The Secret Ingredient: Crafting Unconventional Nar...

The Secret Ingredient: Crafting Unconventional Narratives for Success

I always thought “bizarre” was a bizarre word in English. It rolls off the tongue with an intriguing twist. Thinking about the word “bizarre” in the context of the coffee industry led me to contemplate the intricate tapestry of narratives woven by coffee entrepreneurs who have em- braced the unconventional. Soon I found out that the term “bizarre” and “unconventional” resonate not as a limitation but as a catalyst for innovation and success.

In the pages that follow, we’ll venture beyond the customary narratives, delving into the extraordinary and unconventional business models that are reshaping the landscape of the coffee industry. Words like “bizarre”, “unconventional”, and “unique”, serve as a compass, guid- ing us through the extraordinary stories of coffee entrepreneurs who have dared to defy the standard narratives.

In the heart of coffee farming, we encounter pioneers like Wilton Benitez, a Colombian coffee producer, and Edwin Martinez, CEO of Onyx Coffee, who have redefined the cultivation process. Wilton’s experimental coffee processing techniques, rooted in fermentation technology, showcase how meticulous control over conditions can yield distinctive flavors, pushing the boundaries of what is traditionally known in coffee production. Meanwhile, Edwin introduces us to the lesser-known yet significant world of Coffee Blossom Honey, an innovative byproduct that not only enhances coffee plant health but also provides a unique and delicate taste experience, contributing to the economic well-being of Guatemalan farmers.

Transitioning to the roasting stage, we meet visionaries Antonio Durbe and Daniele Tummei, creators of the solar-powered coffee roaster PuroSole. Their environmentally friendly approach, utilizing the Roman sunshine to roast coffee beans, challenges the conventional reliance on electricity and gas, making a notable contribution to sustainability. We also delve into the unique roasting techniques of Odelia Organic, a coffee farm in East Java, Indonesia, affiliated with Singapore’s Compound Coffee Co., where transparency and sustain- ability are at the forefront. Their commitment to ethical practices extend beyond ownership, bridging the gap between consumers and coffee farmers through agro-tourism and adoption programs.

Moving beyond cultivation and roasting, we explore coffee shops that break the mold of conventional café culture. Fenster Cafe in Vienna, with its innovative to-go format and the success of the Fensterccino drink, exemplifies how a strategic business approach and a commitment to perfecting the craft of coffee making can lead to industry recognition. In central Pennsylvania, Java Momma combines coffee and shipping services, offering convenience to the community and showcasing the potential for coffee shops to diversify their income streams. Meanwhile, Sip and Ship in Seattle takes an unconventional approach by combining coffee, mailing and notary services, and a gift boutique under one roof, creating a unique space that caters to various needs.

The journey doesn’t end there; we delve into the realm where fiction meets reality, exploring coffee shops inspired by beloved novels and movies. From The Curious Café in Nottingham, offering an Alice in Wonder- land-themed experience and providing employment opportunities for individuals with learning difficulties, to Singapore’s Platform 1094, immersing patrons in the wizarding world of Harry Potter, we witness how these establishments create a magical atmosphere that transcends the typical coffee shop setting.

Join us in this issue as we unravel the stories of those who have embraced the unconventional, proving that innovation and success can flourish even in an industry steeped in tradition. From the farms to the cafes, and from roasting techniques to unique business models, the unconventional journey in the world of coffee awaits.

Revolutionizing Coffee Farming

Coffee farming is undergoing a revolution, with farmers adopting novel techniques that challenge traditional practices. These innovations go beyond mere cultivation; they shape the flavor and quality of the coffee we enjoy. Unconventional approaches, from unique cultivation methods to experimental fermentation processes, are redefining the coffee farming landscape.

