As a Guatemalan, I learned very early in life that coffee as a product is as much about people as it is about beans, not just the people working in coffee bars but the people in producing countries. Every time I think back on my childhood, the kids I played football with on the streets of Xela, my hometown, come to my mind. They used to carry la carga on their backs, a 20-kilogram sack full of coffee beans to be sold at the local mill. These are the people I am talking about; they are the unsung heroes of the coffee industry.
For me, this is part of the magic formula: 50% the people, 50% the beans. All I want is to find that balance between them. Of course, the star of the show is the coffee – it’s got to be the coffee! But our job is to help the coffee shine and serve it in the best and simplest way, in a way that pays respect to all the people that have worked so hard to make that cup of deliciousness happen.
And so our aim at the shop has always been to make things fun and colourful, but simple and honest too. As Colin Harmon, founder of 3fe, once said: ‘Make a good cup of coffee, be nice to people and they will come back. Guaranteed.’ Those words have stayed with me to this day and I’d like to think that this is what Kofra is all about. Two years on, and after many, many hours of hard work and persistence, slowly but surely we are making a name for ourselves. Not just in the city, but in the rest of the country and Europe as well.
Part of the reason for our success, I think, is that we specialise at Kofra: we only do coffee because we want to spend as much time as possible just working with the product and pushing the boundaries of what can be done with the remarkable beans we get from all over the world. In the past two years we have been researching a lot about different methods of extracting coffee and the effect that water has on coffee. For example, try making a cup of coffee at home with tap water and taste it, then make another one using bottled water. Close your eyes and experience the difference. The more we learn about coffee the more we realise how little we know about it. This is what keeps me wanting to come back to work every morning. Every night when I go to sleep I plan what coffee beans I am going to have the next day and how I am going to prepare it. I guess I am one lucky guy: I have a job I love.
The day-to-day business of a coffee shop revolves around customers stopping by on their way to or from whatever it is they are doing. We are like a petrol station to them. We need to make sure that delicious coffee keeps fuelling their brains. One of the most rewarding aspects to running the shop has been getting to know our regulars, and finding so many like-minded creative individuals; it is this natural networking process that has generated some exciting collaborations. As I am writing this, I have just found out that the Kofra Stout, a coffee beer collaboration between Redwell, a local brewery, and Kofra, has won a silver medal in an international competition. That beer is the result of sharing a conversation over a flat white at the coffee shop.
In spite of meeting so many talented, interesting people, being the owner of a business can be quite a lonely experience, in the sense that you spend a lot of time in your own head, making hundreds of micro-decisions every day: a responsibility which lies with you alone but which always affects others. I used to say that I just wanted to have one coffee shop which I could keep working at to make better, but I changed my mind about that when I found a beautiful location which is just perfect to create a new coffee place, this time in partnership with two women whom I admire because they are just as passionate about their craft as I am.
This new venture will keep me busy for the next few months, and there are many more interesting projects and collaborations that I look forward to exploring, all of which, of course, involve coffee. So watch this space. I guess for me it will always be an adventure.