Category Archives: Uncategorized

God never closes doors…

…he just opens new ones, is an Irish proverb I have carried with me through life.

I have friends that have run coffee businesses in another city of Sweden for a while, and we’ve been talking about doing something together for a long time. Opportunity came with the purchase of a café in Stockholm. No rest for the wicked. I finished my job at Kafe Orion on Sunday night, and started my new job on Monday morning.

It’s a popular joint among locals, with the same ownership (or at least the same style) since 1997. People I know who used to frequent cafés back then (I wasn’t actually one of them, since I was more frequenting bars in those days), says it was a hip place for celebrities to be seen. Sure, there are a lot of “Swedish famous” people (as my American girlfriend points out) there, but mostly it’s a neighborhood café with lunch and coffee.

It’s always a great risk when a popular spot among regulars change hands, cause any change will inevitably be something that is disturbing the eye among those who cherish the traditions. And this is a very conservative area. So you have to add something instead. The decor is dated, the bar flow and communication setting between front- and back of house is really tricky. It’s a rather large venue, so things will have to change to up revenue, and create better service. Sometimes when you’ve run a place a long time, and I’ve seen this in many places, is that you start up with one idea and then gradually change into something else or develop it to meet demand, however you don’t make the necessary changes for the work flow, so you build in quick fix solutions that made sense at the time.

It’s a challenge, and to be honest, I’m quite exhausted from my past 12 months. But if things go well, it can be really really good. It certainly has the potential to find its way back to past glories!

NP: Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill

A three star coffee bar


It was in July last year that I by coincidence contacted friend and former client Joel for a job, since I had just lost my last one due to an argument my friend (later girlfriend) had with the owner that left us both unemployed. I had been hestitant about working with a friend, but a lot of water had run under the bridges since we both started out in the Stockholm coffee scene, and beside a few shifts early on in the history of Kafe Esaias, we had never worked alongside each other. We did a weekend together at Kafe Esaias, and we had much fun, coining our squeeze “Chip´n´Dale” a bit later. It meant I was onboard the Joel-train.

Kafe Orion is Joels second enterprise, a “gastro café” or, as we jokingly refer to it due to the number of stars in the logo; a “three star coffee bar”, and it was here I was meant to work. And I did. I’ve made brilliant omelettes with fillings, in cast iron pans in the oven, I’ve made soups (dhal was one of my specialities), sandwiches (even my own portabella mushroom with harissa butter was introduced on the menu), sweets and above all some great great coffees. All roasted by my old employer, Da Matteo. At Orion we’ve been working with coffees from their whole reportoar as well as exclusive coffees bought directly at farm level just for us! Batch brews with house coffee and guest singles, as well as small batches of unique espressos.

It’s also uniquely designed, in colors and ideas that truly stand out in Stockholm; it’s not your generic Shoreditch or Williamsburg staple café, but a quirky idea brought to life by a daring owner. Originally part of the foyee of a Theatre from the 1920’s, later a ladies clothing store living a long time on the fact that the Queen of Sweden once bought a dress here.

My personal life has been really intertwined with this place. When I started, I was still in a relationship with my younger daughters mother (who was and still is a regular here, as it’s one of her favorite cafes in Stockholm). We broke up. We lived on a boat for a while. I got my very first apartment of my own just down the road. I started a very stormy and draining relationship with a former collegue. It was here I started my therapy and stopped drinking. It was here that I finally got back in the competition circle. It was here I was when I got the phone call that told me a close friend had passed away. It was here I spent time, even nights, when I was grieving and met a cold shoulder from the person that you’d expect support from, relapsing into alcohol abuse. It was here that I finally left that relationship but was so lost I was contemplating suicide. All through this time, Joel was a supportive employer and friend. It was also here that I finally got back on my feet meeting my now girlfriend, a person that stood by me high and dry and is loving me despite my flaws and rough times.