One such example is the utilization of experimental coffee processing techniques by Wilton Benitez, a coffee producer in Colombia. Wilton is a highly specialized Colombian coffee producer with over 14 years of experience cultivating some of the world’s rarest coffee varietals. He owns and operates three distinct coffee farms in Piendamo – Cauca, Southwestern Colombia, situated at elevations ranging from 1800 to 2100 meters above sea level. The farms include La Macarena, Las Brisas, and the smallest, Granja Paraiso 92.

Having grown up in a family deeply rooted in coffee production, Wilton began his coffee journey on the family farm. Here, he discovered the potential of coffee through fermentation technology. His curiosity led him to explore fermentation practices in other industries like wine, beer, and cheese, seeking to apply this knowledge to develop new and unique flavor compounds for coffee. As his understanding deepened, he started crafting his own protocols for coffee processing.

Wilton emphasizes the importance of control in the complex coffee processing journey. According to him, meticulous management of conditions yields distinctive flavors, ensuring the preservation of each varietal’s intrinsic attributes.

At the forefront of coffee processing innovation, Wilton employs a unique method for his coffees:

1. Selective Harvesting: Ripe cherries are carefully handpicked.

2. Sterilization: The cherries undergo sterilization using ozonated water and ultraviolet light.

3. Depulping: The coffee is depulped, and an anaerobic yeast fermentation occurs in bioreactors for 52 hours.

4. Thermal Shock: After fermentation, the coffee seeds experience a thermal shock. Initially, high temperatures swell the beans, allowing the unique flavors and aromas from the anaerobic yeast fermentation to penetrate the seeds. Subsequently, a cold temperature constricts the beans, locking in these distinctive characteristics.

5. Rinsing/Washing: The coffee seeds are gently rinsed or washed.

6. Controlled Drying: The coffee undergoes controlled drying until the beans reach 10.5% internal humidity.

Wilton’s unconventional use of thermal shock is a distinctive feature of his process. This method involves subjecting the coffee seeds to both hot and cold temperatures strategically, enhancing the development and preservation of unique flavors and aromas. Wilton’s approach, rooted in his chemical engineering background and years of coffee growing and tasting experience, results in some of the most nuanced and exceptional coffees in the industry. His groundbreaking and unconventional approach has earned him numerous awards in recognition of the exceptional quality of his coffees.

Nectar of Innovation

Another fascinating innovation is the production of Coffee Blossom Honey in Guatemala. This unique product is a byproduct of coffee cultivation, showcasing how every part of the coffee plant can be utilized. During an interview, Edwin Martinez, CEO of Onyx Coffee / Coffee Blossom Honey, shares the fascinating story of the lesser-known yet significant world of Coffee Blossom Honey, emphasizing its potential impact on coffee crops and the lives of farmers.

Finca Apiario Coffee Flower Honey – Onyx Coffee Lab

Growing up in Guatemala surrounded by coffee farming, Edwin’s connection with the land shaped his journey. Reflecting on his childhood, he reminisces, “It is situated in the western-highlands and shares borders with the Mexican state of Chiapas in the north and west. Before this farm became my parent’s it belonged to my Grandparents and so I have many great memories over many great years of this place.”

Moving to the USA, Edwin continued his passion for coffee, eventually founding Onyx Coffee. However, it was during his interactions with humanitarian groups and his efforts to connect Bellingham to Guatemala that Coffee Blossom Honey emerged as a new initiative. In a recent interview, Edwin shares, “Through the growth of Onyx Coffee as an importer of Guatemalan coffees, I began to see the opportunity for even greater ways in which we could see success come to this country and its coffee program. It was at this point that Coffee Blossom Honey was born.”

Highlighting the dual benefits of honey production, Edwin emphasizes, “What this has done for Guatemalan farmers is essentially it gives them a much better life! And what more can we ask?” The introduction of bees not only improves coffee plant health but also provides an additional revenue stream, offering financial stability.

Discussing the taste of Coffee Blossom Honey compared to store-bought varieties, Edwin notes, “For many, what they are used to when they consume store-bought honey is a cheaper/lesser-quality product. Coffee Blossom Honey has a delicate taste, with floral notes and significantly greater crispness and clarity. You can taste the nuances (from the blossoms) much like you can taste the nuances in coffee grown in the various regions.”

