forces me to learn more about what I do and become more professional, while I share information and contribute with the culture and education about coffee.

How familar are you with the global coffee scene? What are your impressions of Colombia’s coffee scene, both from the perspective of growing coffee as well as from how it’s consumed, especially compared to the U.S. or Europe?

Because of what I do, I have to be aware of the local and global coffee scene. There is a lot to be said about what’s currently happening in Colombia. For one, Colombia is finally updating it’s coffee comercializing policies. Since Colombia started exporting coffee and the brand “Cafe de Colombia” was created, the country has only been exporting washed arabicas, and only top quality. Now, finally, the door is open for us to start exporting second grade coffee (pasilla) and natural and honey coffees alike.

We actually do export these types of coffees, only that they don’t go out with the brand “Cafe de Colombia” and soon enough we will see Colombian Robustas in the market.

On the other hand, Colombia, like many other countries, produces a great deal of undifferenciated coffee which ultimately depends on the market price, and for which no premium is paid. With high production costs and the current climatic conditions, the coffee growers, especifically the small producers which are the bulk in the country, are barely making ends meet. Some argue that for this situation to change we should produce less, better quality coffee as this will improve the economy of the coffee growers. But at the same time, the FNC is aiming to produce 14.1 million sacks this year, up from 13.3 that were produced in the 2014/2015 period. Nowadays more and more producers are turning to specialty coffee, but it is a small percentage of the 600.000+ coffee growers we have in the country.

As for consumption, it is notoriously increasing. Naturally it is not at the same level as consumption in developed economies but Colombia, along with other developing economies, is drinking more and better quality coffee. It is easier to find good coffee than it was 2 years ago and coffee brands and coffee shops are popping up left, right and centre. It’s definitely a good moment for local consumption and projects alongs those lines.

A lot of Colombians seem to be proud of their coffee and “Cafe de Colombia”. Can you tell us anything about “Cafe de Colombia” and what makes Colombian cofffee so special?

There are many things that make Colombian coffee good and diverse. The type of soil, different micro climates, our location with respect to the equator, temperature, sun radiation and rainfall all contribute to the coffee being superior. We have, what we could call, a priviledged location for coffee cultivation.

Colombian coffee is also reliable and is available year round. These are the main things but there are plenty more.

How do you brew your coffee at home? Why?

Well, for me making coffee is a rigorous process. I first decide on the strength of the coffee (or water to coffee ratio) depending on the coffee I have or how I am feeling that particular day. Then I weigh out the coffee and grind it according to the method I will be using. Aeropress and V60 are the ones I normally use. Next I boil water up to 94 celcius degrees (I have a thermometer at home), and then I pour an exact amount of water in an exact time period.

If I have time to spare, I weigh out the brewed liquid and measure the TDS (total dissolved solids) to check on my extraction and be sure I am extracting 19% to 22% of the coffee.

Geeky stuff… I know, but I truly believe that a GREAT cup of coffee is a MUST every single day.

Do you have any exciting plans for the future to do with coffee?

Well, yes. Revamping my blog, I want to radically change the way I blog to make it more appealing for my audience and bring more value, to not continue to blog about what every other coffee blogger is talking about: 10 things you didnt know about coffee, here is how you can use spent coffee grounds, 10 health benefits of coffee, etc, etc, etc. lol

Plus this year I will be attending the WBC (World Barista Championship) in Dublin,  so I’m quite excited about that!

What about coffee inspires you? Where does your passion come from and what keeps it going?

It is hard to mention only one thing. Visiting farms and hearing the stories of the producers, seeing how they work and live and what they go through to produce what we drink every day inspires me a lot. These people really struggle sometimes, but still do their Jobs with a lot of passion and dedication.

So finding those great coffees and paying premium for them, thus contributing a little, so that they can have a better quality of life is really satisfying.

And cupping. I love cupping. I could do this all day, every day. Discovering all those different nuances and flavours in coffee is something I really enjoy!

For anyone reading this, it will be hard to not see your passion and dedication to Colombian coffee! Good luck with your projects and thanks Juan, for educating me about coffee and your insight into the Colombian coffee industry.

