Relationship. This is an important word in our industry. It is a challenge to build a relationship; a bigger one to keep it alive. We all know the basic story of specialty coffee: a good roastery sends their roaster to origin to work with the farmers and help them improve crop quality, in turn paying a premium for the best green beans. Quality of life thus improves for the farmers and their families and more children are put into education. The roaster brings out the best in the coffee and sells it to the best coffee shops with the best baristas. James Hoffman asked his audience at the Tamper Tantrum Asia Tour ,,Doesn’t it sound familiar?”. Almost every roastery recounts the same story. Why? Because it shows the relationships involved and that they care; it demonstrates how the specialty industry is different and that we know how to fascilitate change.
I have recently been building my own relationships. I have met a lot of great baristas, trainers, judges and roasters. We all share the same passion and that brings us together. One of these people is a handsome, averagely-tall and very smart guy who used to drink coffee on my bar almost every day for six months. We have talked at length about coffee and shared many interesting ideas. This man is Tim Schilling and he will be running this blog with me. Please say hello to ‘Timbo’ as he is a great guy and will do his best to deliver every week. Indeed, the relationship that I value the most is the one between barista and customer. The barista is responsible for presenting the whole coffee ‘relationship’ – it is in his or her hands to connect the customer with all those who have gone before them.
Today, I would like to introduce to you someone who builds these relationships well. He is the creator of a large and pivotal social media forum for baristas where coffee-related discussions can be discussed. This year, he was once again found serving coffee for the Polish TEDx series. He is a two-time Polish Brewers Cup Champion (2012 and 2014) and placed second in the World Coffee in Good Spirits championship in 2013. He is the great, outgoing, funny and very well-dressed Mr Marcin ,,Makiato” Wójciak!
C: Hello, Marcin! It’s a pleasure to have you on board! Some time ago, you launched the ,,Krakow’s Coffee Cooperation”, an internet platform where baristas can share their passion with each other. What lead you to create the platform?
M: Hey, Pav! When I started working in the coffee industry, there weren’t many people to gain experience from other than my friends. In order to attend cuppings, I had to travel to Warsaw; for workshops, to Oploe; for latte art jams, to Gliwice. There were no books or blogs in Polish and very few dedicated baristas. When I travelled to the World Championships in Vienna, I realised how big the world of coffee really was. I would call up a few people and we would get together to brew some coffee, talk about water temperatures, grind size and the like. We then created a big group on Facebook mainly for people around Southern Poland which was supposed to help us communicate and share ideas. The group grew very large very quickly and soon it wasn’t only about our city anymore, but Poland as a whole. I think we are still the strongest internet platform for the coffee industry in Poland.
C: Thank you for that. You have an impressive history from the competition world. Do you feel like a champion?
M: No! Well… maybe a little. It took a lot of hard work to get there and I am really happy and proud that I was a champion on a number of occassions. Though I only won a couple of competitions, it still feels a little bit strange when someone introduces me and mentions my titles. It is not the most important thing to me, but it’s a nice feeling.
C: You recently served coffee at this year’s TEDx in Poland. How did it go? How did you maintain high quality with the vast quantities?
M: We served around 1,900 coffees for about 1,200 people across two coffee bars, each with three baristas. It was difﬁcult, but we did a great job. I knew how busy it was going to be and that we would have to serve huge amounts in a very short time (at lunch and coffee breaks), so I initially wanted to have four coffee bars between ﬁfteen baristas, but unfortunately the sponsors didn’t allow for that. Nonetheless, my role was to maintain quality and make sure that everything was as it should be. I had to pour a few shots away, and I often saw my baristas getting stressed when the queue of people kept growing, but together we did it!
C: So what did you serve?
M: On the ﬁrst bar, we had a great espresso from Brazil, Rainha; a Colombian, La Victoria; and a Kenyan, Aguthi, all of which were roasted by Koﬁ Brand. On the second bar, we were serving a Burundian espresso, Shembatioon and an Ethiopian on ﬁlter, Wote, both roasted by Audun Coffee, the 2015 World Roasting Champion*
C: I remember Intelligentsia once headhunted the most suitable baristas to host TEDx in America. How did you gather your team? What kind of baristas do you need serve coffee on TEDx well?
M: Oh, that was a really hard process. I started looking for people a few months in advance. A number of baristas resigned just before the event, but in the end we had three baristas from Krakow and three from Opole. I was looking for speed, precision, attention to detail, clean work, multitasking, the ability to make quick decisions in critical moments, good spoken English and, most importantly, a high level of customer service. I had to eliminate any ‘troublemakers’ – those who argue with customers or have a problem with serving coffee with milk. TEDx is not a place for those kinds of people. I needed nice, outgoing people who could easily interact with customers.
C: TEDx is a great opportunity to start building important relationships. Did you meet anyone special?
M: I met a lot of great people and I consequently had a number of people and various coffee companies contacting me about coffee workshops, consultancy and events. I hope this year will be similar.
C: Ok, so from 1 to 10, how much do you like coffee?
M: 10, but just black. If I compared coffee to cocktails, it would be a 6 or 7. Cocktails are more multileveled. What I mean by this is that in a cocktail you can combine coffee with other drinks, and that is when the
magic starts. You can control the balance, ﬂavour variations and aftertastes. You can create thousands of different tasting sensations and it is magical.
C: So then, now we have started weighing our coffee, calculating extraction using refractometry and working with water chemistry, do you think our taste preferences have changed? I remember how years ago we would under extract almost every espresso and call it a ‘perfect shot’.
M: I am not sure if it is a matter of equipment. I have noticed that in the coffee industry we have trends, just as in fashion. Trends are very subjective of course, but the important fact is that as of late, the coffees I try have a fuller ﬂavour, so this looks like a good trend to me.
C: Is that what you are looking for in your coffee, then? A full ﬂavour sensation?
M: I like interesting coffees, but I also like balance. I don’t like ﬂat or under extracted coffees, even if they taste ‘clean’.
C: What does balance therefore mean to you?
M: Balance is where sweetness meets acidity but one doesn’t overwhelm the other. It is also a matter of temperature at the point of serving – this has a huge impact on taste.
C: Last question: What is you favourite meal?
M: Well, just as with music and coffee, it all depends on the day. I am vegetarian, or at least I am trying to be. I’d say that my favourites are guacamole and burata.
C: Great. Thank you very much, Marcin, and good luck with your coffee adventure!
M: Thank you, Pav!
* Interview on coffeepav with Audun Coffee is coming soon
Relationship. I think most of us would agree that we want to sell more hand brewed coffees. We know they are so tasty and so we want our customers to think that too. Maybe they could, but then why don’t they? Is it a matter of price? I don’t think so; people tend to be happy to spend more for a quality product. Why then do we not sell as many pourovers as we do lattes? I strongly believe that we, the baristas, have a lot to do with it. Imagine a line of people waiting to order. They all are watching you. One customer comes to the till and orders a decaf soy half-shot extra-hot latte. What is your reaction? What is your initial facial expression, maybe? Exactly. You have just lost trust. We have to understand that we cannot force knowledge on our customers, but at the same time we can not expect them to ﬁnd out for themselves. What we should do is to welcome everyone the same way, no matter if they are that latte guy or the syphon geek. That way, we as
baristas would make customers feel more comfortable, and when we feel more comfortable, we like to discover more. Some might call this good customer service; I like to think of it as building a relationship.