Synergy

Just a few months into this quest and I’d say things are actually progressing at a pretty impressive clip. While I may be no closer to owning my own coffee shop than I was in January what I have been able to do is make connections. If there’s one thing I’ve taken with me from DC to Sweden is this, it’s all about who you know. Social capital doesn’t necessarily translate into actual capital but it does have quite a bit of value.

Here’s a perfect example. I went to a shop here in GBG called Kaffemaskinen. It was there that I met two wonderful fellow professional coffee enthusiasts named Jesper Tullback and Sofia Strömberg. In the past few months I’ve had a number of very helpful and enlightening conversations with them about coffee and what’s good and bad within the coffee culture here. Anyway, when Jesper went to Stockholm several weeks back for the Swedish Barista Championship (he competed in the Brewers Cup!) he gave my card to Per Nordell of Åre Kafferosteri. Not long after that, I was sitting in the middle of Castellet when I got a call from Per himself. We chatted briefly but just long enough to come to the understanding that we had very similar ideas about the business, about the way coffee is consumed and the room for growth that exists in Sweden’s café market. Additionally, I had purchased a bag of their Yirgacheffe and I am not just being hyperbolic when I say it absolutely floored me. They absolutely NAILED it. The last time I’d had a coffee with that much personality in one cup it was when I was at DaMatteo and we had a Geisha.

Nevertheless, the conversation was a very thrilling moment and I decided that whatever future exists for First Degree Coffee it would be helped a great deal if partnered up with Åre Kafferosteri. Now, nothing is set in stone but I feel very comfortable in at least hoping that I’ve got the wonderful coffee roasted by the dynamic husband and wife duo of Per Nordell and Eva Gefvert Nordell backing me up in any future endeavors.

Here’s to the future.

*The day before I hop on a plane to visit my family in the States a package arrived via DHL from Åre. The package contained their newly roasted Cup of Excellence Rwandan as well as their Espresso blend “Pop” (which is comprised of beans from El Salvador, Brazil and Ethiopia.) While I’m going there with the number one goal of helping my family pay tribute to my father, I am also planning on spending some time at Filter Coffeehouse to get some hands on experience in exactly the type of shop I’d like to see more of in Göteborg.

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Look! It’s a Survey!

So, I’m testing out the survey/poll feature here on my blog. This isn’t just a test, though, I actually want to know what people think so please answer and for goodness’ sake SHARE! Post this on your own wall or Tweet it or whatever. The more the merrier!

What is the most important thing to you about a coffee shop?

(polls)

Nü Logo

By no stretch of the imagination would I consider myself a graphic designer. Still, I am very visually oriented so here’s my first (lame) atttempt at some sort of a logo.  What do you think? Does it suck? Is it boring? I mean really, what’s important is the actual product. Being that I don’t have a product right now other than my undying devotion to the coffee bizness, I figured what harm could come from futzing around with some logo ideas, right? So here it is:

I know, I know. It ain’t exactly the Nike Swoosh. Well, if you think you can do better than by all means give it a whirl!

Changing Perspective

Right now I’m just a dude from another land with big dreams. So a lot of what I say on here holds no more value than the tiny 1s and 0s that comprise this blog. There are dreams, though and there are plans. When you’re not exactly in a position to immediately apply those plans, they remain simply dreams. I have to continue, though, as if everything I hope to accomplish is part of a plan. So, I have to think not in terms of if I open a café but rather, when

Just thought I’d get that out of the way.

Now, as I see it, there is one very large challenge that one faces, or rather that faces me in my hopes to open a quote/unquote third wave café here in GBG. The perception that people here don’t expect much more out of a cup of coffee than just a cup of coffee. I think this is a self defeating mindset and is an enemy of progress. The key to subverting this mindset is not to try to force consumers that their way of consuming coffee is wrong but rather to show them that there are other ways to consume it. Create the space in which both “good” coffee and “bad” coffee exist and allow them to choose what they want, when they want it. Obviously, we want to sway people towards choosing “good” coffee because, well that’s what we’re excited about and in order for coffee enthusiasts like us to continue what we’re doing, we need people to buy into it.