Expressing hope for the future of Coffee Blossom Honey, Edwin envisions continued growth that benefits both the team in Bellingham and the farmers in Guatemala. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the company remains resilient, and Edwin encourages consumers to support their mission. Edwin Martinez’s journey reflects the transformative power of Coffee Blossom Honey in diversifying income sources for farmers and enhancing the overall quality of coffee cultivation.

Harnessing Sunshine

Roasting is a crucial step in the coffee-making process, significantly influencing the flavor profiles that coffee enthusiasts cherish. In the heart of Rome, two visionary engineers, Antonio Durbe and Daniele Tummei, have embarked on a journey to reimagine this essential stage by introducing an environmentally friendly solar-powered coffee roaster named PuroSole. With almost six years of dedication, Durbe and Tummei have developed a system that revolutionizes coffee roasting without relying on traditional electricity or gas sources.

The solar coffee roaster harnesses the abundant Roman sunshine to roast up to 50 kilograms of coffee beans per hour. The system occupies an area approximately half the size of a tennis court and is entirely powered by solar energy. Durbe explains, “We don’t use fossil fuels, such as gas, electricity. It is all purely and directly solar energy being concentrated on the bean, zero energy consumption.”

A set of mirrors focuses sun rays onto the coffee roaster, and even the minimal electrical components are powered by a small solar panel. Controlled by a computer, sensors ensure that the mirrors track the sun’s movement, directing its light onto a rotating steel basket containing fresh coffee beans. This innovative process, apart from being environ- mentally conscious and economically viable, enhances the preservation of the coffee’s aroma, resulting in a richer flavor compared to conventional roasting methods.

Durbè emphasizes the unique approach, stating, “It’s the coffee, not the rotating basket or the air in it that we are heating. It’s the coffee itself being heated, the sun’s rays hitting coffee beans, heating them and causing the heating of the air surrounding it. But, essentially, the warmest part of all of this is the bean itself.”

However, the success of PuroSole is somewhat weather-dependent. On sunny days, the plant can roast coffee efficiently, saving a substantial amount of electricity. A PuroSole plant in southern Italy, equipped with 40 mirrors, can reportedly roast up to 30,000 kilograms of coffee annually, saving around 60,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity.

“It’s the coffee itself being heated, the sun’s rays hitting coffee beans, heating them and causing the heating of the air surrounding it,” Daniele explains.

In terms of environmental impact, PuroSole claims to save approximately 400 kilograms of CO2 for every tonne of roasted coffee—a noteworthy contribution to sustainability in contemporary times. The company not only produces its own brand of coffee, available online, but also seeks to propagate the use of solar-powered coffee roasting for a more sustainable future.

The founders envision a broader impact beyond their coffee brand—make their solar coffee roasting plants accessible to environmentally conscious small businesses, with a mission to significantly reduce the cost of large thermodynamic plants.

Roasters as Cultivators of Direct Relationships

A decade ago, the idea of coffee roasters personally visiting coffee farms might have seemed peculiar to many in the industry. However, in recent years, a transformative shift has occurred, marking a noteworthy trend in the world of coffee. Today, it is not uncommon for roasters to embark on journeys to origin countries, fostering direct relationships with coffee producers. This emerging practice signifies a departure from traditional approaches and an embrace of a more hands-on, relationship-driven model.

Roasters now recognize the immense value in witnessing the entire coffee production process, from cultivation to harvest, and building direct connections with the farmers who cultivate the beans that eventually grace our cups. This evolution has brought about a profound change in the dynamics of the coffee industry, emphasizing the importance of forging personal relationships in the pursuit of high-quality, ethically-sourced coffee.

