Coffee Talk Kenya – meet Esther Otieno, barista trainer, coffee consultant and coffee lover

After posting a coffee guide listing specialty coffee shops in Nairobi late last year, and still having my base in Nairobi where I decided to expand my coffee knowledge, and arguably expertise, it’s time to introduce you to some of the coffee people I’ve met along the way on my Kenyan coffee mission.

First up is Esther, who is actually responsible that some of the coffee shops I mentioned in my last post have great baristas. I first met her when I was given the chance to be one of the judges at Kenya’s National Barista Championships. My next (coffee) honour was being a judge at the Nairobi Latte Art Throwdown, which Esther organises each year. Having been impressed, not only by Esther’s expertise but also her passion for anything concerning coffee, I decided to take some classes with her to up my barista game.

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Esther already worked in coffee for numerous years before she started her own company, BaristaPro Ltd, mid 2014. BaristaPro specialises in providing professional barista skills training and coffee education. Their aim is to develop professionally trained baristas who will promote the quality of brewed coffee wherever they go. Having had good feedback about her courses, it was an easy decision for me to enrol with BaristaPro. After a week’s course, consisting of 5 days with 3 hours of class a day I can highly recommend it to anyone who wants to become a barista or improve their already existing skills. After this possibly too lengthy introduction it’s time to hear what Esther has to say…
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balls, beans

6 ways to keep your COFFEE COOL this summer

According to some, like Donald T., of course there’s no global warming, but with temperatures soaring, fires occurring, heat records being broken and people all over looking at ways to keep their cool, here are 6 ways to keep your COFFEE COOL this summer – and recommendations on where to get your cool caffeine fix in my current home town Zurich. If it’s not just summer coffee options you’re after in Zurich, then you can also of course check this post.

I’m not sure how it is for you, but when it’s hot in summer I often find myself drinking less flat whites, cortados, cappuccinos and espressos. On the one hand I still feel myself craving coffee, but on the other hand when it’s hot and sweaty I don’t find the idea of drinking a hot beverage quite that enticing. So, with summer temperatures currently a bit milder, I thought I’d come up with a list of drinks for those of us who don’t want to cut down on their caffeine intake when temperatures go back up and over the 30°C mark.

  • Freddo Cappuccino aka Iced Cappuccino

In Greece, where I discovered my love for this drink, and which is also where it’s consumed more than anywhere else, when ordering it, you are asked if you’d like it sweet, semi-sweet or unsweetened. A classic Freddo Cappuccino is basically an espresso poured over ice cubes and then topped up with some cold frothed milk. The creamy rich texture of the milk is created by using a shaker, which unfortunately many coffee shops outside of Greece don’t usually have.

ViCafe – isn’t only known for arguably being the most popular place in town to grab a coffee on the go, but it’s also one of my favourites to get an Iced Cappuccino.

  • Freddo Espresso

Freddo Espresso

Freddo Espresso

A typical Freddo Espresso consists of a double shot of espresso (usually about 60 – 70 ml). Depending on how much foam is desired, the espresso is mixed with 4 ice cubes in a shaker for 10 – 20 seconds. Then the liquid is strained into a glass with ice cubes. Often when ordered the customer is asked if the drink should be sweet, semi-sweet or unsweetened.

Ynos – a Greek food/drink location, minutes from Zurich’s main station also serves great quality coffee. Especially for people who are familiar with the Greek style Freddo Espresso and Cappuccino drinks won’t be disappointed!

  • Iced Chai Latte

Iced Chai Latte

Iced Chai Latte – Bros Beans & Beats

Of course, I realise that this isn’t a coffee-based drink, but it is widely served in coffee shops. And despite not really being a tea drinker, this summer I’ve really enjoyed this drink. Iced chai latte is basically cooled chai (black tea infused clove, cinnamon and other warming spices) poured over ice cubes and topped up with milk.

Bros Beans & Beats – still one of my absolute favourite locations in Zurich, serves a very nice Iced Chai Latte, of course along with their other great coffee drinks.

  • Cold Brew

Cold Brew

Cold Brew

It’s been popular now for a while, but its popularity seems to be growing even further, with even supermarkets jumping on the bandwagon and stocking bottles of cold brew.

This cold coffee drink is made by steeping ground coffee in water at room temperature for over 12 hours, before the grounds are filtered out. It is then cooled in the fridge, and can be drunk in many different ways, with ice cubes, ice cream or tonic.

In the meantime, cold brew is basically everywhere, so there’s no real need to emphasize any places. Two of the first places I noticed highlighting their cold brew offering in Zurich were the Milchbar and Henrici.