In April it was decided to put the shop on the market. Joel left for a job closer to home and remained silent partner, while leaving the responsibility of the shop to me. It was a financial decision for me to accept, since my benefits of the work situation helped me with the logistics of daycare for my daughter as well as taking time off for therapy. I’ve paid a substantial amount of money from my own pocket in order to make ends meet, for those benefits and the chance to work at, in my opinion, the best coffee bar in Stockholm. But I was struggling, and the amount of stress added by the responsibilites didn’t exactly do wonders for my personal health.

Recently, old dreams to do something with old friends were made into reality, as they’ve purchased a cafe in one of the upmarket areas in Stockholm, and with it a substantial pay rise and benefits. There was no way I could decline that offer. So at the end of July, I start the next chapter in my coffee adventure tale.

Working at Orion has been rewarding as well as challenging, mostly due to my mental situation. But I will always cherish my days here, knowing I got to work with great people making great coffee in a great environment. I don’t know what will happen to Orion, but to me, I’d like to think I’ve been part of something that made an impact on the coffee scene in Stockholm, pushing the boundaries for what a coffee bar can be. And I will always be grateful to Joel for letting me be part of that!

NP: Tom Petty – The Dark of the Sun

Stay Hungary

To misquote the legendary black metal band Bathory; Budapest is a city of dark desires, a city of eternal beauty, just like their namesake Erzbeth Bathory, the countess who bathed in the blood of 600 virgins. On our first date, I asked my now girlfriend if she would join me to Budapest, and she said “Yes”, so it was part coffee trip, part romantic adventure. 

As soon as we had left our luggage at the Airbnb (that was situated in what the taxi driver would call a “danger zone”), we headed down to Fekete, where da Matteo hosted a cupping. This was my girlfriends very first cupping, and I was very proud to see her dig in with a great sense of seriousness. We cupped through a few of the best coffees da Matteo has on offer, including my competition coffee from Nemesio Ramos. 


Then we rushed over (or strolled rather, cause someone didn’t have their proper walking shoes on) the bridge to the Pest side of town, to Addicted2Caffeine, where my friend Ralf had set up a cupping for his roastery The Barn. His Mahembe from Rwanda might be one of the most intereting coffees I’ve had this year. 

We then got back to the Airbnb, but were too tired to get out, so I got some Indian take away, which took about an hour to get. Luckily an old friend was sitting in the same boat at the restaurant, so I could join their party while waiting for the food. After an exhausting night, we were ready for bed. 


I woke up early in order to go on a coffee crawl. My first stop was Tamp&Pull, owned by former Hungarian barista champion Attila Molnar. Had a great sandwich, and an espresso that he had roasted. Great start to the morning. 


Next stop was Budapest Baristas, serving up a Kenyan espresso by The Coffee Collective. I must say I was very impressed by the quality of coffee being served in Budapest overall, and this was no exception. Neat little bar on a very central location. 


Then went to Kontakt, but they had a power failure, so could not offer warm drinks. They gave me a cold nitro brew and I promised to be back later. Then off to pick up my girlfriend who was now in dire need of breakfast, while I was almost coffeed out by now. 

Together we went to London Coffee Society where we had a breakfast of eggs. The long black that came with it was actually very good, and I’m no fan of long blacks, but the eggs were, as Nicole would put it, “not as good as the ones I got in Sheffield”. Maybe Sheffield Egg Society could be the next goal. Very good fast paced service, and quite London quirky but with a Hungarian touch. Then, after a few misfortunate shopping attempts (got me no sunglasses, nor bananas), we went to the fair at Hungexpo (which probably should’ve been called Hungoverexpo). 


This years expo seemed very small. The Village was jam packed as usual, but the rest of the fair seemed rather quiet. We were just in time to watch da Matteos own roaster Markus make his way to number 8 in the World Cuptasters Championship, which was very impressive. Then heading back to the city for a quick dinner and a nap before all the parties. 


But first a quick dinner at a place listed in the Budapest coffee guide, Cirkusz. We stumbled across it on the prowl for something vegetarian to eat (a rather hard task in Budapest), and got a risotto and a burger. Didn’t try the coffee, but it seemed like a good place for it!


