Sonja Björk Grant – Coffeeregards from Iceland

Hello Everyone.

It is coffeepav Friday (yep, coffeepav blog will be updated every Friday – I will regret this sentence, I know).

Before I will move into incredible interview with Sonja, I want to steal Your focus on… (drum roll please)…

Coffeepav Challenge 1. 

I am calling all baristas now, to do one simple thing, as many times as You can!

!Take as many photos with Your customers as You can! Number of people on one picture, does not count as many, one picture, one point. This is stage one of the whole experiment. More info next week. I have very tasty things to win.

1 st Place : Grinder Rhinoware, Aeropress and Bag of Coffee

2nd Place: Hario XGS – 36 Server 01 with Glass Hario V60 01, Pack of filters and Bag of Coffee

3rd Place: Hario V60 02 Glass with pack of filters and bag of coffee.

Remember, Your job is to do as many photos with Your customers as You can! Challenge starts from Friday 26/06/2015 and finished on next Thursday 02/07/2015. By Thursday 02/07/2015 till 8 p.m. UTC, send all Your photos to


Ok, Now it is time to invite Sonja!


C: Once again huge thank You for agreeing to have a interview with me. It means a lot to me, and I am really happy that all You guys who decided to support and help me, will deliver answers on questions baristas struggle with.

S: It is my pleasure

C: For starters, Could You tell me a little bit about yourself? Short story of your coffee?

My name is Sonja Björk Grant and I’m from a small town up north of Iceland called Akureyri. My profession is that I’m a carpenter but started working in coffee industry in 1995 and I never looked back at my profession of being carpenter. I started working for a small specialty coffee company called Kaffitár and I worked there for 13 years, and I learnt a lot about coffee from the owner Aðalheiður Héðinsdóttur. After 13 years of working for her, opened few coffee shops, trained few national champions and few finalists in World Barista Championship (WBC), Latte Art (WLAC) and Coffee in Good Spirit (WCIGS). I started my own coffee company with one of my student, owned that company for 5 years and then sold it to my student. I have started another coffee company, Kaffibrugghúsið (Coffee Brewery) and travel around the world to do all kinds of training, I work with SCAE on the Judge Certifications and WCEP (World Championship Education Program) and some other interesting projects that it too early to talk about at this point. I like projects and have been involve with many of them around sports and coffee championships my whole life.

C: How was Sweden? Are You happy with all competitors and routines?

S: Nordic World Of Coffee was amazing. We had 5 world championships, witch normally would be too many championships in one place but the organization was done by WCE so we had dedicated people on each stage. For the first time we had enough judges to run the championships, we have been working on training and certifying enough judges last few years so the pressure on each and every one of them was not to high. I think I have never had experienced that I was only focusing on one Championship at an event. My responsibility at this event was Coffee in Good Spirit, we were two head judges, Lauro Fioretti and me, and we had our two teams of judges panel. The same was in Latte Art Championship were Roukiat Delrue and Joe Hsu ruled as Head judges and had their two teams of judges. The sad part of having so many championships at one event is that I did not see the Brewers Cup routines, Roasters or Cup tasting championship. But the audience could walk from one championship to another and follow their favorite competitor, which I think that was amazing about this event. I’m very proud of those 5, 2015 World Champions, (Roasters and Brewers Champions are from Norway, Cup tasting Champion is from Costa Rica, Spirit Champion is from Greece, and Latte Art champion is from Australia).

C What are You looking for in a cup? If hypothetically I would like to compete next year,

What Do You want to see, what is the direction for a barista to be successful?

S: …In the championships the judges are very well trained to judge by criteria and judges calibrate a lot to be consistent. I would recommend you to study the rules around the championship that you are interested in competing in. You have to understand where you get the points. You might have the best coffee in the world but if you do not understand what the judges are looking for you can not win. Experience of standing in front of people needs to be practiced, practice your reaction if you make a mistake on stage, I mean if you make a mistake, a good competitor does not freak out, he is professional enough to improvise and fix the situation. The judges want to be comfortable and enjoy the coffee and drinks the barista is serving. They know how much work is behind the performance. The judges, most of the time are as stressed as the competitor, because the responsibility is huge and they want to do the best job to give the competitor the best feedback for his coffee and drinks. And of course (goes without saying) I would recommend to get to know the limit of your coffee. I guess practice is the key.