  • Affogato


Affogato – Gelati Tellhof

For me, a good affogato is like a ticket to heaven. What could be better than a tasty combination of two of the loves of my life, coffee and gelato. For those who don’t know it, a traditional affogato is a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso poured over the top of it. The warmth of the coffee melting the ice cream, creating a soothing and comforting mix of yummy. If one goes to a gelateria for an affogato, you will have the luxury of having numerous flavours to choose instead of the classic vanilla. My favourite flavour for affogato is stracciatella, but many other milk-based flavours can also be quite tempting, such as pistachio, hazelnut or chocolate.

Gelati Tellhof – my go-to-place in Zurich when it comes to enjoying an affogato to the max. Not only is the gelateria itself a great escape from the nearby hustle and bustle of Langstrasse, but the affogato is also always served with a smile and style on a lovely little tray. Apart from coming for the gelato on offer, with coffee beans from local roaster Stoll Kaffee, it’s also certainly not the worst place to go and relax with a nice coffee.

  • Coffee Gelato


Gelato – Rosso Arancio

In a way this is the simplest. Coffee gelato or if need be coffee ice cream, and yes, there is a difference. If you want to know the difference between gelato and ice cream, read one of my older posts. Although it’s the simplest to explain, it’s certainly not that simple to get right. Luckily there are some great gelaterias around which do a great job, and luckily not only in Italy!

Rosso Arancio Gelato Italiano – my favourite place in town when it comes to gelato. Many flavours to choose from, with the freshest, usually locally sourced ingredients. Always some new different flavours to give a try and the coffee gelato certainly comes as close as possible, for gelato to taste like you’re drinking a freshly brewed cup of coffee!

Any drinks missing? Or any advice on other places to visit in and around Zurich, or even for my upcoming trip to NYC and California? Let me know..


Coffee Talk Cape Town – baseline coffee, because bad coffee shouldn’t happen to good people

After spending a few months in Spanish speaking countries it was nice to return to Cape Town for my second time. Not only was it nice to be back in a surrounding where it was easy to understand and be understood, but also being back in a more familiar food and drink scene was comforting. For me this especially means being able to order a flat white or a cappuccino without being too concerned that I get something completely unexpected, as well as even if I have to go out of my way for it, being able to get some more than decent gelato.

As previously posted, for me, Moro Gelato was THE place to go, to get my regular gelato fix. At first this was the only reason for me to cycle, mini bus or uber it to the Mason’s Press in Woodstock. With baseline coffee being practically next to Moro Gelato I had passed it and acknowledged it, but at the same time I was usually on a gelato mission so it took me a while and multiple reminders from both Stefano and Heine from Moro Gelato until I finally stopped by baseline coffee. Since my first visit I haven’t looked back, and Mason’s Press became a perfect balls’n’beans destination, allowing me to kill two birds with one stone, getting both a gelato and coffee fix.

baseline coffee became one of my regular Cape Town spots, not just because of the great coffee, but also because I felt at “home”, both Stacy and Deon are very welcoming and friendly, the music’s good, it’s not too big, loud or crowded, so also very well suited for a coffice location, which I took full advantage of. I’d like to share baseline coffee with you, even if you’re not in Cape Town. So read below to find out about the baseline story and see what the camera shy baseline coffee team have to say about giving back to the community and coffee in SA.

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First of all, how did your coffee career begin and how did the idea for baseline coffee come about? What’s your actual background if you haven’t always worked in the coffee industry?

Deon first became interested in coffee when he lived in the US – although not the speciality coffee scene (Starbucks right?!), the love of this liquid that helps all of us “non-morning people” operate was real. On returning to SA in about 2007 it didn’t take long to see that there was a real gap in the market when it came to really great, locally roasted coffee that South Africans could connect with. And so, the journey began with a goal of not only making great coffee, but also giving back. The brand was originally launched as Kupa Coffee (pronounced “koopah”, Swahili meaning “to give”) with the idea of involving local community members in the process & using an eCommerce store to sell to consumers. Unfortunately the idea was a little ahead of its time, with the average coffee drinker not yet ready to embrace online shopping & the expensive logistics costs involved. So Deon continued to run the business on the side whilst he worked in a full-time job (Digital Marketing) and instead of involving the community directly, he began working with a few select foundations to donate and channel the business’ giving. Deon took up the reins full-time with coffee roughly 4 years ago and I (Stacy) joined him 2 years later. The business was re-branded in early 2014 to the brand it is today: baseline coffee. The idea came about after a long discussion between Deon and myself about where coffee in South Africa was and where our coffee stands. A “baseline” represents both a unit of measurement and a level to strive for, and this is what we are about: our mission is to raise the bar when it comes to quality, consistency and flavour in coffee. We pride ourselves in bringing our customers the absolute best with green beans carefully selected and imported from around the world, and crafted to perfection with care right here in Cape Town.