Dressed up for the occasion, we first left for the La Marzocco party, which was in cooperation with the Champagne house Taittinger. An impressive sized bottle was sabred in front of the Buddha statue inside the Buddha Bar. Then on to the Barista League party, an event for the younger crowd with some kind of coffee coctail competition going on in the bar. Finally we went for a quick visit to a party by Nordic Approach in what seemed like a derelict location inside an old communist official building. Very cool location, but the old school hiphop was changed into some dance music, so we went back to party number two after stopping for dinner at a Hummus bar on the way. Then home. 


Next morning saw us back at Kontakt, this time for breakfast. What unfolded here was both quite hilarious and a bit frustrating at the same time. Up until now, service in Budapest had been rather held back, but correct. The cafe was busy, and so was the small breakfast place opposite, run by the same people. The had a system where you get a buzzer to your table, that sends a signal when your coffee is done. All but one in our company get their coffee, but the V60 Kenyan is not out in half an hour, so the person who have ordered it asks if it’s about to be delivered any time soon. “Oh, we couldn’t find you, so we gave it to someone else”. Eh, ok. But he would still like the Kenyan he paid for, and they would make it again. Another 20 minutes later, a Guatemalan arrives. Food looked delicious though, and our breakfast was very tasty. 

The afternoon we spent at a spa somewhere in a park. A stunning experience. Then walked around chasing lunch, which we found at a chain serving various wok. Just around the corner from that, we happened to be around the corner of the famous Espresso Embassy. The coffee was great, but I couldn’t help to think that it reminded me a lot of Ritual in SF.That’s not bad though

After that we went to the Pinball Museum, a great experience that I’d love to visit again! Super geeky. Later that night we carved our initials into a bridge. It seemed like a fair exchange since Budapest had carved itself into our hearts.


Then home and await the last morning.


My Little Melbourne is a place I had walked past many times, but always packed to the rafters. This morning I made sure to be early. The espresso was ok. But then I had one of the best coffee experiences of my life.


Madala is a place dedicated to two things I’ve always wanted to combine: coffee and yoga! With a modest shrine for Sri Chinmoy, a book selection on yoga in Hungarian, and fantastic vegan/vegetarian foods I was kind of scared to be let down of the coffee experience (they roast themselves). Got an espresso of Dumarso, a washing station in Ethiopia I have actually visited. The shot took me back to a street in SoHo 2010, during the WBC; the richness, texture and flavor to suit it. It was, to me, a god shot. 

The place was so good I had to bring Nicole there and wait for the taxi, and have a quick meeting with my old buddy Chris, who now roasts coffee in Cheltenham, England, but that I got to know when he first judged my very first coffee competition back in Perth. 


On the plane back to Stockholm, we happened to be on the same flight, not only as the Lapland Coffee Mafia, but also my friend Peters brother Matt and wife, who now lives in Budapest. The more reason to go back!


To conclude this trip in a few words, it seems as Budapest has a thriving third wave coffee scene going for itself, with a few of the attitude problems we had to go through in 2010 (no milk, no sugar, purist ideals). But the quality and design of most places is really nice, yet suffers a bit from the Stockholm problem, where it’s easy to say “we’re Scandinavian, or Australian”, instead of finding that pure Hungarian touch. Really adore the fact that most places has built a second floor around thebar, so wherever you go you can always have a look what’s going on downstairs. We’ll be back for sure! 

NP: Kenny Loggins Danger Zone

Listing the night away


The annual review guide, that is called White Guide, was released recently. Not an avid fan of review guides, at least if they seem irrelevant. My first encounter with a relevant coffee guide was The Melbourne Coffee Review, it seemed knowledgeable and quite honest. To be truthful though, Australia has a pretty homogenic coffee culture, and thus is easier to get an overview of (let me grt back to that regarding Sweden later). It was completely ripped off by Allegra, that went on and did the London Coffee Guide, and later covered other cities. Still, pretty relevant coffee guides. 

In my opinion, White Guide suffers from wanting to review something in order to make the public know more about cafés, but ends up being written from an outsiders point of view, and thus misleading sometimes. It sets out to be the pinnacle of coffee guides, but has the quality of a blog. And more problematic, in my opinion: it seems to lack the understanding that Sweden does not have a uniform coffee- or café culture, but treats everything the same. 

