I was fortunate enough to be invited as the international speaker at the Czech Coffee Week, held in Brno at the start of October. The conference portion was held over the weekend and included a coffee market where roasters from across the region showcased their coffees, a barista championship and presentations on a variety of coffee topics. The Czech Republic is an interesting country since it sits on the edge of the booming coffee scene in Western Europe but has only started embracing these trends within the last ten years. For a country like India, where the specialty coffee culture is only just beginning to develop, it was an opportunity for us to learn how the market had grown and also to spread the word about Indian coffee.
The growth of specialty coffee
The Czech Republic has a huge cafe culture. In Brno alone there are more than 400 cafes which is amazing for a city with only 400,000 inhabitants. I was told that 6 or 7 years ago it was incredibly difficult to get a coffee that wasn't an Italian style Arabica Robusta dark roast in the Czech Republic. Now, there are hundreds of cafes across the country serving carefully sourced and roasted beans and specialty coffee now accounts for 5% of the market. The fact that this growth has happened so quickly is encouraging for a country like India where specialty coffee is only a fraction of a percent of the market.
The surprising allure of Cascara
Only two of the 12 competitors used a robusta blend and a similar proportion served signature drinks that weren't coffee-focused. Cascara, the dried pulp from the coffee cherry, was the darling of the event with many people creating mixtures based on filter coffee plus cascara tea. Given that this was just a regional championship, the overall skill level was impressive and indicates the sheer number of qualified baristas in the country.
The fast growth of roasters
We had the chance to taste lots of coffee at the market as well as to visit roasteries across the country both large (Doubleshot, Coffee Source and Ikona) and small (Fifty Beans, Gil's, Rusty Nails and Penerini Coffee) Many of the smaller roasters had started recently and were in the process of upgrading from 1-2 kgs machines to 10-15 kgs roasters. While we are definitely envious that the average Czech consumes 4 kgs of coffee per year compared to just 70g here in India, with so many roasters it seems like a difficult path for the smaller companies to grow to be sustainable.
In terms of the coffees they were roasting, naturally processed coffees were the rage, which is in contrast to the Indian market where most of the premium coffee is washed. At the same it was interesting to see the lack of diversity in the origins they offered. Every single company was offering a Colombian, Ethiopian and Kenyan and the number of offerings from outside these countries were few and far between.
Additionally, there was great interest in the coffees we brought and people were genuinely surprised with the high quality of the Indian beans. Many asked us to help source green coffee for them but don't worry - we're still committed to keeping the best coffee here in the country! At the cupping table, people compared our coffee favorably to the coffee from the other roasters and I was left with a sense that there is definitely potential for Indian coffee to have a much larger presence in the global coffee scene.
Photos by: Monika Pisek Gallery