For anyone visiting Medellin, in need of a good coffee, wanting to learn the ABC of coffee or expand their already existing coffee knowledge, a visit to the Toucan Cafe, and a chat with Juan is well worth your time. 

Toucan Cafe –

Coffee IQ blog (in Spanish) –

MERCANTA – The Coffee Hunters –

Joel Duncan, photographer –


Gelato Talk – meet Mauro, one of the two La Cremosa guys from Rome

Despite having had a lot of positive feedback about Joburg, I was still pleasantly surprised by South Africa’s largest city. After already finding my piece of dolce vita in Cape Town, I was even more surprised to find another authentic piece of dolce vita in Johannesburg. Unlike in Cape Town, where I did my research to find “real” gelato, in Joburg I was lucky to stumble across the La Cremosa mobile gelateria stand and one of the “two guys from Rome” on a Sunday morning at the Market on Main in Maboneng.

With La Cremosa the “two guys from Rome” have made a valuable contribution to Joburg’s foodie scene. They not only brought the know-how and the traditional and authentic Italian family recipes with them from Italy, but also the machines from the family’s gelateria in Rome, which along with the selected ingredients are vital for the high quality artisanal gelato they produce.

With the traditional benchmark flavour pistachio passing the test with flying colours, living up to my expectations when it comes to the taste of fruit sorbet also seemed to be a piece of cake. After being so impressed, I’m now not only grateful to La Cremosa for sweetening my day and stay in Joburg, but also to Mauro for taking the time to answer some questions I had about them and their gelato business.

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How and where did you learn your trade as a master gelato craftsman and how did the idea of La Cremosa come about?

As every Italian kid, I spent many many hours running around gelaterie in Rome. My advantage was that our family’s best friends had a gelateria in Trastevere (downtown Rome) and I had the privilege to spend hours and hours playing with their kid, David Ficini, in their laboratory. That’s how everything started.

30 years later I am still hanging around with David spending all our free time in the laboratory of that gelateria trying to create the best ever gelato.

2 years ago I moved to Joburg for work and that’s also when the idea to start an Italian gelateria came about. The first thing I noticed when I landed in Jozi was that there was no real Artisan Italian Gelato! Together with David and Sandro Tomassetti, a friend of ours from Rome, we packed up some old Italian gelato machines and shipped them to South Africa…

What makes your gelateria so special? What gelato machines do you use and why?

At La Cremosa we are crazy about quality! Fruit is local and fresh, milk is fresh, pistachio and hazelnuts come from selected Italian producers, the same for amarenas. We now have 3 lines: gluten free, vegan and sugar free. Thanks to some of our Italian suppliers we are constantly busy with R&D on products, in order to constantly improve our customers’ experience.

Our gelato machines and freezers come from Italy, as that’s where most of the best manufacturers come from. This is what we need to guarantee the quality of our gelato during the production, storage and sales phases.

What is your opinion on gelateria chains, which are gaining an increasing foothold on the Italian market, and some also expanding internationally?

As every artisan I am proud to say that at La Cremosa we see every single strawberry that we cut and we peel every single mango with our hands before putting the gelato in the batch freezer. That said, I really appreciate some of the “big guys” that are able to offer the same quality of gelato through a different (and much bigger) organisation. It helps to create a market for gelato, especially regarding the international market, which to be honest is crucial!

I definitely get angry when it comes to big chains who sell cheap product but try to market it as the best and genuine gelato in the world.

From our side we try to fight against such dishonest marketing, by educating our customers and giving them all the means to understand what Italian Artisan Gelato is all about.

What tips would you give someone who might want to follow your footsteps and become a gelato craftsman or open their own gelateria?

This job is a great adventure and it can offer great opportunities, especially regarding the international market. It really gives you an insight into the culinary world. Like any other job, if you want to do it right, it needs a lot of dedication and perseverance.

Don’t take short cuts. If you want to make gelato, make a real one and let the world appreciate what it really means. Don’t fall into cheap traps! Pistachios aren’t almonds with green colorants and sorbets aren’t made with industrial flavouring products…

What is your favourite flavour to make?

