Eine Kaffe bitte
I woke up today with the kind of primal urge that only a true nut could appreciate: I needed coffee. I travelled half way around the globe in search of coffee and in the past 2 days have I failed to find a decent cup. My caffeine levels where getting dangerously low and I feared for my immediate survival. I promptly displayed the international distress signal and tried the Heimlich maneuver on myself, but soon realized that only coffee could restore my sanity. REAL, proper coffee!
To my surprise, I discovered that Vienna does not really have speciality coffee. I was expecting roasters and shops to be on every street corner with normal plebs sipping dark, sweet goodness as part of their everyday fuel. Perhaps I confused Italy with Austria, but then again I have heard similar stories about the infamous Italians as well.
The truth is that speciality coffee is not a common place thing. Nor should it be. It doesn’t matter whether you are in “lion infested” South Africa or in a first world country; speciality coffee is something that needs to be found. Discovered. Appreciated. If there where micro-roasters on every corner, would their product not be considered “commercial”? I enjoy the fact that one has to go in search of a great cup. The search adds to the experience, giving a sense of accomplishment on the consumer’s side instead of just buying yet another “vending machine” cup of HWB (Hot Wet and Black).
Getting lost. Again.
I set off in search of a shop called Caffe Couture. SCAE mentioned the name on social media and I decided to track down the illusive shop. Google maps placed it 4 railways from my hotel and, after a few stops too many and a new appreciation for the German word “Scheiße”, I managed to make my way to the Schottentor university grounds. On arrival I got a very welcomed SMS from Scott whom I met last night. He was looking for something to do and I immediately diverted him to my location. Scott finally arrived an hour later having hopped off at the wrong station before eventually reaching the university district. Scheiße! What a great word?!
We eventually found Caffe Couture hidden in a tiny side street between the tall, ancient buildings. The shop had no name or signs, except for one dead giveaway: a La Marzocco sign in the window. Peering trough the windows the 5 grinders and LM Strada machine inspired even more confidence and we wasted no time letting ourselves into the tiny shop.
Caffe Couture was a small, white walled shop with pallets serving as a for display area and a single table for seating. Owner and barista George immediately got to work on 2 double espressos with me ordering the house espresso blend and Scott opting for a single origin Rwanda bean. We watched George as he went about working his machine as only a true barista could: with confidence, flow and a certain element of charm. George’s philosophy on coffee was quite unique and focussed entirely on consumer education and appreciation for coffee . He had no price list and instead relied on his patrons to pay him whatever they feel he deserves. Brave!
The two cups barely saw the light of day before the two of us struck up a conversation with Canadian barista team from Transcend Coffee, here to support their champion Josh Hawkin. Another round of slow pours had us chatting with Hong Kong journalist Virginia Tam while we waited for George’s new batch of coffee to arrive from his roaster. After waiting a almost an hour for the delivery, Scott and I gave up and decided to walk on in search of the next shop.
With only a faint idea of where we where heading, Scott and I entered the university grounds in search of some good Kodac moments. We found a nice statue in memory of an old master and desecrated it it with our flashes and smiles.
A few minutes later we literally stumbled upon POC (People on Caffiene). Again almost no signs or neon flashing lights, just a humble little plaque outside an otherwise unmarked building guarded the entrance to the 6 seater little shop. Using my broken German I introduced myself and Scott to the only man in shop and he greeted us politely in fluent English.
Robert Gruber, owner and barista of POC is the current Austrian Brewers Cup champion. Like George, he worked his 2 group LM Linea with passion and dedication. His shop was a stunning little nook filled with weird chairs, blue cups, slow poor goodies and a girl named Olivia. Scott quickly struck up a conversation with her, although I believe Olivia was more part of the furniture than just another patron.
Robert explained to us that the Austrian coffee scene is quite similar to that of Italy; dark roasts made by large roasting companies. His own coffee was from Caffination and had a base of Ethiopian with a beautiful body and pleasant acidity. He says that they too struggle to bring in lighter roasted coffees that can be appreciated instead of merely consumed. What worried me was that no one around here roasted their own! Even more worrying was that no one even mentioned it. They where all contempt with the coffees they outsourced to other, larger roasting companies. In South Africa, most shops at least had the intention to roast their own even though they may not have the money to invest in the equipment. These guys didn’t seem to give it any thought…
Scott and I made our way back to the tourist invested streets after being thoroughly coffee’d out and tired of walking. The night would a few more activities and I needed to catch my beauty sleep.
A chance to mingle
At 6 we headed out to a barista meet and greet at Mokador Caffe in Stephanplatz. We mingled with baristas from every nationality and shared stories on slow pouring espresso rounds and dropped cappuccino cups meant to be served to the judges panel. Working my way trough the room, I managed to strike up a conversation with the reps from Mahlkonig. I need to stock a few of their larger packet grinders, so the conversation quickly turned to a business deal. I showed them a few of my machines and that drove conversation toward the likes of Probat and Diedrich. Mahlkonig was kind enough to offer me an introduction to all the big guys from Probat and I was just too happy to accept. Mission accomplished!