We are into Autumn now and our October subscription needs no introduction, however that doesn’t stop me writing a small one! A real pleasure this month to speak with Ralf, as he always inspires me to want to do more, I am not sure how he manages to do everything! Enjoy the coffee and the following interview.
The Barn continues to grow, how many cafes do you have and how do you maintain such high standards?
We have 10 cafes in Berlin. We opened some two weeks before the closure of everything in Germany that was March 2020. So that was a pretty rough ride!
We keep a close bracket around serving the coffees, roasting the coffees and of course, sourcing the coffees. The whole value chain is what we look at and we are improving the quality at every level.
We only work with single-origin coffees as you know. We really believe in terroir and that we can create a market by talking about farms, their stories, and about the flavours. We have moved away from just discussing or experiencing flavours.
We keep beans clean and light on the outside and develop more flavours and sweetness on the inside. I think that's really key for everybody to enjoy a great cup that is balanced and offers not only flavour and acidity, but also body, sweetness, and great aromas.
To transfer this to our staff and then to the cafes and to our customers is key. We hire amazing people from all over the world. I think right now we have 28 nationalities under one roof. That's, really stunning. They come here because they know they will work with great coffees and they'll learn from us. They have regular video sessions with the roaster. They are writing down what they are tasting every day. This feedback from the barista on bar has a voice and it will be heard by the roasting team.
What are your favorite aspects of each part of the business?
Well, number one, it is a people's business. My favorite aspect is really that everybody in all parts of the business is enthusiastic about coffee. To be honest with you, I really miss being a barista. Sometimes you see me clearing dishes, talking to customers, on a Saturday in one of the cafes, I really enjoy the connection. I think specialty coffee is an amazing opportunity to change the value chain, but also it is the most democratic product. I can say that because I travel into most regions where people are buying my coffee and it really surpasses any social clusters, any political or belief systems.
Dubai! Wow! What is happening here for you?
Yes, wow! Dubai is great! The Middle East is a great market, and they love us! They are really appreciating good quality, so we have very, very long term customers and relationships in the Middle East and in Dubai and we love them! They are like family for us, coffee people with amazing taste.
We found it was long overdue to have a physical presence, in Dubai and we found this amazing place, that's like stunningly beautiful. I almost cried when I saw it and I said I want to have a cafe in that building. It's a Japanese styled building in the middle of a park in the center of Dubai with a view on Burj Khalifa.
This will be very, very unique, not necessarily built for high traffic, but for high quality. So people can really relax. They need to walk over grass to come to us, and then we are brewing amazing coffees for them. We just grow, I do things organically as and when they feel right, so Dubai is what really felt good and right.
What are the key differences you see versus Germany?
Germany is developing an appreciation for quality. It's a big nation that takes longer, and it has a very established coffee culture that is a little bit harder to change and Dubai, or the Middle East doesn't have that. These are smaller countries with people that really appreciate quality, and there is no discussion about pricing and I'm talking about B2B here. It is a region that loves The Barn whereas in Germany, the B2B side is a lot more price sensitive.
Are you working directly with an importer?
We never work direct. We always have someone on the ground that is working with the farms because I can't do that over the distance.
We are choosing the exporters by the level of impact they have, that's quite important so they are not just buying, they are adding value at source and that's what we pay for. They ensure that there is pre-finance in the season helping the farmers with seedlings or finance for the machines and stuff like that. So we really need to see an active engagement of the exporters.
How do you choose your coffee and who to work with?
We work with people that want change to apply, not only specialty coffee standards, but want to develop the farmland and the quality of their coffees that embrace quality, they'd want to slow down and focus on quality.
Good-hearted people, you know, so we are not looking for rockstar farms necessarily, even though we have those too, but, we are looking for humble people that are situated in great micro climates, where we see potential and that are looking for a partner that appreciates that and the partner that's committed to quality.
Tell us a bit about our coffees this month
The coffee, amazing selection for the subscribers for each of the coffees being featured!
Let's start with a Kenyan coffee because that's great and a great story too.
The delivery was so slow this year because of COVID the container arrived really, really late, which is a risk in itself. But our Kenyan coffees are vacuum packed. So like it's absolutely wow, wow, wow! It's our best Kenyan coffee this year. The farm. it's on the Southern slopes of Mount Kenya and it's run by Josephine, Arthur and the family. It's a really small farm, very humble people.
The special thing about that farm is that there is a Creek in the middle of the estate and so there's a hill going down, there's a Creek and then there's a hill going up. That creates a microclimate that has, coolness in the morning and in the evening that coolness is a reason why the coffee is so sweet. The cherries are ripening slowly. We really liked that. The flavors are intense, very Kenyan profile. I would say we have plum, but also black currant. We have hibiscus it's a vibrant cup and the finish of vanilla, it's roasted light for filter, but well-developed so you can easily put it in an espresso machine or any other brew method, I would say.
The second coffee is Mohamed Ali. The farmer is called Mustafa but his father was called Mohamad Ali so they are keeping his name in his honor. It's just a fantastic farm at 2050 meters elevation. You can see the mountains of Guji from his estates. They have slightly different profiles, but they are quite similar. The coffees are growing in nature and pristine forest under the trees. So shade grown, a slow ripening. We love his naturals, even though he also started doing honey processed coffees but we find the naturals more expressive.
The last coffee is Juanachute. A very famous farm in Costa Rica. They started doing anaerobics in Costa Rica. This is the fourth year we are buying from them and we find in particular, the Villa Sachi, varietals that you receive are extremely expressive.
We are really proud of that profile. It has very boozy notes, but also some cinnamon, we can still taste the flavour of the fields and so that's what we are looking for. When we look at our coffees we don't want the processing to overtake, sometimes it's on edge, but still we believe that in this one you can taste Costa Rica in the coffee!
Any closing remarks that you'd like to share?
We are proud to be sharing our coffees with your subscribers. We love the coffee community and, we are very happy to be able to continue supplying amazing quality coffee.
We thank everybody for supporting us and supporting the farms by buying the coffees from us.
We really enjoy it and thankfully we have our own strong community, so we can talk to each other and feel connected even though some of us are maybe isolated, when you are able to, please come to Berlin!