Tuesday 27 September 2022

Drop Coffee Roasters, Sweden: “Brewed coffee is still market leader here over espresso”

One of the founders: "“We are small (I mean small 12-15 staff with the cafe and roastery combined), were a true family business with myself and Joanna being the co-owners and partners in life. We have no external investment like many roasters around the world, no board of directors. We own the premises of our roastery, which I think is unusual"

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MILAN – Drop Coffee Roasters is a coffee roastery based in Stockholm, Sweden, since 2009. It was founded first of all as a bar, focusing on serving tasty coffee and soon they started roasting their own coffee in the back of the shop, on a one-kilo roaster. Their business has grown until June 2018 when the roastery has been certified organic. 2013, when Drop Coffee became the Kalita supplier of Sweden. Joanna Alm, managing director of Drop Coffee, is a three times Swedish Coffee Roasting Champion who has
placed second in the world, and she is also the author of the book Manifest För Bättre Kaffe. Joanna with Stephen Leighton are the owners of the company. And it is with the latter that we talked about this great little enterprise.

Sweden is among the biggest coffee consuming countries in the world: how many coffee roasters are there like Drop Coffee? Are they all specialty?

“There are many coffee roasters all over the country, many of them are small local roasters suppling villages and towns or big national companies and not very much between. You can get coffee everywhere, home consumption is very high. All the supermarkets carry many different lines of coffee (it still amazes me as an outsider how many options there are) but the vast majority of it commodity to high end commodity (maybe a country and a farm for sure not a varietal). The Speciality community is very small with a small proportion doing true sustainable product.”

Drop Coffee Roaster started as a coffee shop and then evolved as a roasting company: how do these two souls coexist, what are the advantages and challenges?

“I think the birth of Drop Coffee it was always the idea to roast. In fact it was only a few months in that we started to roast our own coffee. The cafe is the forward facing face of the brand and allows us to be a true local roaster. Our retail sales of coffee beans area a big reason for the cafe to be and is a great wholesale customer for the roastery. They compliment each other.

Challenges are that running a coffee shop is hard, you need good staff and good management to allow you to focus on the business, but we are blessed with an awesome team that make everything work. “

You roast light and medium light: but what about espresso? Do you serve it? Do you roast it Italian style, very dark?

The food and beverage offer at Drop Coffee (photo by Drop Coffee)

“We roast to present the coffee in its best possible light. Our aim is to share the excitement of the cupping table with the consumer. We get really excited when cupping arrival samples and we want our customers to be part of that excitement. Roasting for a brew style seems like such and old fashioned way of doing things. As a coffee community we have pushed development of espresso machine and grinders to really allow us to present coffee in different ways and have ultimate control.

So we use the tools we have to work with the coffee we want to present, this seems the most logical way. Roasting for a brew method is not letting the barista take the easy route out. Dialing in can take longer, changes need to be made throughout service, but with well trained staff who care about what theyare presenting means a better product. “

How much does coffee cost in your country?

“It varies so much like everywhere: you can buy as cheap or as expensive as you can like. But generally coffee is a valued product people will pay a little more for than many other countries. Bryggkaffe (its swedish for brewed coffee n.d.r.) or brewed coffee is still the market leader here over espresso in the majority of coffee shops, restaurants and corner shops. You can buy for as little as 10 kronas (1 euro) and pay up to 9 Euro for a good brewed coffee. In my opinion we have always been the most expensive coffee in town and
not really worried about it. It costs what it costs and its such a small luxury. Of course we get feedback from some, but the part of town we are in everything is expensive, and the value mostly is understood.

Our prices are below:
Our most expensive brewed coffee (A competition coffee from Nicaragua) 90 kr. (9 Euro)
Single espresso 30krona (3 Euro)
Cappuccino 40 krona (4 euro)”

In Italy we have the coffee break, you have fika: can you tell us about this particular Swedish habit?

“As an outsider coming into Sweden you really see how important Fika is. It can be for anything someone popping around your home to see you right through to breaking some very important news or a momentous occasion. It remains very common.

I think that even without the title Fika you would recognise the ritual all the same. Its friends getting together to take a small piece of the day out to talk to each other give time to each other and enjoy some coffee and snack normally without other distractions of mobile phones and the outside world. Giving the people at the fika all your attention for 20 30 mins while enjoying their company.

Fika is part of even an immigrant to Swedens life. It reminds me of the English afternoon tea ritual or your Italian coffee break in many ways just a little more informal so more repeatable on the spur of the moment so happens more spontaneously and often and at home as well as the cafe / restaurant. “

How is the specialty coffee scene in your country? Is it a niche market or is it particularly popular?