Here’s the thing (and I’m writing a book on the topic); there are some very clear segments of cafés to be found in Sweden. The oldest one is what we refer to as Konditori, an old school place with old school pastries and usually really bad coffee. Then we have the Italian coffee bars. They are carbon copies (or tries hard to be) of a generic coffee bar in a generic Italian city. Italian pastries, Italian coffee (undrinkable without sugar in most cases). Then there’s the chains (we have a few, but only one with drinkable coffee, the one we call Faux Barrel, since the design is a complete rip off of SF’s finest establishment). Then comes the cafés and coffee bars at the high end, that usually have focus on all their produce at a very high level. 

The guide doesn’t take this into account at all. Bakeries serving coffee seems to be very popular with the guide in general, though checking in at some of their top ratings, the coffee is pretty fucking far from being remotely good at times. You can’t even give them A for effort, which you actually can with for instance Starbucks. A country side café with some staple baked goods and apple juice from a garden somewhere gets mentioned, while cafés with a lot better standards in Stockholm won’t even get a mention. So what is the value of such a guide? 

Well, I guess the publicity White Guide manages to get for the winners offers some value (to the winners), but then again, it seems more created for the Guide itself to draw attention to it, to get more cafés into buying their packaged deals with the possibility to show off that you’re mentioned in the guide. 

I think personally, it should’ve been a blog. That would probably have made it more progressive, since it would have to listen to commentators. As it is now, it just remains an anonymous publication written by God knows who, for God knows who, why or what. 

NP: Bay Laurel – Pale Colors 

brewing up a storm

This autumn has been a living hell for me, for various reasons. so focusing on work  and competition has been kind of therapeutic. I’ve had an idea for competition since last summer, but due to my situation, finances was scarce. But I got the advice to go up there and just change side of the judges table to get in the feeling what it’s like. So I did.   
The coffee I was using was a Colombian washed caturra from Tarqui, in the Huila region. Producer Nemesio Ramos had the winning lot in a local competition that Nordic Approach organized, and Da Matteo bought it and roasted it to perfection. The cup notes I got was tropical fruit (mango, apricot) sweetness, with a hint of mineral saltiness, and milk chocolate finish. In the aroma, there was sandalwood and wet leather.

A lot of the preparations were about water, and we found that medium hard water brought out all we wanted, but hard water turned it into a chocolate bomb but muted all other flavors. So we opted for Imsdal water (small bottle). We tried both the kalita and the V60 but found the V60, with a course grind, brought out the best and safest cup!  

  
My goal was to compete. And in the first round I went so well I made it to the finals! And then something happened. I started overpreparing my speech mentally. I got nervous. I was reminded that one of my best friends was buried that day and here I was, playing coffee. It all went to shits. In my presentation I forgot to talk about crucial information about the coffee. I could see the head judge was confused about my performance. I knew when I walked off stage, I was fucked. Still, ended up fifth out of six finalists. 

 

I guess I should be happy I did what I had set out to do – compete. Going to the finals was a bonus. And there were lots of lessons learnt that day. Competing as a team is crucial! We lost a staff member at work, so my coach, boss and friend Joel had to take all his shifts, leaving me alone at the mercy of my fellow competitors for help. Especially Robin of Drop Coffee was of great help! And Kim Staalman of SCA became my barista buddy on the day, so I was in loving care from friends. Truly appreciated! 

Next year I hope for a comeback, doing the routine I initially have been planning for a long time now! 

NP: The Accidents Afterburner

Down But Not Out

I went down to the crossroads,
Fell down on my knees.
Asked the Lord above for mercy,
“Save me if you please.”

– Robert Johnson

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This summer has been nothing what I planned to be honest. My old self would’ve wanted me to sit around in the sun, drinking beer and do nothing with my life. Go to work, put my head down and just survive. Chance had it differently though. Earlier this year I started my journey towards a straight edge lifestyle. It’s been a hard and rocky road to try and crack the code to what keeps me relapsing into a habit that will kill me in the end? It seems now, finally, I am on my way to a new life. Ironically, the world fell apart around me; all of a sudden our apartment was taken away from us, and then I was facing unemployment. My old self would’ve cracked open another bottle of wine and just crawl up in there and hide. Instead, my meditation practice had me facing the pits, and all of a sudden acceptance made me stronger than I’ve ever been.

