It’s the very same ritual every morning for millions of people all around the world. They don’t even imagine starting a day without a good steaming cup that cheers their palate and by the way keeps them awake to face the next hours. Coffee has become in its own right an essential partner, almost a first need good for mankind.
But there are coffees… and coffees. As in everything, there is a wide quality range; from most coarse torrefactos to most exquisite delicatessen, there are all kind of varieties available in the market. At the top step “speciality coffees” are placed. That is the format they work with at Camden Coffee Roasters.
This tiny and cozy spot is located in Velilla de San Antonio, a village with little more than 10,000 inhabitants at the outskirts of Madrid. From such a remote place, the business run by Inés and Ilker is becoming a thing in the sector, up to the point of becoming a reference for the most demanding drinkers in the Spanish capital and its region. There, the couple has opened not only a café where you can drink the beverages they prepare, but also a roasting company where they prepare and sell the grains so that everybody can enjoy this true black gold at their own homes.
But what is “specialty coffee”? Inés explains the concept: it’s a product category in compliance with a series of requirements that make it especially valuable. Smell, flavour, taste notes, sweetness and bitternes, citric or floral tones… everything is evaluated and scored (there’s even an international association, SCA, in charge of the task) and only those that get high marks and have all items properly balanced can be sold as such. It must also be guaranteed that the plantation works with a fair trade system and uses environmentally sustainable techniques, with its appropriate traceability. “It is, so to say, a pampered coffee, with a process not used in conventional coffee”.
Difference is noticed from the first sip. Even less trained drinkers notice immediately that this coffee is a different world. “In Spain we love coffee but drink it badly or use low quality coffee. Regular consumers recognize the quality of a product like ours and don’t want to return back anymore. Those who are a bit skeptical, in the very moment that they try it, see that it’s different and appreciate it”, Inés tells us.
Since it is more appropriate for the requirements, the shrub species used is Arabica; beyond that, specialty coffee doesn’t have a specific geographical origin. “It’s a fruit with a temporal span of growth. When it’s ready in South America, it’s not in Africa or Asia. So depending of the season, we bring it from a region or another. We have coffee from Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Kenya, Ethiopia… whichever is available at the moment”. All these countries are located close to the equator, because the coffee plant needs very specific conditions to develop: high mountain areas where temperatures keep constant all year round. It would be impossible, for example, to nurture coffee in Spain.
Roasting is also a very important part of the process. That is Ilker’s work. He describes the features that give this coffee such a special character. “In speciality coffee medium roast is used. It must be stopped before reaching the second crack, because in that moment the bean starts to char and give off oil; doing so it would get darker, more bitter beans, and surely there’s a market for that kind of coffee, but it’s used in commercial brands. Apart from that one can adjust the different parameters in the machine, more or less air, gas, temperature, time…to create different profiles depending on the usage the coffe will have later. For example, for espresso coffee makers it tends to be more bitter, so that the colour is nicer and the beverage is stronger, as 90% of people drink it with milk”.
Proper coffee roasting is an art in which Ilker and Inés got started almost by chance. The couple met in London, where they managed a more conventional coffee shop, where they also offered high level breakfasts and brunches; it even reached the first position on TripAdvisor in the whole city. However, a trip to Cornwall, in the southwestern tip of Great Britain, changed their life. “We got into a cafetería in the middle of a forest and there I tasted an amazing coffee, really impressive, the best I had had in my whole life. I did my research about it and discovered the specialty coffee concept. I contacted the roast company but they refused to sell that coffee to me. So I decided to roast on my own, because specialty coffee is a novelty that attracts attention and is growing quickly”.
The couple took a radical decision: leaving England and moving to Spain to start a new business. “In Madrid we’re starting slowly but we believe it can become quite popular”, says Inés with confidence. “Also we were thinking about creating a family, and the best place to settle was close to mine”. This explains that they ended up in such a small town like Velilla de San Antonio, where her parents own a house. “Brexit also swayed the decision”, Ilker admits.
Changing from a megalopolis to a tiny spot seems brutal but it has gone pretty well. “Customers in Velilla are very open to new experiences. We had to slightly adjust prices, but it can be done to satisfy their demands. Our plan is to keep expanding, open a second roaster in downtown Madrid and let our brand grow”. Because, apart from managing their own venue, Inés and Ilker have diversified their offer. They provide training both for roasters and for baristas, and also trade wholesale already roasted beans to other companies who want to improve the quality of their coffee.
The latter explains their partnership with The Draft and their advance into the bicycle world. “It’s them who found us”, states Inés. “We were very happy to see that they wanted to include in their business a mixture between cycling and specialty coffee. After all, they also make a very specifical thing that mixes very well with our product. It’s something different and top quality, just like the bikes they make”. Before this collaboration they had no relationship at all with ciclyng, apart from serving the groups of riders who go on their routes through Velilla and stop in their premises. “But it’s true that in London we had seen the combination of workshops where you got your bike serviced while you could have a specialty coffee”. Who knows, maybe in a close future this trend comes to Madrid too.