I love making sorbets. As a reward for all the effort which went into the peeling, the smell of fresh fruit spreads throughout our entire laboratory once it comes out of the batch freezer.

What are the most popular flavours and what’s your favourite flavour to eat?

Our South African customers are in love with pistachio. It’s incredible how many kilos of pistachio they can eat in one day. They also are amazed by all our fruit flavours where they can really feel the fruit pulp and smell the freshness of the ingredients. My favourite flavour has always been “Fior di Latte” – the pure milk gelato!

What makes you proud of the gelato you produce?

We are proud to produce a real gelato made according to our Italian recipe and to use the best quality ingredients.

What challenges have you faced with starting the business?

We struggle everyday to get the ingredients that we like. When we landed in RSA we found many (too many) cheap products that suppliers are used to sell to their clients. We constantly need to educate our customers on what gelato is and why it is different (also in terms of price) from the normal ice cream they are used to.

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

La Cremosa is now opening 2 new shops in Jozi and already thinking about the next step out of town… very exiting plans. We are now busy with the launch of the sugar free line (made with Stevia) and we are constantly studying new receipt  and products with our Italian suppliers.

What are your impressions of Jo’burg’s gelato / ice cream scene, especially compared to Italy?

Gelato in Joburg…? Ice cream scene is very limited in Jozi. And many cheap products are in the market. I saw very recently some new products (still ice cream and not Italian gelato) that are not bad…I hope that this positive trend goes on.

The big difference with the Italian market is that average customers are aware of what is good and what is not so, in Italy, many bad gelatos have no space. Generally, Italian customers are well educated on the dignity of the gelato and know what to spend many for.

What kind of customers visit your shop, who are your favourite customers and which celebrity would you most like to serve gelato to?

The most frequent customers are over 26. It is generally people with food consciousness that appreciate quality and that are open to have a real Italian experience (we try to stay away from customers that is complain because we do not serve bubble gum ice cream…). I love curious customers that ask, ask and ask about manufacturing processes and about what gelato really means.

I would be very honoured to serve our gelato to Carlo Petrini – the founder of the Slow Food Movement.

Thanks Mauro, for your time answering my questions and your insight into the gelato industry. For anyone in Joburg who loves gelato, doesn’t know what it is yet, or might not have the time or money to escape to bella Italia, go and visit La Cremosa! 

La Cremosa can be found at

– Market on Main, Maboneng Precinct, every Sunday

–  Jackson’s Real Food Market, Bryanston

Online La Cremosa can be found at

facebook: La Cremosa

instagram: Gelato La Cremosa


What’s the fuss? Gelato or Ice Cream, same same or different?

Growing up, even at the age when I could barely walk, “ice cream” would have been the highlight of pretty much any day. That doesn’t mean that I had a sad boring childhood, but so big was my love of “ice cream”. No… I wasn’t some fat kid constantly looking for the next sugar fix either.

Back in the day during my childhood, including the formative years of my upbringing, despite being a fussy eater, I didn’t make much of a differentiation between ice cream, gelato or any other frozen dessert. It was all “ice cream”. I either liked it or I didn’t, but back then it mainly depended on the flavour.
Nowadays I’m not such a picky eater anymore, but when it comes to “ice cream”, or also coffee (which is another story), I’m everything but easy to please and rather on the picky side. If an “ice cream” isn’t up to par it’s thrown out, as easy as that. Eating ice cream, or better yet gelato, should be an enjoyable experience, an experience to indulge in, and as some people know, an experience I can easily draw out and make it seem I had a serving triple the size of anyone else.

With turning into a bit of a snob when it comes to gelato and coffee, I have learned to differentiate between what’s out there, even if depending who I’m talking to I might still just use the generic term “ice cream”. To help others on the path of enlightenment, here’s a brief glossary of the terminology of frozen desserts. And yes, back to the title, there are some clear differences between ice cream and gelato!