How to do that is simply to change the way the product, in this case specialty coffee, is presented. If it is presented with a strong dosage of passion, skill, knowledge and enthusiasm then people will take it seriously. If it is presented as just another product that is no more or less unique than a pair of socks or a bottle of water then, naturally people are just going to accept it as such and go on. Also, I don’t want to say that just presenting coffee in a cool way with fancy latte art and using cool gadgets is all it takes to get people interested. The product has to be worthwhile.

Despite what many (and I do mean many) Swedes may think, coffee in the States is not “worse” than coffee here in Sweden. Yes, overall, Swedes may like their coffee stronger, but stronger doesn’t really equate with being better. I have had some absolutely atrocious cups of coffee in my two plus years here and you know what? I have had some absolutely horrible cups of coffee in America too. Bad coffee is bad coffee all over the world. Conversely, great coffee is great coffee all over the world too. The baristas at DaMatteo are every bit as skilled as the baristas at Stumptown. Also, the coffee sold at DaMatteo is just as good as the coffee sold by Stumptown. That’s because both organizations approach the process with the same amount of dedication to craft, quality, education and execution.

And enthusiasm.

You tell someone in GBG that you want to open your own café and their response is most likely going to be something along the lines of why would you want to open another café in a city full of cafés? My response is this: I have absolutely no intention of opening another café in a city full of cafés, my intention is to open a GREAT café in a city full of uniformly bland ones. See the difference?

For most coffee shops, their intention is to just to…exist. To just be a place where people come in, chew the fat, shoot the sh*t, drink their coffee and be on their merry ways. There’s nothing wrong with that really, there’s just nothing unique about it either. The coffee shop does serve a functional social role, I just think that there’s no reason that a quality product shouldn’t be part of the overall package.  The impression I come away with is that the proprietors of even some of the best shops in the city are very content with what they do and have no interest in changing with the times. Their customers are also content with what they do too and don’t really place any demand that these shops do anything different. That doesn’t mean, though, that they wouldn’t be open to change and be willing to follow in whatever direction these shops decide to go.

Consumers can be frustratingly accepting of mediocrity sometimes. Most of the time. Yet the good thing is, consumers are also equally accepting of a high quality product if said product is presented as being worth the time, effort and money. People like McDonald’s. Yet I think most (reasonable) people who go to McDonald’s know full well what they are buying. Food that contains hardly any nutritional value yet is very, very satisfying on the purest of levels. You don’t go to McDonald’s expecting Boeuf Bourguignon and you don’t go to Fond expecting a Happy Meal. If you just want something that tastes grapelike and contains alchohol then there are plenty of crappy wines you can buy, however if you want to buy something that is unique, was prepared with a great deal of pride and is worth every cent then you seek out the wines that are rated highest. The same goes for beer. Want to get drunk? Buy Budweiser, Falcon or Carlsberg. However, if you want something with a bit more character that requires you spend a bit more time with than grab a Dugges, Ocean or just about anything Belgian.

So the idea that people are just as happy with crappy coffee and don’t care about the taste is absolute rubbish. People may be content with it but they’ll be more than happpy to buy something of higher quality if it is available. If the former were truly the case then DaMatteo would not be as successful as they have been thus far. There is a vast gap between what DaMatteo does and what essentially every other coffee shop in the city does. The main thing to realize is that you can’t really compare them to every other coffee shop in the city, their competition extends beyond the borders of GBG. Their competition is Square Mile, Stumptown, Intelligentsia and Counter Culture. Their peers are James Hoffman, David Haugaard, Tim Wendelboe or Nick Cho. I hate to seem like a DaMatteo cheer leader (believe me, they stopped paying me two winters ago) but I know quality when I taste it and the proof is in the cup people. They’re the best in town, hands down.

The fact of the matter is, I would be willing to bet that a great deal of DaMatteo’s customers couldn’t tell you (specifically) why their coffee is high quality, they just know that it is. If people can see that the product they are being served has been selected, roasted and brewed with pride, craft and passion (and enthusiasm!) then they have no problem paying for it even if they are unable to express what makes bad coffee bad or good coffee good.