I’m at a crossroad in my life, where I am either through with the coffee industry, or have to embrace it fully. To do the latter, I need somewhere to work that understands coffee, competition and still challenges me into growth. I have approached a friend of mine, something I’ve been reluctant of doing due to the fact I never wanted to work with friends since it might do more damage to the relation that good. But in this case, I have nowhere else to go really, if I want to compete and progress, and get to work with the kind of coffee quality that I set out to do when I came to Sweden.

So we’ll see. I hope his response is positive! I have two competitions in me; one for Brewers, and one for Barista. They both demand a lot of attention, and I will do them each one year at a time. Exciting times if my plans goes accordingly. If not, I’ll sneak out the backdoor and vanish forever on my bike.

NP: Cro Mags – Crush the Demoniac

Drifting Away

Ever since I first met Adam Goldberg some years ago, can’t remember how we initially got hold of each other really, we’ve stayed in touch and it’s always nice to catch up over a coffee somewhere in the city when he’s around. Adam has a wonderful coffee lifestyle magazine called Drift Magazine, with four issues out already. The fourth issue happened to be about Stockholm, and I was very honored to be featured among its pages with the excerpts below! Drift Magazine is probably the most beautiful magazine dedicated to coffee and the people brewing it, and there are many familiar Stockholm faces featured! Check it out!!

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NP: Beastie Boys – So What Cha Want

How Low Can You Go

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It was bound to happen. On paper, my escape from Lanthandelns Espresso was quite interesting. With my personal health cracking up, and a hard time matching my working hours with parenthood, I had to find something else to do. My friend who worked as a chef at Lanthandeln, had recently landed a job at a place with health focus, but with a desire to get the nights working with a fresh menu and interesting drinks. My job would be Front of House, and my friend would set the kitchen straight in the back, and we’d work together with a third person who’d act as the bridge between us and have full responsibility towards the owner.

I’ve had my ups and downs with coffee the past years, and I was looking forward to not take on coffee as my big task to start with, but get a good beer and wine concept going together with the kitchen.

As time went, frustration grew. People working with us couldn’t see the forest because of all the trees. How about this: you get a massive complaint that you haven’t refilled straws for the next morning, but they leave you with dirty wine glasses for the night. One day apparently, the chef had enough and a massive fight broke out. I was called in, and since we were considered a packaged deal, I was out too. I won’t lie; I was seriously relieved. Still, unemployed and soon without a home, things look dire. On the other hand, I am sober and feel better than ever.

NP: Foo Fighters – Low

 

 

Meditation

I think the purpose of having a blog in the first place, is to have something to say. As of lately, I have a lot of things to think about, but not much to give away. So what is the point then of blogging?

The answer is; there is no point. I’ve logged a few events and thoughts in my life. They’re on these pages. But what if I don’t want to be online, what if I don’t want to be found? What if I just disappeared? It might just come to that.

NP: Talking Heads – Nothing But Flowers

Visions of Doom

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It was an idea that on paper looked great; a coffee bar inside one of Stockholms most spectacular sites. I was invited very late to the party, since I was on paternity leave up until after the opening of this place. Nevertheless, I was very excited about this project, since it allowed me to work with great people in a great environment doing something, well intended to do something, great… In hindsight it is very easy to see where things went wrong.

The Dome of Visions is a meeting place for people to discuss topics around sustainability and innovation. It’s built and owned by NCC, and run together with the Royal Technical University, Open Lab, IVL and Academic Houses (and several more probably). In theory, a lot of the people from these various backgrounds wouldn’t normally meet, so this place was a melting point for them to start talking about theory vs. practice for instance, or sharing ideas regarding the future of constructing cities, urban farming, how to use resources etc. etc. Also it’s been a place with super interesting cultural events that fit superbly along the line with the topics addressed.