Ice Cream
Looking at the name, it’s not too surprising that ice cream is a frozen food product containing cream. Milk is also often a key ingredient along with other sweeteners and flavourings. Up to 60% of the volume of a container of ice cream one buys is air. This means that if you buy one litre of ice cream, you could actually be buying up to 600ml of air! The light fluffy texture of ice cream is thanks to this air that is absorbed during the mixing process. In the U.S., based on the milk fat contained, ice cream is split into sub-categories, which I will not bore you with.

Despite gelato being the Italian word for ice cream it’s not the same thing. I will go into the differences between ice cream and gelato more later, but the key difference is that while ice cream contains up to 60% of air, the amount of air whipped into gelato is only 20%! A more intensely flavoured, denser and (arguably) more delicious dessert is the result.

Unlike ice cream and gelato, sorbet contains no milk or cream. It’s a frozen dessert typically made using puréed fruit, but increasingly more places also offer other sorbets such as coffee or chocolate. I’d expect in large parts, thanks to the vegan and lactose intolerant movements.

Very similar to sorbet, but granita is not whipped and ice crystals are allowed to form. It has a more granular appearance and a crunchy texture.

Like a sorbet this is a fruit based product, but milk is added for creaminess. But by law it can contain no more than 2% milk fat.

Frozen Yoghurt
Frozen yoghurt is a frozen dessert made with yoghurt and sometimes other dairy products. Due to using milk instead of cream frozen yoghurt has a lower fat content than ice cream.

Gelato vs Ice Cream
Slightly similar to the way artisanal coffee has become so popular, it’s gelato, ice cream’s handsome Italian stepbrother that has been making waves in more countries than just Italy. While I was in London (2004 – 2010) for example, there were barely any gelaterias to speak of and for me Scoop (2007) clearly stood out. However now watching from afar, I believe the gelateria density in London has increased significantly. Partly, the growing popularity of gelato is because it’s novel. And, in line with the foodie movement, people think of gelato as something special made by artisans in a small boutique kitchen or lab, and strictly in small batches.
Without becoming too scientific and hypothesizing about things such as different forms of sugar, here are six secrets (not so secret really) on how to differentiate between gelato and ice cream.

gelato-v-ice-cream1) Fat. With more cream comes more milk fat. Most ice cream tends to have a fat content between 14 and 25%. On the other hand Italian gelato only has approx. 4 – 8% fat.

2) Gelato is creamier, softer, smoother and denser than ice cream. Despite having less fat, the reason for gelato being creamier is that it has significantly less air whipped in during a slower churning process than ice cream. Due to having less milk fat, gelato is lighter and therefore requires less air.

3) Recipe & ingredients. Gelato and ice cream both contain cream, milk and sugar. While these ingredients are the same, ice cream tends to contain a lot more cream. Gelato uses more milk than cream. To hold the ice cream mixture together egg yolks are used a lot more than with gelato, where they often aren’t used at all. Gelato is also more likely to have “real” ingredients such as fresh fruit and nut purees.

4) Temperature. Typically if served correctly, fresh from your local artisan gelateria, the serving temperature of gelato is higher than that of ice cream. If gelato is frozen really cold in a conventional freezer, it becomes rock hard. Gelato is typically frozen at around -10C, giving it a lovely soft consistency. Ice cream is frozen closer to -20C. This also has an impact on the flavour. Ice cream tends to have a less intense flavour as the cold fat coats the tongue and blocks the taste. Gelato melts more quickly allowing the flavour to come through directly and far more intense.

5) Serving style: spatula vs scoop. The serving style is a result of some of the factors mentioned above. Gelato, being served at a warmer temperature, is usually served with a spatula. Ice cream being thicker and heavier due to the higher milk fat content, can easily be served as nice, round and firm scoops.

6) Shelf life. Gelato should be consumed as fresh as possible, ideally within a few days. On the other side, it’s common that ice cream lasts for a few months.

Thanks to Cape Town’s Moro Gelato for highlighting the key differences between gelato and ice cream in a more visually pleasing manner.

Reading between the lines, it’s probably easy to see who’s my favourite. Who do your place your money on? Gelato, ice cream or an outsider?