I must say, though, that I don’t mean to sound condescending. The fact of the matter is that if you put a great cup of coffee in front of someone and ask them to just taste it, they will be able to tell IMMEDIATELY that it’s not your average cup o’ joe.

The first time I met Nick Cho was the first time I’d ever tasted a cappuccino. That’s not to say it was the first time I’d ever HAD a cappuccino. I mean I’d ordered them at coffee shops countless times before then, heck I even made some when I ran the café at Borders a year or so earlier. But I never really TASTED a cappuccino until the day I went in for my interview at Murky Coffee (it was more like a conversation than an interview. Obviously, the conversation went well since I got the job!) After talking for a while, Nick asked me if I wanted a coffee and we went down to the bar where he made me a cappuccino that more or less changed my life. Yeah, okay, so that’s a bit of an overstatement but what I mean is, this thing just tasted different. It FELT different. Like drinking a cup of liquid silk. It was smooth, it was sweet and it was all I needed.

One cup. The proof is in the cup. I don’t care what you think of coffee made in America, coffee made in Sweden or coffee made in the Bermuda Triangle, if you don’t give a crap about what you’re putting into someone’s coffee mug then I have no time for you. However, if you do place value in your hard earned dollars, pounds or kronor(s) then maybe, just maybe, you might want to think about what it is in the cup. And maybe, just maybe, you DO want to place higher demand on your local coffee shop or merchant. Ask them about their coffee, ask them why they selected it, ask them if they even LIKE it, ask them where it comes from. Is it Fair Trade? Direct Trade? Challenge them.

I am no expert, not by a long shot. I’m just a fan. There’s so much I don’t know but want to know. And I am not even half as good a barista as I want to be but I think I make up for a what may be lacking technically because I love what I do and want to improve. I’d like to think that counts for something. Hopefully it counts for enough to turn this concept (this movement?) into something tangible.

More Barista Porn

…okay, I was gonna wait for something a bit more special but this was too good to pass up. It’s over a year old but A) it’s got the Pixies and B) it’s got rosettas. How could I not?

That’s it for now.

I promise?

FDC Cinema I

Coffee nerdery and the internets go hand in hand. I’ve spent way too many hours of my life on YouTube looking at latte art videos. It’s like barista porn. That said, whenever I see something that I find interesting, I’ll post it here. For instance here’s a little video about specialty coffee starring DC roasting stalwarts, M.E. Swing. Enjoy!

First Degree Coffee: An Introduction

You may or may not be wondering, what is all this First Degree Coffee business Reggie seems to be all about recently?

Well, I’ll tell you.

In all honesty it is an attempt to forge a brand name on a product that doesn’t (yet) exist. But even that is oversimplifying things a bit. For selfish reasons I am disappointed with the overall coffee scene here in Gothenburg. I mean if I’m going to live in a place then I want some serious options for specialty coffee. Not just one. Here’s the thing, though. I am no longer content with sitting back and complaining about what the scene is or is not. I want to do something about it.

Here’s how I’ve calculated it. The coffee business as it exists today has been through a few growth spurts over the last decade or so. Within the industry these growth spurts are referred to as “waves.” Right now, the industry is in the Third Wae although some would say we’re well into the Fourth. Rather than try to explain the differences of these “waves” myself, I’ll let coffee nerd supreme Nick Cho do the talking:

“The first wave is all about consumption. The second wave is about enjoyment and defining specialty, and the third allows the coffee to speak for itself. The third wave appreciates each coffee for what it truly is and takes whatever necessary steps to highlight the amazing, unique character in every coffee.”

The quote is from an article written by another industry role model of mine, Trish Rothgeb of Wrecking Ball Coffee.  In that article, Trish goes on to say the following:

In recent years, specialty coffee has developed into one gigantic thinktank, it seems. Pretty much anyone who has an opinion or an idea is welcomed at the table. Groups, forums and programs have emerged that support this new climate. Perhaps these systems of communication and information have developed as a by-product of the quest for coffee nirvana. Either way, the third wave is all-inclusive and growing.

There will be regular exchanges of knowledge and meetings devoted to coffee . . .

The third wave is, in many ways, a reaction. It is just as much a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement toward good coffee.