As already mentioned, this all look great on paper to run a coffee bar in. Like an everyday TED-talk bar, that’s what you kind of imagine, right? Wrong. I’ll start with the coffee bar itself.

The company I work for were invited probably cause they had been interested in a nearby location prior, and the contact was already made. They were invited late into the game. My guess is they saw opportunity to get the catering for all the events, and a coffee bar was a bonus from where staff could serve the catered food and drinks, as well as run as a bar with special licences on certain events. This is all good, since the events are held on the premises, and we do the catering, there is a given customer. From a coffee bar point of view, that customer is not ideal (at least once every event we get the “something wrong with the milk? there’s something odd tasting with my coffee!” because the only coffee from our roaster I’m happy serving in there happens to be a natural Yirgacheffe).

But if the customer that has chosen the Dome of Visions as a meeting place might not be the perfect customer, 85% of the walk in customer is a nightmare (the rest are my wonderful regulars) coffee bar wise. Why? First of all, we’re on a campus. Second of all, we’re on a campus in an area that happens to be the last ungentrified area of Stockholm, serving food at 1987 quality and prices. People here don’t care the least for quality. The first thing they say is: “Wow, that’s expensive” (no, it isn’t, only compared to that sandwich in the kiosk across the road made from the cheapest stuff Lidl has to offer). The second thing the say, or ask, is: “You have student discount?”. When saying no, these people actually walk away cause they’re not willing to spend an extra 0,30 Euro on a latte. Those who do comes back though, but they’re not students.

Price is one thing, but we could’ve become a destination if there had been a will to incorporate the ideas of speciality coffee, sustainability and innovation into the concept. If your competition does cheap, bad and unsustainable stuff, you have to go the other way. Buy micro farm dairy, and explain why it costs more and why it tastes different. Grow plants inside the Dome that we could use on the sandwiches. Fertilize those plants with used coffee grounds. We could’ve hosted seminars on growing coffee ecologically, debates on the pros and cons of Fairtrade, coffee tastings and on and on and on…

Just fucking do it, you say. It’s easier said than done. One issue is the management and the communication between all parties that are working under this umbrella. Noone wants to take decisions. “You have free hands” they say. Sure, when can we do it? “We don’t know yet”. And they still don’t know. Everyone is too busy booking events and cater food, and not really interested in these matters it seems.

And then there’s the building itself. It’s created with a background in Buckminster Fullers philosophy around building domes in order to create small self sustainable platforms where communities could save energy and grow plants and live happily ever after. One idea he had was to build a dome over Manhattan. The heat and energy from the humans and the machines would be enough to keep it warm. Manhattan has 8 million people and a lot of houses and machines that generates heat. The Dome of Visions has a coffee machine, and can host up to 149 people, but normally there are like 5 people in the outer room at the same time. To give you an idea: when it’s 12 degrees outside and sunny, it can be up to 30 degrees. With overcast, it’s about 15 degrees inside -the temperature drops rapidly. I caught pneumonia first cold month in there, cause the changes in climate was so fast I was wearing too little and didn’t bother dressing warmer since I gathered it will soon be warm again. And we thought the cold was a problem (well, technically it was, since the bookings of our events got in danger, so for the more prominent bookings, they heated up the place with diesel generators…), it was a small problem compared to the heat. If the sun is up right now, the temperature is about 55 degrees celsius inside the building. It’s not a place to consume food or beverages in. Even cold drinks don’t make it pleasant enough to stay inside. As a contrast to the winters problem, I got sunstroke the other week.

But overall, despite the hardships to work, I’ve had a blast getting to know people from all kinds of walks of life and contexts. We’ve hosted a water tasting recently, with a woman doing scientific research in this field the past 30 years. It has spurred some ideas regarding coffee comps for me actually. Also gotten to know a few people behind the company Plantagon, working with vertical plantations all over the world, has been interesting and inspiring on a personal level. There’s definitely been some benefits for me working on this project. But as of yesterday, I’ve done my last shift there. It’s sad but also a relief. I will miss all the people involved, and I am grateful for all the knowledge I’ve gained these last 9 months! Onwards, onwards they rode on.

NP: Quantum Leap – That’s The Reason