“I think its fair to say its niche, but growing like everywhere. “

If it is true that specialty is not very developed there either, how come you decided to make it your core business? Do you do much in terms of consumer education? Is it a very uphill road?

The espresso coffee machine La Marzocco KB90 (photo by Drop Coffee)

“I think the base standard of coffee here in Sweden is quite high compared to many European countries.

Consumers are already quite educated but the leap from commodity to speciality is smaller than I have seen in other markets. This means its hard to show them that speciality is better (for instance in the UK market it was easy to show that it was better and worth a little more).

In general the customer is well educated, they will use brew parameters for brewed coffee (60 – 70 g of Coffe per litre etc) weight water to coffee is not such a big ask. The consumer tends to understand where coffee comes from (not expecting locally grown coffee), and there is a desire certainly in Stockholm to experiment and develop in a food culture, and is well versed in micro scale production teqniques.”

What do you offer? How have you managed to maintain direct contact with the growers?

“Every coffee that we sell we have visited and know personally. This is a mantra that has been hard to maintain through the pandemic. But we won’t stock a coffee unless we have been to their farm, met them and have a relationship with them. Maintaining coms with our partners has been tough, but with what’s app, zoom Skype and FaceTime and both myself and Joanna have been able to maintain good communications with our friends.

But we can’t wait to get our wings again and start visiting our friends and partners again, we have been tempted with things getting better, but with vaccination rates not being so good in many growing countries we can wait just a little longer for it to be safe for our partners to visit them. “

What equipment do you use for roasting and then for serving in the cafeteria (espresso machine, filter, grinders…)?

“We roast on a Didreich 25kg IR machine in the cafe we use La Marzocco KB90 and Victoria Arduino and Marco for our brewing needs. “

Drop Coffee can boast several certifications and awards: can you tell us about these successes and how much do they count for the customers who choose you?

“The recognition of awards is always very humbling and nice to have, but ultimately they mean very little to the consumer. They can give reassurance we know what we are doing, but at the roastery and the cafe we can destroy that with one interaction. So as nice as they are, its more important to do the best job you can every time. We have a team that are dedicated to trying to do this every day.

Certifications are an interesting one. Myself and Joanna have many years experience in coffee, and both of us have fought against certifications. They are a broad brush to paint a very complicated picture. Sourcing coffee can not be done with a checklist. But we did recently certify for organic. We had always stocked organic coffee but not been able to sell them as such because of the lack of certification.

Sweden has a very strong organic movement for everything. We decided that if we wanted to give the reassurance to the consumer then we had to go for the certification. It hast changed any of the coffee we source or the relationships that we have, but were now able to use the badge on the bag. For a first time customer this can be reassuring. “

How much do you value the figure of the barista and how much is it linked to the roasting process? Do you improvise or is training in Sweden a prerequisite?

“I think the barista can make better and ruin a cup of coffee no matter what the producer or roaster has done. Working alongside baristas who care, rubs off to new members of staff, training is not difficult if you care. Most people can make a good cup of coffee with the smallest of direction, then comes the years of practice to make perfect (that is never achievable).”

How are you coping with the current increase in the price of raw materials, energy and transport?

“Energy, staffing and transport increases are something we can not control and we are all having to deal with, from the smallest roastery to the largest.

Our raw materials costs have seen some increases (which we welcome coffee has been way too cheap for way too long), but these increases have been so much smaller than we have seen in the commodity market. We already pay a good price, and in many occasions price negotiations so far this year have seen small or no increases at all.

I welcome us all paying more for coffee, the market needs to move as a whole events like this I just hope are maintained for the longer term and not the ups and downs of the “old” market. Stability of price is something that could benefit not only GROWERS but roasters and cafe and consumers. “

How do you deal with the subject of capsules, which are very advantageous for many roasters?

“Well if you had asked me two years ago you might have got a different answer, I’m allowed to change my mind right? At Drop Coffee we don’t do any capsules, but I do see the advantages of them, and they can be good. Just as a premade sandwich can have its advantages in situations and other times a home cooked meal is amazing both food right?

I’d like to see some more development on maintaining freshness, shorter shelf life dates on them etc, and I don’t think the capsules we use today will be the ones in 20 years, but they have their place for now.”

What are the next novelties for DropCoffee?

“We are small (I mean small 12-15 staff with the cafe and roastery combined), were a true family business with myself and Joanna being the co-owners and partners in life.

We have no external investment like many roasters around the world, no board of directors. We own the premises of our roastery, which I think is unusual. And I guess our instance on having visited our coffee growing partners and knowing them, they are not just
supplies but become good friends we work with yearn year out.”

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