Coffee Talk – meet Sam, the Kiwi behind Zurich’s Cafe New Zealand

Cafe New Zealand opened its doors in Zurich in April 2015 unofficially, in June officially. So it’s almost time for their first anniversary.. In this short period the cafe has catapulted itself to the forefront of the Zurich coffee scene, currently on trip advisor only second to the Swiss institution Confiserie Sprungli for Best Zurich Coffee & Tea. It’s barely comparable to Sprungli, possibly offering a slightly more interesting, or at least different, people watching spot in the middle of Zurich’s hip Kreis 4.  The Langstrasse based coffee shop has not only built up a reputation by boosting the popularity of flat whites, dirty cappuccinos and double shots in Zurich, but also with great hospitality welcoming all guests who walk in, which certainly isn’t the most famous Swiss trait. This friendly welcome is thanks to Kiwi owner/barista Sam, who was traveling through Europe and lucky for Zurich coffee lovers decided to make Zurich his new home.

In between dishing up pies, creating one of his famous pieces of art, also known as the dirty cappuccino, and further developing his Cafe New Zealand brand, Sam found some time for some coffee talk and answer a few questions I threw at him. Thanks for that Sam and raising the bar when it comes to coffee in Zurich!

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How did the idea of Cafe New Zealand come about? What’s the story behind the name?

The idea of cafe New Zealand started when I couldn’t find a proper pie or flat white in Zurich. So I came up with a simple concept for the cafe, we create a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy New Zealand style coffee and pies. The location, Backpacker Langstars, on Langstrasse is the perfect location for Cafe New Zealand. Cafe New Zealand is often humming with travellers from all corners of the globe, mixing in with Zurich locals. We like to have fun, and we keep the atmosphere informal.

How did your coffee career begin?

I have many years experience making coffee. When I was 15 I walked into a cafe, and asked for a weekend job as a barista. The cafe was really nice, located in an old restored barn on the beach. A year later I won my first barista award. Ive had an interesting life, with many different jobs, adventures and passions. Coffee is just one of my passions.

What style of coffee do you serve at Cafe New Zealand?

Cafe New Zealand has its own style of coffee. We create coffee to be enjoyed. Our cappuccino is a fun, sexy coffee. We call it the Dirty Cappuccino, served dirty with heaps of foam and finished with chocolate. Often the chocolate foam is slowly overflowing. Our flat white is considered by Kiwis as a proper Flat White experience, with its unique extraction and thickened milk it has super smooth texture and mouth feel. We always have 2 different espresso styles to try.

What kind of coffee beans do you usually have and from which roaster/s? Which espresso machine?

I have 2 grinders so there is always the choice from 2 different beans. At the moment I’m using a single origin from my local roaster Black and Blaze. Its a beautiful honey processed arabica bean from El Salvador. My second grinder has a medium roast blend called Supreme. Similar to one I was using in New Zealand. Claude the master roaster at Black and blaze uses a mix of science and passion in his roasting.
The coffee machine is a La Marzocco, and in my opinion it’s the best there is. Very reliable and powerful, not to mention beautiful. I was lucky to get looked after by the guys from Kialoa the Swiss La Marzocco dealers.

How does it feel to have your own coffee shop and what do you like most about your job?

It’s my dream to have my own cafe and I love it. It’s not really work when you get to have so much fun. I meet people from all over the world. I have submerged myself in a new culture. I love Zurich. It’s a beautiful city with so much to offer. In the winter I can go snowboarding, in the summer I can go hiking in the alps, swimming in the lake or jump off a bridge into the river. There are parks around the city to grill. People are very friendly and welcoming to me.

What are the most popular coffee drinks at your coffee shop and what’s your favourite?

The most popular is the Flat White. It’s a coffee that was discovered in New Zealand (or Australia) and is now becoming popular in Europe.
My favourite is our Dirty Cappuccino.
I’m always tasting our espresso, the double ristretto with a stain of milk is my favourite.
Our large Americano is perfect for a hangover cure, served on 300ml of hot water.

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

I’m a dreamer, I have soo many plans, soon I plan to air freight some fresh roasted beans from a top roaster in New Zealand. For a month you will be able to visit Cafe New Zealand on Langstrasse and order a Flat White, made by a Kiwi, in the New Zealand style with fresh beans roasted in New Zealand!