But you can only fly under the radar for so long, so in early 2015 our Espresso Bar and roasting operations were opened to the public in Woodstock in the new Mason’s Press building, so here we are…

What made you decide to open up your own coffee shop/roaster? What challenges have you faced with owning your own business?

The growth of our business has been more organic than aggressive over the years (we don’t see ourselves as typical “sales people” and self-admittedly, are pretty bad at “sales pitches”), and because of this we flew under the radar for quite some time. When the coffee scene really started exploding in Cape Town we were encountering more and more people who didn’t know who we were. It helped that we were already partnered with a number of well-known restaurants & coffee shops, so the coffee could stand on its own, but we eventually decided that we needed to stick our heads (and our brand) above the fray. Thus, the decision to open an Espresso Bar. We searched for the right premises for about a year and a half and eventually found the space we’re in now. We were so incredibly keen to start that we began trading when the building was still a hard-hat zone and we were the only shop-fitted space, with our main customers being the construction guys!
Setting up and running the Espresso Bar, which operates like a café-style establishment, has of course not been without its challenges. With us being situated in a more industrial-type location one of the major challenges has been getting our name out there – you wouldn’t expect to turn up off of Woodstock Main Road and, amidst a number of business parks, find a Coffee Roastery & Espresso Bar! Even after we’ve been here for a solid year we still regularly meet people working/living in the area who didn’t know we were here. We love it – it’s like making new friends every day! The other major challenge is one which is shared by all operating in the hospitality industry: staffing. Finding and keeping the right staff is a challenge, especially when you’re looking for skilled staff of a higher than typical calibre. Oh, and finding time to take a break – your business is very much a part of your everyday and doesn’t always keep office hours!

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

Some days we get that “aha” moment: you look around the space and all the seats are full, there’s a queue at the bar, the music is jamming and you get this big, stupid kid-grin on your face because “Hey, this is OURS”. Owning the Espresso Bar has been different from operating our wholesale business because we spend so much more time interacting face-to-face with our customers. I think that’s one of the things we love most about it – the interactions we have every day with our community of coffee lovers.

What’s the soundtrack in the coffee shop, if you have one?

Hmmm, it’s pretty hard to narrow it down as we play a wide variety of music. It depends on the time of day, how full the shop is, who is in the shop at the time and what kind of a mood we’re in. It can be anything from liquid drum-and-base to Blink 182, to deep house. We have been known to throw it back too, and love a little Dire Straits and The Police in the early morning. If we can get our hands on good local music, we give that a spin as well, and we have some customers who occasionally bring us some cool mixes to play too.

Is there any advice you can give to people who might want to follow your foot steps and also open their own coffee shop or also start roasting coffee?

Do your research. There is a big difference between the idea of owing your own coffee shop or roastery, and the reality of owning it. Some of the things they don’t tell you when you start your own business is that you don’t get “off” days (at least not for a long time into it); no matter how you feel, you have to show up, always. One of the greatest rewards about doing your own thing is effort in = rewards out, but this is also one of the biggest challenges. Oh, and be prepared to say goodbye to your weekends J

Some people see roasting coffee as an art or a science. Is there a philosophy behind your coffee?  

We like to think that artistry is one of the by-products of great passion. Think about something you’re passionate about – let’s say photography, or writing – when it’s driven by passion you endeavour to add your own mark, flair, make it your own. So, you’re an artist too in the love you take in weaving your craft.
Our philosophy, something we firmly believe, is that life is filled with moments. We fill our everyday with all of these moments, and most of them just pass by, so if we can “make” a moment for one of our customers – make it great, make it memorable, make it easy, make it an escape – then that’s our job done. And also, really great coffee should be accessible to all coffee lovers, from the “aficionado” to the “instant convert”… Because bad coffee shouldn’t happen to good people…

Is there anything in particular which you think makes your roasted coffee stand out from others in Cape Town?

You tell me 🙂 To be honest, we’ve just tried to stay focussed and real. Coffee without the pretention. We’ve stuck to a few coffees and made sure that we do them well. We’ve played a bit more over the last year and will continue to do so, especially with single origins. When we hit on something that we think is special we release it out to our Espresso Bar customers… but generally you won’t find us standing on hilltops yelling that our coffee is the greatest. Taste is so subjective – we love the way our coffee tastes and to us it’s very distinctive, but everyone is in a different space in their coffee journey and has different preferences, so all we can do is encourage people to try our coffee and decide for themselves.

