Launching my first specialty coffee line was definitely not an easy task. On the contrary, it required a lot of persistency and passion. In my case, the biggest challenges were not the external threats but the internal obstacles. Most of my co-workers did not believe in specialty coffee, as the market in Switzerland was and still is today very small. Regardless of their doubts I started this project as I truly believe in a better, more sustainable way of doing business.
It all started in 2014, when I worked in marketing for a large commercial coffee roaster. At that time, I was fairly new to specialty coffee myself. What immediately fascinated me about specialty coffee were the surprising flavours. I also admired the craftsmanship to roast coffee and to brew a great cup. Yet the most intriguing part was the complex value chain and above all the hard work at origin.
My green coffee search started in Honduras where I participated at the Cup of Excellence program. Traveling to origin and meeting the producers was essential for this project. Without talking myself directly to farmers I could have never created an authentic product range. After a month of intensive sample evaluation, the initial line-up was ready: Ethiopia, Colombia, Guatemala, and Brazil. To give this range a personal touch, all coffees had one thing in common: they were all floral. I personally love floral notes, they proof that each and every step along the value chain has been perfectly mastered. The packaging design was intentionally minimalistic. We had a plane white bag with simple black writing. We included the usual details you will find on most specialty coffee packagings, such as origin, region, producer, growing altitude, variety, processing and flavour descriptors.
We then launched our new line in our academy. We split the launch into two separate events: in the morning we invited journalists for a private session and in the afternoon, we welcomed our customers and prospects, as well as all our employees. We invited our employees to assure that everyone in the company was fully committed to our project. Our special guest was Chris Loukakis, the 2011 World Latte Art Champion. We invited him to have a professional barista celebrating the brewing process and to offer an outstanding customer service.
In the afternoon Chris Loukakis stood behind the perfectly polished machine to prepare coffees with a lot of passion for details. But before we served the coffees, we introduced every coffee in detail. It was crucial to warn the guests about the unusual profiles: “The upcoming coffees will be fruity, even floral and naturally sweet.” We mentioned, that some guests might be shocked by the fruity acidity and the high flavour intensities. We also made it clear, that we roasted lighter than for our traditional espresso blends. We literally prepared them for a totally new coffee experience. This was important to manage their expectations, as they were all used to dark roast style coffees.
This is how we launched our specialty coffee range and triggered immediate interest from a commercial buyer to order half a ton of specialty coffee. Explaining the hard work at origin, the guided sensory experience, and the outstanding customer service combined with great passion for details in the beverage making were the key success factors for this launch. Shortly after I invited the buyer again into our academy for a cupping to find the right coffee for him, as we did not have half a ton of the Colombian coffee he wanted: I prepared four different coffees, that could not be more different to highlight again, what specialty coffee has to offer. On the table were coffees from Kenya, Costa Rica, Yemen and Indonesia.
I had chosen the Kenyan coffee to showcase a sparkling acidity and the coffee from Costa Rica for its honey process, that offered a high sweetness and a full body. The Yemeni coffee should be an example of how dangerous the situation can be at origin. Finally I placed a coffee from Indonesia on the table. This coffee was my personal recommendation for his Christmas edition: it had a low acidity, a very strong body and honey sweetness. This profile would have been closest to what a commercial coffee drinker in Switzerland would be used to. I called it a safe bet
At the end of the cupping session, the buyer confirmed all four coffees. We then jointly agreed to create a new, different packaging. The reason for this was his target group. This limited Christmas edition was targeting commercial coffee drinkers, that have never been exposed to specialty coffee. In addition, there would not be any shop assistant around to explain the products to the end-consumers. The later would buy directly from the supermarket shelf. Therefore, we reduced the amount of written information on the packaging to replace it with bigger, self-speaking images of the origins like a coffee farm, coffee trees, coffee flowerings, ripe cherries, or drying beds. We skipped the growing altitude or the variety. This allowed us to write a little story about the coffee, who produced it, how it was picked and processed, and we also included some more information how to best brew the coffee at home.
Passion, dedication and a very open communication allowed us to sell half a ton of specialty coffee to a Swiss retailer. This should only be the beginning of our specialty coffee business. Soon after the first products hit the retail shelves, our sales team received enquiries from other prospects.
Andre’s coffee journey started as a coffee trader in Switzerland. He moved shortly after to Kenya and Tanzania and spent most of his time on coffee farms, in cupping rooms and in drymills. After his time at origin, Andre worked for several coffee roasters in marketing across Europe.
The last years have been especially exciting: once Andre entered the specialty coffee world, he founded a coffee academy, launched a specialty coffee range, competed and judged in barista competitions and also deepened his coffee science knowledge during a collaboration with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences.
Recently Andre published his book “INSPIRE and GET INSPIRED” to share his passion for specialty coffee. He is currently waiting to move to Melbourne to continue his coffee adventure as the new General Manager for Victoria Arduino in Australia.
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