In a development aligning with the current trend of roasters venturing into direct relationships with coffee farmers, Odelia Organic, affiliated with Singapore’s Compound Coffee Co., has taken a significant step towards transparency and sustainability. The recently acquired coffee farm in Wonosalam, East Java, Indonesia, serves as an eco-friendly agritourism endeavor. This strategic move embodies Compound Coffee’s dedication to ethical and sustainable practices, as Stefanus Goana, Co-owner of Compound Coffee Co., explains, “By owning and operating a farm, we can directly implement and demonstrate sustainable farming techniques and ethical labor practices. The farm becomes a living model for responsible coffee production, ensuring fair compensation for farmers and elevating their living standards.”

The initiative extends beyond ownership, aiming to bridge the gap between consumers and coffee farmers. Stefanus emphasizes the farm’s role in creating awareness, stating, “The initiatives primarily aim to create awareness about the complexities and hard work involved in the coffee industry, creating an awareness that coffee doesn’t flow into your cup that simply.” The program goes beyond traditional agro-tourism, allowing participants to plant coffee trees with their own hands and adopt a tree under their name, fostering a direct connection with the cultivation process. Stefanus underlines the rare opportunity the trip provides to “connect directly with the farmers and their families, understand their challenges, and witness the journey of coffee from seed to cup.”

Odelia Organic’s unique adoption program is not merely symbolic but involves a commitment to coffee cultivation. Odelia explains, “By adopting a coffee tree, participants become a part of the coffee’s journey, from planting to harvest.” Funds from the adoption program contribute to farm improvement, equipment, and salaries, illustrating a commitment to sustainable and ethical coffee production. Stefanus further emphasizes the program’s significance in addressing economic disparities, stating, “It is not uncommon to see teenagers and very young adults working on farms when they could have been going to school.” The initiative advocates fair compensation and recognition for farmers, reinforcing the importance of their role in the industry.

Looking ahead, Compound Coffee and Odelia Organic envision extensive collaborations and initiatives for their East Java farm, including a farm stay program, long-term initiatives like “Work From Farm,” and volunteer programs. Stefanus articulates the long-term vision, stating, “The long-term vision is to create a holistic environment where visitors, volunteers, and locals can interact, learn, and grow together, contributing to a better world and supporting those who are marginalized.”

Odelia adds, “These collaborations and initiatives aim to engage the local community further and promote sustainable agriculture practices.” This endeavor by Compound Coffee Co. and Odelia Organic reflects a broader industry trend where roasters actively participate in the cultivation process, fostering transparency, sustainability, and a deeper connection between consumers and coffee farmers.

Breaking Ground in Cafe Concepts

There are coffee shops that challenge the status quo, going beyond the conventional norms of café culture. These establishments redefine the boundaries of what a coffee shop can be, introducing innovative concepts that capture the interest and imagination of consumers. From unique interior designs to unconventional services, these coffee shops are setting new standards in the industry.

Fenster Cafe

In the bustling heart of Vienna, a small window opens up to a unique coffee experience, and behind that window is the inspiring journey of Fenster Cafe and its founder, Sashko Iamkovyi. As the founder of Fenster Cafe, Sashko’s passion for coffee and business becomes evident in the way he speaks about his venture. He reflects, “Coffee and business is an interesting journey and challenge. For me personally, it’s a way of life, because I have nothing else. From the very beginning to now, for nine years, I have been living only with this, and it gives me pleasure.”

Fenster Cafe has not only become popular with customers but has also been recognized among the 50 best coffee shops in Europe for 2022. The success is attributed not only to the quality of their specialty coffee but also to the innovative approach of the Fensterccino, a cappuccino served inside a chocolate-covered waffle cone.

A waffle cone with a cappucino inside it, the Fensterccino.

Sashko recalls the challenges of introducing the Fensterccino, stated, “I contacted the manufacturers of these cones. It took them a long time to get in touch. And when we finally established communication, it turned out that the price for these cones was quite high. And there was a need to buy a large number of these cones at once.” Overcoming obstacles, Sashko found a European manufacturer for the cones but faced issues with delivery. He shares, “We experimented for a long time with both the packaging and the recipe until we finally learned how to ship them without any damage.”