C: From 1 to 10, How much do You like coffee? 

S: This is easy, I love coffee and it is a 10!

C: We have now, the golden years of specialty coffee, we have reached the extreme level of controlling every parameter on day to day brewing. Aren’t You scared that with progressing this way, We will soon lose the magic, and coffee would start being less and less enjoyable for Us?

S: Personally I like that we have now figure out all those parameters in Brewing, it was necessary to know more and have standards. But in the end of the day we all say that coffee is about passion, and the passion comes from the heart. I can not imagine my coffee life without a good grinder and a scale, but I think I have been making so many filter brews in my life to know how to make a good cup of coffee without having the rest of the toys. I think everybody in coffee like their toys, but the toys are nothing if you do not have passion for your coffee, and treat it with respect.


C: As You probably have noticed, in specialty coffee, baristas tend to judge. Cup of coffee does not mean the same thing as five years ago. We are educated, we know what is good, but… We judge, to much in my opinion. I personally have a big problem with it. We turned tasting into testing. We don’t just sit with cup of coffee and enjoy, we take a sip and look for bad things. Some may say it is the way to train yourself and get better, well, for me it is going a little bit to far… What is your opinion on that? 

S: I totally agree, but that is why is good to learn how to be a judge because that really teaches you to understand the coffee instead of being judgemental about it. Most coffees have good sides if they are not ruined by the roaster(master). And we are all different with different taste in coffee. I think that it is normal for young competitors to analyze the coffee and judge it, and I’m sure I was like that many years ago. I’m not saying it is a good thing but it is human to do so, and part of our life experience to grow professionally. We want to be noticed and acknowledged by our co-workers and the people we are drinking coffee with. And it is human to look for negatives rather than highlight the positives. And most of the time it means that we can improve. I think is good to train the pallets at all times, but there is also time and a place to enjoy the coffee in silence. As a judge I enjoy so many interesting cups of coffee, some I remember more about. When I’m home, I’m also enjoying so many good coffee’s that I bring home from my travels…then I’m enjoying them in silence. Coffee is a social drink, and there is always a choice to drink coffee that you enjoy and like or to just have a glass of water.

C: You travel a lot, could you name three differences between Scandinavian and European coffee? 

S: I’m an Icelander I count in the group of Scandinavians. We like to keep our food , flavors and coffee simple. We like acidity and clean cup. We roast our coffees quite light to keep its character, and then we brew it with filter. We are well educated about our food and want to know where it is from, the same with coffee, we think it is important to know where it comes from. Overall we drink good quality coffee, at least here in Iceland, only Arabica green beans are imported and in every gas station you can have a cup of great specialty coffee, roasted by the specialty roasteries in Iceland. This is what our culture is all about. We drink a lot of filter coffee and are used to washed coffees. The trend of natural coffees and wines has hit us as well as the rest of the world and we like it, but it is not our daily cup. Our daily cup of coffee to enjoy is still washed coffee. In the European countries that I have already visited, (and I have not visited all countries in Europe), I think the most difference is the roasting profiles and the build of the blends. In many European countries (bad) Robusta is put into the blends and for me as a Scandinavian it is very different flavor profile from what we are used to drink. Our spices for food are green organic spices, salt and pepper, so when we go to Europe we are so happy to experience differences in food, witch is more red spices, yellow, garlic, ginger and so on. The same with coffee, espresso used to rule in Europe and I still think it is dominant in many cultures, but filter is also starting to get a place in coffee shops around Europe.

C: Who is barista?