How do you brew your coffee at home? Why?

Until recently we had one of our spare 2-group Wegas on the kitchen counter (which was great for the coffee, not so great for the electricity bill!). Why? Because it’s awesome 🙂
At the moment we have an old school La Pavoni that we use to extract espresso for our Americanos, mostly because bigger equipment doesn’t last long until we put it to more serious work somewhere else. Otherwise we’re still fans of the good ol French Press, especially for testing our single origins.

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

Probably the fact that it’s always changing: new trends, new ways of roasting and brewing, new crops… We love the fact that we haven’t “arrived”. So, as long as we have more to learn, experience and experiment with, we’ll continue to be inspired!

Thanks baseline coffee team, for your time answering my questions as well as providing me with a coffice whilst I was in Cape Town. 

Bad coffee shouldn’t happen to good people… So if you’re visiting Cape Town, make sure you take some time to venture off the beaten path, get to Woodstock and visit the Mason’s Press, for a coffee break at baseline coffee followed by a delicious gelato a few steps further at Moro Gelato, or a gelato first followed by a great coffee!

baseline coffee (homepage)

baseline coffee (instagram)

baseline coffee (Facebook)


Coffee Talk “pura vida” – meet Juan Carlos, barista at Cafeoteca (San Jose)

Having crossed the border from Panama, Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side was my first stop in Costa Rica. Following the same route of many fellow travellers I then spent some time on the Pacific coast, after heading up North first. I’m very happy I decided to not listen to many of those travellers I spoke to along the way, who recommended to avoid San Jose. If I had followed these people’s advice I would have completely missed out on one of my trip’s coffee highlights, being Cafeoteca, a lovely coffee shop situated in a more residential area of San Jose. I actually have to thank the barista of Emilios Cafe in Manuel Antonio, who told me that Cafeoteca is a must visit for coffee lovers in Costa Rica.

Having originally just stopped by for a coffee, I ended up spending an entire rainy afternoon at Cafeoteca, enjoying Tico hospitality, tasting coffee from the different coffee regions of Costa Rica, as well as talking coffee with both baristas, Juan Carlos and Remy. Both are very down to earth (unlike plenty of baristas out there) and were extremely passionate when it comes to coffee. Luckily Juan Carlos was also very patient and was happy to be my next coffee talk guest. Along with being thankful to Juan Carlos, I’m also grateful to William Viquez for sharing some photos of my coffee talk guest.

Juan Carlos, going by the full name of Juan Carlos Vargas Soto, comes from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. The 22 year old has spent the last four years working in restaurants and cafes, and while he and his brothers didn’t care for coffee whilst growing up, remembers how his mother dipped pieces of cheese in her coffee while his father dipped pieces of buttered bread in his cup of coffee. Since then things have changed and Juan Carlos’ passion for coffee is second to noone’s. He tells me of his fascination for the stories behind each grain of coffee and how he loves the experience of meeting people all along the bean to cup journey. As a barista he has met the families growing coffee whilst visiting coffee farms, learning from their spirit and passion for coffee, and passing this passion on to customers buying and drinking coffee. Working at Cafeoteca he has also been impressed by the increasing number of people who want to know more about the background of what they eat and drink.

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 Juan Carlos, how did your career coffee begin and what made you become a barista? Why at Cafeoteca?
At the age of 20 I started working as a baker at a very successful bakery in San Jose, which had the best baked goods in the area. The coffee we had however, was of very low quality, so we had many unsatisfied customers complaining. My question was: Why does one even have bad coffee in Costa Rica? Seeing several clients get to the bakery for breakfast with a thermos of hot coffee in hand, I gave myself the task to thoroughly research and learn how to prepare a good coffee and that’s how my adventure began. Arriving at my first barista class and trying for the first time a cup of specialty coffee increased my desire to investigate why coffee has that particular taste and how the difference in flavours relates to the country or region of origin. The fragrance and the aroma of coffee got me and made me enjoy every day. In Costa Rica coffee has a very important value in the country’s history, which fuelled my interest to further explore the world of coffee. In 2014 I became a certified barista of Costa Rica for the ICAFE (Costa Rican Coffee Institute) which was one of my best experiences. After being a certified barista I chose to work at Cafeoteca as this cafe is also a small coffee museum, with a focus on helping and teaching more about the culture of coffee. At Cafeoteca you can taste over 20 varieties of coffee, using various different preparation methods. It is a place where baristas give personalised customer service, and do the most they can to satisfy their guests with different coffee-based drinks. We are always looking to innovate and create new coffee products. Here everything revolves around coffee.
What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike?
With my job I enjoy having contact with people from all around the world, educating and teaching people to appreciate Costa Rican coffee. I like to innovate and create new dishes and drinks using coffee. Every day I am in search of new things. To be honest there’s nothing about my job that I dislike, but it does upset me that industrial coffee companies are gradually swallowing up the smaller businesses. I also find it depressing that a lot of coffee producing families are working so hard, yet they are earning very little. And know that coffee producing families are working harder and are earning less.