Today, Fensterccino stands as their top seller, with more than 28,000 sold last year alone. Sashko expresses his pride, emphasizing the uniqueness of the

Fensterccino in the Vienna coffee scene. Looking ahead, Fenster Cafe is not just about coffee; it’s about expanding services and reaching new markets. Sashko has introduced online ordering, delivery systems, and a new product line of freshly ground and portioned coffee packaged in filters and sticks.

Currently based in the United States, Sashko is actively seeking franchise partners to introduce Fenster Cafe to new markets. He reflects on his team’s contribution to Fenster’s success, stating, “I am proud of everyone. We have very cool people. They are qualified and passionate about what they do. They are super reliable, and I can safely give them tasks and not worry that everything will be done on time and with high quality.”

Sashko’s journey from small beginnings to building Fenster Cafe into an impressive enterprise that serves as an inspiration for entrepreneurs. He concludes with a piece of advice, “It doesn’t have to be coffee or business, but whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it. That’s the key to success.”

Shipping Services Integration

In the quaint town of Danville, Pennsylvania, Java Momma, owned by Melissa and Brian Shoop, has redefined the traditional coffee shop model by integrating shipping services seamlessly. Their unique approach allows patrons not only to savor the aroma of freshly roasted coffee but also to drop off return packages from various carriers, including Amazon, FedEx, UPS, USPS, and Wish.

Brian explains the strategic decision to introduce shipping services, stating, “We wanted to bring foot traffic into the shop to increase coffee sales and awareness of our business, as well as having an additional revenue stream. It was also a greatly needed service, as it turns out.” Recognizing the limited options for package drop-offs in the central Pennsylvania town, Java Momma became a local return center, offering convenience to the community.

Java Momma’s services extend beyond coffee and shipping. Brian shares their commitment to becoming a full-service coffee shop, offering a range of brews and partnering with local artisans to feature products like honey, jams, jellies, ice cream, small-batch soda, pottery, and candles. Shipping services have become a significant part of their income, accounting for 50%, while Java Momma products and local artisan offerings make up the remaining 45% and 5%, respectively.

In a similar vein, across the country in Seattle, Washington, Sip and Ship, owned by Diana and Stephen Naramore, has embraced an unconventional business model by combining coffee, mailing, and notary services, and a gift boutique under one roof. Diana refers to it as “the urban trifecta,” providing customers with a unique space to enjoy coffee while taking care of various shipping needs.

Diana Naramore elaborates on the customer’s experience, saying, “Our customers love cradling a warm cup of coffee and exploring our card collection and unique gifts. It’s also a way to ease any stress around getting something complex or complicated in the mail.” Sip and Ship’s offerings extend to virtual mailbox services, allowing clients to receive mail and packages from anywhere in the world, further diversifying their customer base.

Both Java Momma and Sip and Ship have navigated challenges inherent in their unconventional business models. For Java Momma, the holiday sea- son brought logistical challenges, prompting an expansion of their space to accommodate the influx of packages. Brian emphasizes the importance of flexibility, stating, “You need to be flexible if you want to succeed.”

On the other hand, Sip and Ship faced the challenge of succinctly summarizing their diverse services. Diana acknowledges, “Sip and Ship do not fit into one advertising box. We can be a confusing place from the outside looking in. Are you a coffee shop, gift shop, or shipping center?” Despite this, Sip and Ship thrive on customer service, welcoming guests to explore and make themselves at home.

These stories exemplify the success that coffee businesses can achieves by diversifying their offerings. While challenges may arise, the value of providing unique services that simplify patrons’ lives are evident. As the traditional retail landscape evolves, the unconventional models embraced by Java Momma and Sip and Ship showcase the potential for growth and community engagement.