I want to focus on both parts of the above statement as they define almost perfectly the entire mission of First Degree Coffee. I’ve made steps to establish the identity of FDC because even without an actual physical location to call home, I like to think that it can still operate as kind of an “entity.” Like the thinktank that Trish mentioned I envision First Degree playing sort of an activist or maybe just a cheerleader for quality coffee here in Gothenburg.

I will be honest, overall Gothenburg’s coffee scene is very much still a First Wave scene. There are tons of very skilled baristas who technically know how to make high quality drinks but what goes in the cup is largely nothing to write home about. What’s odd is the leader of the pack, daMatteo, is a 100% full-blooded Third Wave coffee behemoth. Whether it’s their award winning baristas, ahead of the curve coffee brewing practices (two Clovers, a LaMarzocco in each of their two main café and the city’s ONLY pourover bar in their roastery) everything daMatteo does is centered around the quality of what goes in the cup.

Isn’t it usally the case, then, that if one company leads the pack that others typically follow in their footsteps to one degree or another? Yet not a single one of the city’s so-called “best” shops do anything like what daMatteo does.

This is where I hope I can play a part, for this is the conundrum that drives me crazy as a coffee fanatic: Is that the other shops are playing it safe, doing what they know sells without any sense of professional obligation to keep pace with the changes going on within the indusry on a global scale? OR is it that they sense little to no demand from the customers and are wary of changing the game too much? I mean, truth be told, even daMatteo put their pour over bar in the shop that sees the least amount of traffic. I should say that I understand for the most part that the Swedish tax code doesn’t necessarily make it easy for a small café to do anything more than just exist.

Personally — and maybe this is because I’m American and we do capitalism better than anyone so it’s in my blood but — I still think the responsibility falls solely on the shoulders of the merchants. I’m sure there was minimal customer demand for the Clover here in Sweden yet daMatteo has TWO of them. I know there is little to no demand for a pour over bar but daMatteo’s got one of those too. They have them because the people steering the ship over there are coffee enthusiasts. THEY know that these newfangled gadgets and trinkets are designed to maximize the flavor of the stuff that goes in the cup so they took it upon themselves as most merchants SHOULD do to get this stuff and put it to use in their shops. I mean, they’re roasting their own beans too so I guess part of it is also looking out for their own best interests but I know those guys and I know they care.

Who else cares? I think Kafé Marmelad cares. They use a trustworthy Swedish roaster (Johan & Nyström) and even have their own espresso blend designed by J&N. Linnestaden’s Castellet cares enough to not only use daMatteo’s coffee  but the espresso machine is from daMatteo’s Vallgatan shop.

I want to know who else cares. And I guess to do that the only real option is to just get out there and get into the mix myself.

Enter: First Degree Coffee.

The focus is not merely on using high quality coffee but CARING about it. I have no intention of trying to force people to care about what they do if they don’t already. However, do think I can help sift out those that just might care a little bit more and let them blossom. Conversely, I have no intention of trying to force customers to care more about whey they’re consuming if they don’t already but I know there are many customers who do want a higher quality cup of coffee but perhaps are too — forgive me, but — too Swedish to demand it.

I have some ideas that I think can help positively shake things up a bit within the coffee consumption culture. I will use this blog and other forms of social media to share those in due time. There’s already one idea that I’ve floated out there that I really hope happens. We may even see it begin as early as this spring, stay tuned.

Professional coffee enthusiasts. That’s what First Degree Coffee is all about. Shoot, I may even get business cards made up that say that. First Degree Coffee is about stretching the boundaries of people’s perception about their morning coffee far beyond the ceramic mug that contains it and to the farm where the beans were picked, to the roastery where they were enhanced, to the coffee shop where they found a temporary home and then to the barista that transformed them into the mug of consumable living artwork.

Finally, even if there is no actual physical space to call my coffee shop, I figured who needs an office or café if the main goal is to just promote excellent coffee, challenge talented baristas or exploring the various means of preparation.

This is First Degree Coffee. Forging an existence right smack dab on the parallel principles of professional coffee enthusiasm and enthusiastic coffee professionalism. Hope to see you there too someday.