What makes coffee good coffee?

Without recapping the history of coffee and boring you with too many numbers, coffee is the world’s most consumed beverage and hence pretty important for a fair number of people. An estimate of about 1.4 billion cups of coffee are drunk every single day. Based on the assumption that plenty of people drink more than one cup per day, there are still a fair few who drink coffee daily. If all of them were asked for their definition of good coffee, we would have millions of different definitions. Of course we could group some definitions together, but nonetheless, what makes a good coffee for one person can be something completely different for another. Despite all coffee critics, the cup of excellence etc., good coffee is subjective.  Hence, everything I write about coffee here can be taken with a pinch of salt, as a lot of it will be based on what I personally perceive as good coffee, which could be completely different to what you or anyone else thinks.

Especially over the last six months, I’ve been able to immerse myself into the world of coffee, focussing mainly on the third wave coffee movement. This has included visiting numerous coffee shops in Europe, the U.S., Colombia, Central America and South Africa, going to coffee roasters, taking part in cupping sessions, visiting coffee farms and also attending Zurich’s first coffee festival. I had the chance to deepen my knowledge about coffee and the “bean to cup” journey by talking to some very knowledgeable and passionate people along the way, including baristas, coffee shop owners, roasters, fellow coffee bloggers, coffee farmers… All of this has helped me identify my personal “good coffee”.
With the third wave coffee movement, particularly with the rise of the so-called specialty coffee roasters, the “bean to cup” journey is of great significance. A roaster or coffee shop, which is serious about their product, will take pride in the “journey” of their coffee. Where the beans are sourced, is it single origin or a blend, what’s the roasting technique, is it a fine or coarser grind, what are the extraction methods, these are all variables which need to be considered by places serving coffee. On top of that, coffee machine, grinder, temperature, pressure, moisture, milk, and many more, are further variables, needed to be addressed.

img_0753I didn’t start to drink coffee until I was in my early 20s, at first only espresso, which I started drinking in Italy, before also including cappuccinos. At the time I found it pretty easy to get a decent coffee pretty much anywhere I went in Italy. Every place had a proper machine, La Marzocco, Wega, La Cimbali or similar and were able to make a nice crema and good foam for an Italian style cappuccino. I drank both drinks adding plenty of sugar, especially my espressi were saturated with sugar. Only when I was back in Germany and ordered my first cappuccino there, did I notice that I wasn’t able to get a cappuccino to my liking everywhere I went. Nonetheless at the time I didn’t really start paying too much attention to coffee yet.

Nowadays my personal “good coffee” still tends to be coffee with milk, a flat white, a cappuccino, a cortado or a macchiato, no lattes – too much milk, not enough coffee. If it’s super hot, then also different kinds of iced coffee, especially inspired by my time in Athens where after being reluctant at first I got used to drinking a freddo cappuccino. I also still love drinking a “good” espresso! For me personally, two key factors are temperature and consistency. I don’t want to burn my tongue and nor do I want to have to wait half an hour for my coffee to cool down so that I can drink it. For espresso as well as the milk-based drinks, flat white, cappuccino and cortado consistency is key for me, I like them more viscous, more thick and creamy. With the milky drinks the coffee should kind of blend in with the milk, especially for a flat white, if it’s made the way I love it, creating a sweetness so that even I don’t need to add sugar anymore. My espresso taste hasn’t changed much. The espresso (crema) I like most is a classic Italian espresso, so thick that one can almost stand a spoon up in it. I do appreciate and also drink the third wave movement espresso where you can taste different fruits, vegetables, chocolate, nuts and what ever else, but personally still prefer a good Italian style crema, and should I dare admit it, with sugar.
Dear third wave coffee shops, please don’t hide the sugar, I do try all or at least most of my coffees without adding sugar immediately…

In whichever way you prefer to drink your coffee, do you really think that you will stumble upon your perfect coffee simply based on the quality of the coffee itself? In most cases I would have my doubts, as I believe that it doesn’t simply depend on the “bean to cup” journey. As we know good coffee is very subjective but there are other factors than just the quality of the roasted beans and the skill of the barista and his tools preparing your coffee drink of choice. It’s about the entire package, including the interaction you have with your chosen location, the atmosphere of where you choose to enjoy your coffee along with the experience of ordering and drinking it, and sometimes also your company.