Coffee Shops Crafting Immersive Experiences

In the realm where fiction meets reality, a trend of unconventional coffee shops has emerged, offering us a unique and immersive experience inspired by beloved novels and movies. Below are five exceptional establishments that have seamlessly blended coffee culture with the magic of fictional worlds.

The Curious Café, located in Nottingham, United Kingdom, stands out as an Alice in Wonderland-themed haven. Opened in the summer of 2022, it has become a beloved community gathering place. Run by Learning in Fun Environment (LIFE), the café not only immerses patrons in Lewis Carroll’s whimsical world but also provides employment opportunities for individuals with learning difficulties or disabilities. Brian, co-owner of Java Momma, emphasizes the impact of such unconventional offerings, stating, “We wanted to bring foot traffic into the shop to increase coffee sales and awareness of our business, as well as having an additional revenue stream.”

Singapore’s Platform 1094 takes coffee enthusiasts on a magical journey through the wizarding world of Harry Potter. With decor and menu items inspired by the renowned series, patrons can enjoy the ambiance of Hogwarts while sipping on whimsically named beverages. Such unique experiences demonstrate the potential for coffee shops to diversify their offerings, attracting new customers and creating a distinctive brand identity.

Walter’s Coffee in Istanbul, Turkey, brings the iconic world of Breaking Bad to life. The café’s laboratory-themed ambiance, complete with HAZMAT suits and a stylized periodic table, pays homage to the TV series. This unconventional approach not only serves as a tribute to the show but also showcases the dedication to the art of coffee science. Walter’s Coffee exemplifies how blending storytelling with a coffee shop concept can create a memorable and immersive experience.

Athens, Greece, is home to Cap Cap, a fairy tale-inspired café that transports visitors into enchanting realms like Lord of the Rings, Mary Poppins, and Harry Potter. Owner Dimitris Mergoupis’ visionary spirit has transformed Cap Cap into a whimsical journey through beloved stories, fostering a sense of wonder and delight. Such thematic cafes demonstrate the potential for coffee shops to become cultural hubs, offering a unique and immersive experience beyond just coffee.

Lastly, the iconic Central Perk café from the TV show Friends opened its first location in Boston. This venture into the realm of television nostalgia showcases the enduring appeal of fictional worlds in coffee shop concepts. These cafes exemplify the success that coffee businesses can achieve by embracing unconventional themes and diversifying their offerings. The trend of blending fiction with the coffee shop experience not only attracts diverse customer bases but also creates a sense of community and shared storytelling.

Lessons from Unconventional Journeys in the Coffee World

In the tapestry of unconventional narratives and innovative concepts that we’ve explored in the realm of coffee, one cannot help but be intrigued by the diverse and fascinating journeys of coffee entrepreneurs who dared to defy the standard narratives. The exploration of bizarre, unconventional, and unique stories has uncovered a rich landscape where tradition meets innovation, and where success is not bound by the conventional norms of the coffee industry.

As we reflect on the stories woven into this narrative, a critical theme emerges—the symbiosis be- tween being bizarre and successful in the world of coffee. The term “bizarre” itself, with its etymological roots in the mysterious and unknown, seems to encapsulate the spirit of those who have chosen the path less traveled in their coffee ventures.

One key takeaway is the power of storytelling and immersion. The coffee industry has witnessed the rise of establishments that transcend the mere provision of a beverage. From thematic cafes inspired by literary and cinematic worlds to those incorporating shipping services and agro-tourism, the narrative extends beyond coffee to create immersive experiences. These ventures demonstrate that success in the coffee business is not solely determined by the quality of the brew but by the ability to tell a compelling story that resonates with customers.

Moreover, the journey through unconventional coffee farming practices and unique roasting techniques underscores the importance of pushing boundaries and embracing experimentation. Wilton’s innovative coffee processing techniques and PuroSole’s solar-powered roasting showcase a commitment to redefining established norms. The success of these ventures lies not only in the end product but in the audacity to challenge the status quo, introducing elements that contribute to the distinctiveness of their offerings.