S: Being a barista is a complex job. On one hand it is a person working on shifts behind the bar serving coffee. But in my mind is much bigger than that. Being a barista is a big responsibility of bringing together the farmer and his coffee guests. He is responsible for presenting the coffee, the livelihood of the farmer. He has awareness from bean to cup and has ambitions to share it to his coffee guests. A barista is Inspired and curious about culture, is humble and open minded to absorb knowledge. But no Barista is automatically in that situation. It is a learning curve, and takes time to be a good barista.

C: You are also a trainer. If You trained me, and after 6 months You visit my cafe, when would You smile and think ,,Ok, I have done good job with this training”?  

S: Hmmmm this is a good question. I think I could say that there are few ways to measure it. The easy part is to taste your coffee. That could give me good idea if you paid any attention to what I was teaching you. And the next one is how you talk to your coffee guests with beautiful service skill and confidence, without being arrogant and lecturing them. But I think my favourite and would bring tears in my eyes, is when I see you help the other baristas and quoting the trainer. As soon as you can start helping other co- baristas you learn the most, because as soon as you start using the quote to explain to others you understand it, and get the ,,AHA!” moment.

C: Why coffee is a big deal for You ? 

S: Omg this is a big question…I think there is not an easy way to answer. Coffee is so many things. When I look into a cup of black liquid I have so many questions. Coffee for me is adventure of different cultures, I travel to countries in different parts of the world and meet many interesting people and we all communicate around cup of coffee. We might not understand each other because of language but we can express our emotions about coffee and understand each other perfectly. For me to have a change to visit farmers, to meet their family and hugs their coffee trees and then bringing this coffee home to Iceland, roast it and serve it to my coffee guests…this is just amazing feeling. Of course it is a big business, but first of all it is about relationships. In judging, in training, in buying and in serving coffee…the chain from the bean to the cup is so interesting and that is why I like Coffee with big C.

C: Do You remember your first cup of ,,specialty” coffee? What was it? Was it good? 

S: I have to be honest and say that I do not remember. In Iceland we always drink very high quality coffee. But I did not think about Specialty Coffee before I started working for Kaffitár, because it was the first micro roaster in Iceland. I had always bought different coffees to try but when I started working for Aðalheiður Héðinsdóttur I finally understood what is was all about. This is like 20 years ago, so I do not remember any more what coffee I was into at that time…but I can sure you it was washed.

C: I am a huge fan of consistency, as you could see and hear while I was doing my routine in Brewers Cup. I adore every scale, thermometer, refractometer, etc. That makes me quite confident about my brew, and allows me to ,,talk with my roaster”. What You, as a roaster, want to hear from a barista that would actually help You with improving your roast? 

S: I’m a huge fan of getting any feedback the barista or coffee guests can give me, and since I’m a barista, I would like to taste together with the barista before I start to change my roast profile, I would like you to brew the coffee in front of me and when we taste the coffee together so you can explain to me what your feedback means, so me as a roaster can understand exactly what you are talking about. It is easy to tell the roast master that you want this and that in the coffee but I always need to work together and then I would probably try out different profiles to test the limit of the coffee. Sometimes the coffee does not have what the barista is asking for and then he needs to change his coffee if he is looking for different character

C. What is Your favorite meal? 🙂

S: My favorite meal…not sure if I have one. It is related to country. In Iceland I cook a lot of fish and vegetarian food. In Colombia I like to have steak with beautiful avocado, In Greece I really enjoy all the seafood plates. I’m open to try out the cultural food. If I’m in a meat place I eat meat, If I’m in a fish place I eat fish, If I’m in a hamburger restaurant that is what I eat and in Italy I eat pasta….

C: Thank You very much for Your time Sonja!

S: Thank You! Coffeeregards from Iceland.

Once again guys. Get your phones, cameras, toasters, anything You can take picture with and start taking photos with your customers. Remember – 1 picture – 1 point. Winner gets Rhinoware grinder and Aeropress 🙂

Make Sure to send your name, country and company You are from in the email with pictures. Send your pictures till Thursday – 02.07.2015 till 8 pm U.T.C. You can send few pictures one day, and another few, the next day, I will sort them all out.

Well… START! 

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