p1020203To now not completely downplay the importance of the coffee itself, let’s kick things off with the taste or flavour of coffee. After all it still is the key ingredient and if the coffee isn’t up to scratch, it’s pointless to go any further. Apart from the coffee needing to have a certain quality, for me drinking espresso based drinks, there also needs to be a decent coffee machine present for me to even enter the coffee shop. Not that I don’t think that Nespresso, WMF, Jura or similar haven’t developed a decent product, but I don’t believe that I will ever be fully satisfied by a coffee which is prepared by the push of one button. If I see one of these machines in a coffee shop I tend to do a 180 and head back out the door.
Back to the taste of coffee.. Despite occasionally referring to myself as a coffee snob, and people asking me for my opinion on coffee, I’m not a critique and don’t even believe I’m that great at tasting the nuances of different coffee beans. I have been to a couple of cuppings and will probably go to some more, but I’ll leave the grading to the experts who do this for a living at competitions like the Cup of Excellence or at coffee auctions. Similar to wine, I mainly just judge if I like or dislike a certain coffee. Like with wine, with coffee often judges also contradict each other, again highlighting how subjective good coffee is.

With coffee some prefer a lighter roast, while others prefer darker ones. Some are on the filter coffee bandwagon with increasingly more jumping on it. Others swear by their espresso, some straight, some with milk, some with sugar and again others with both. There are even some who like their instant coffee, i.e. Nescafe. I’m not here to say what’s right or wrong, what ever floats your boat… However having visited some coffee farms and talked to a number of people in the industry, when it comes to the quality of coffee beans there is definitely a better and a worse selection, e.g. for instant coffee versus what you might find at your chosen specialty roaster.

p1020509Having immersed myself into the coffee scene a while ago now, and having visited more coffee shops and roasters than I can remember, hanging out at many with friends or family, with a book or my laptop, or to further my coffee education, it got me thinking. I’ve visited many exceptional and memorable coffee locations, but some I also almost forget as soon as I exit the door, even if the coffee might have been decent enough. For me to “favourite” a place, of course I must have been served a great cup of coffee, but that’s not enough. I believe the x factor is in large part the coffee shop or roaster itself. Similar to with meeting your soul mate, it’s about the first impression, about chemistry, the communication with staff. It’s always nice to come across people who are very passionate about coffee and interested in their customers and their coffee preferences. At the same time it’s nice to see when people take pride in their “art”, are consistent at serving a great cup of coffee, and might not even serve a cup of coffee until they are happy with their work. Regarding this aspect, I believe it’s quite a difficult step for people who started their own coffee shop to take a step back and let others run the show once it’s time to employ staff. Maybe more than in a lot of other industries, it’s about the fit, not only does a barista need to consistently produce a great cup of coffee. As the face of a coffee shop a barista ought to demonstrate a passion for what he or she does and be approachable. They don’t have to be everybody’s darling but should be able to relate to the majority of the clientele the coffee shop would like to attract. Some of the less pleasant experiences are when baristas or coffee shop owners don’t seem welcoming, aren’t interested in their clients or their coffee preferences, or have a bad attitude. With the whole third wave coffee and hipster movement, I feel that some baristas seem to have forgotten that they rely on their customers. With starting this blog, it’s obvious that I appreciate the science and art behind a good cup of coffee and I am always happy when a barista convinces me to try something else than what I actually ordered. It’s a shame when some baristas don’t realise that “serving” a good cup of coffee isn’t quite rocket science, so you guys please step of your high horse… Nothing ruins the coffee experience more than a hipster barista with a patronising, arrogant or snobbish attitude.

I like hearing the stories of the people ensuring I am served the best possible coffee, and the ones I often find the most interesting are when people landed in the coffee industry by accident or quit their 60h work week or 9-5 day job to do something they are really passionate about.

What makes coffee good coffee, for you?