At Cafeoteca, what kind of coffee beans do you usually have, which regions do the beans come from and from which roaster/s? Which espresso machine and brew methods do you use?

At Cafeoteca we work with 23 different coffee varieties produced in Costa Rica. We buy 17 different kinds of beans directly from the farms, some using the honey and others the dry process. They all are distinctly characterised by their height, climate and soil. Mario Salas, our roaster, is well known in the industry, used to be a professor for coffee roasting, and now has his own company. At Cafeoteca we prepair coffee using 14 different methods. My favourite methods are Chemex, Kalita and fabric filters (blasting), and for our espresso based drinks we use a Rancillio Epoca machine.

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

The most popular are the coffee drips, (Natural and honey process) espresso, cappuccino and cold beer. My favorite drink is cold beer on the rocks, and my favorite coffeehouse is the Geisha Bat Coffee, a coffee produced in southern Costa Rica, which is that bats a national park area feed the mucilage of geisha coffee fruit farm (Coffea Diversa) which limit the interesting thing is that the fruits are dried on the ground and fermented with the animal’s saliva, which creates a very unique and delicious flavor.

What are your impressions of Costa Rica’s coffee scene, a country known globally for producing some of the best coffee (beans)?

The coffee has evolved throughout the history of Costa Rica and we have very good specialty coffee, but the coffee culture is very poor in which large companies often use sugar to hide the poor quality coffees. The good news is that more and more families are producing more specialty coffees and are preferring quality over quantity. In Costa Rica 98% of quality coffee is exported, and 50% of low-quality coffee is imported for domestic consumption (blends), which is an alarming figure. It’s very positive for Costa Rica as a whole that the specialty coffee culture is growing, and increasingly more international companies visit the country in search of the best coffee.

What kind of customers visit your shop, who are your favourite customers and who (celebrity, e.g. Madonna) would you most like to serve a coffee to?

At Cafeoteca we welcome people from all over the world, tourists as well as many people involved in the coffee industry. A lot of locals also really enjoy specialty coffees at Cafeoteca. My favourite customers are those who really appreciate specialty coffee and customers who always carry a new bag of coffee to share with friends. I would be very happy if I could serve my mother a coffee soon. It’s been a long time that I haven’t seen see her. She is my celebrity and the person who supports me every day.

What advice can you give to people who want to follow your path and also become a barista?

I would advise people to never think they know everything, people learn every day, if you do not know, learn, and if you know, teach others. If you like a coffee, investigate why it has that flavour and welcome to this wonderful world of coffee. Humility is the most important of all, it always helps people who need it most. Never believe that you can’t, knocks down walls, don’t get stuck, and always enjoy what you do

Do you have any exciting plans of your own regarding coffee? Is there anything in particular you would like to do if you had the time and/or resources?

I’m currently finishing my coffee cupping classes, in order to further extend my coffee knowledge. In the future I plan to go to study in Austalia to improve my English, and of course also to work in the Australian coffee industry, to gain more experience. While I’m still young I hope to travel, see new places and cultures and meet people from all over. Further down the road, together with my family, I expect to have our own business.

Juan Carlos, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and teaching anyone who visits Cafeoteca about coffee, especially about Costa Rican coffee. With being so humble and keen to also listen to what others have to say about coffee, I’m sure you’ll go your way successfully in the world of coffee. I hope our paths will cross again, where ever that may be, and that we can share some more interesting coffee stories again.

If you’re visiting Costa Rica and even just vaguely interested in coffee, don’t make the mistake of skipping San Jose and make sure you visit the “coffee museum” Cafeoteca. Whilst enjoying one of the numerous different kinds of coffees on offer, prepared using your chosen brewing method, feel free to be lectured about Costa Rican coffee or share your own coffee knowledge/experiences.

Cafeoteca (homepage)

Juan Carlos Vargas Soto, barista (instagram)

WillPhoto – photographer (instagram)


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 –


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?