ROASTER ON ROSTER: Patrik Rolf of April Coffee Roasters

In efforts to better connect the coffee roasters with you, the coffee drinkers, we are embarking on a new series - 'Roaster on Roster', where we feature our partner roasters on the MORNING marketplace and spend some time catching up with theme about their projects, inspirations and also their lives outside of coffee.

First in line on our 'roster' is Patrik Rolf of April Coffee Roasters.

 

A few months ago, we jumped on a video call with Patrik to have a chat with him and among other things, check up with him on how things are in Copenhagen, the experience of opening a coffee store in the midst of a pandemic as well as his other passion projects (hint: April Coffee Brewer).

About the Roaster
Patrick Rolf is the founder of April Coffee Roasters based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He started his journey in Coffee with Da Matteo, spent two years as Head of Roastery at Five Elephants in Berlin and was a Brewers Cup winner in Sweden as well as the runner-up for the 2019 World Brewers Cup Championship.

Leon: Patrik, how are things and what is the COVID situation like now over in Copenhagen?

Patrik: I think the situation at the moment is fairly within control. In Europe, overall, it's moving in the right direction. We were one of the first countries in Europe to quarantine so we got in quite early, from mid March to the end of April where not many people went out and there were restrictions.

After that, it kind of opened up and from the middle of June, it was almost business as usual. There are still some restrictions but it's actually working fairly okay. I think the main challenge now is just the lack of tourism.

L: How has this affected your business directly?

P: I think it's affected us in a few different ways. First of all, we're a wholesale company in the sense that we sell all around the world, and different markets have shut down at different times. I feel that now we're back on track. There are a lot of companies that have it a lot worse than we do.

L: We understand that you used to visit origins quite often, and so from now henceforth, how do expect for it to be different?

P: Obviously now it's not the time to go to origin, so we haven't been traveling at all like we did. We did a few trips late last year - Ethiopia, Kenya, Costa Rica early in the year (which we always do), so that's fine. We did have a few scheduled trips for this time in the summer to Ecuador, Burundi, Brazil and a few other places, which we canceled. It is fine because everyone understands and we're doing it virtual now instead. Everything is online, we do zoom discussions with our farmers, we get videos from the farms and we take samples, so actually very little has changed.

Of course, it's nice to go and visit them. But I mean, if this whole COVID-19 has told us anything, it is that online is still a pretty solid way to communicate.

L: It's quite interesting now that you mentioned, because I used to go to origin quite a bit but now I find myself speaking to the farmers even more and having phone calls with them on WhatsApp, FaceTime, and I don't think I have spoken to them as often as pre-COVID.

P: I mean, humans are an inherent social race, right? We're social animals and I think this whole COVID-19 has highlighted that quite clearly, as in how people communicate more diversely, and almost more than before, because they found a way of communicating or being social.

There's been a lot of discussions going on about what will happen post-COVID, as to if more people will stay in the rooms and just do online conversations. But I think social interaction is never going to be enough. Just meeting someone, physically, is so important for us, so as a species, we're going to continue doing that.

Nevertheless, interesting times and again, it's always like this, with every disaster it will bring about positive and negative things so there's definitely some good stuff coming out of this whole period as well.

L: So, Patrick, just a side question, because everybody knows you are into coffee, the big question is, were you always into coffee, what were you doing before coffee and what got you into coffee?

P: I started in coffee about eight years ago, and started because of Da Matteo in Gothenburg. I was just a regular in their coffee shop and was doing some consultations regarding marketing and business development with a company I had together with the founder of da Matteo - Matts.

So I’m in coffee because of one person more than anything else and it's a person called Matts Johansson, who started Da Matteo. He was and is a huge inspiration for me today as well and if I didn’t meet him, I would never have ended up in coffee because he introduced me to everything to do with coffee.

I competed in coffee before I started working with coffee as well. I competed in a barista cup and that was very much because of him as well, because he allowed me to hang out in their lab to train.

I got into coffee because my idea at the time (which definitely has changed) was that coffee was very quality focused, that is was very craft-focused and  authentic. I had an idea that people cared a lot about what's going on and how they can make stuff better. Not sure if I believe that today, but it doesn't really matter because I'm on a different path. That is basically the short story of it all.

L: I think everybody got into coffee in a certain way because it helped craft a certain part of their career or just meeting people. Meeting people for me was actually the most important thing in coffee.

L: Anyway, I'm gonna soldier on with the questions, because there's quite a bit. We can talk about one of your projects - the April coffee store and showroom. With most of your brand and customer base being very widespread globally, what made you open up a store in Copenhagen, in the midst of a pandemic? And obviously, about this controversial statement you mentioned a few times about how the world doesn't need another coffee shop or roastery.


P: Which I still hold very true to that. For us it is a daily challenge to justify our existence in this industry. Which is why we try to do the things we do.

The coffee store came out of a few things. So initially, because of COVID, very early on, when people started to understand that this will become a thing in Europe, I had some quite interesting discussions with Maxwell in February about this - we kind of saw this coming.

When we went into quarantine here in March, the industry, from one day to another just became so negative. People had a lot of these negative thoughts but I wanted to go out of the quarantine time to have done something positive, because I don't see a reason for why any situation in life should just be negative, it can be both positive or negative at the same time.

So we signed a contract for this space, right in the middle of the quarantine, and spent the duration of the quarantine building it, it took about a month and a half. So one, because we need this industry to also display that we can do positive stuff in the midst of a pandemic and I'm convinced that when we get out of this, people still have this need of social interaction, we have a need of interacting as well, as a company.

Also because, as you say, we've been very international from day one, and we're going to continue being that but we also want to be more local and we want to support the city that we're in.

Now we're interacting with the people of Copenhagen on a daily basis. Plus, we always had so many people traveling to Copenhagen, wanting to meet us, but our roastery has always been off limits and we don't accept visits. So it's cool to finally have a space where when people travel in and they want to try our coffee, we can tell them to come by our shop and we’ll brew some coffees for them. So rather than doing a coffee shop, it’s more like creating an April living room, where you can come and hang out with us and try some of our coffees.

L: What type of customers walk into your store? Are they existing customers or new people that you meet?

P: Mainly Danish, of course, but it's a good mix. In Denmark or especially Copenhagen, we have a lot of very quality-focused people within the food and beverage world. The restaurant scene in Copenhagen is quite developed. So we have a lot of people that are interested in food and beverage from before, we also have our neighbours on the street.

There are a lot of people who have never interacted with April before. Even though we are established in the coffee world we have a lot of people that have never heard about us before that walked into our doors

L: What was the inspiration behind the living-room format for the April Coffee store?

P: Back to the question where you mentioned in the beginning that the world does not need another coffee shop and the way I see it is that we did not create another coffee shop but we are actually creating an experience that you don't get anywhere else.

One, because we serve 100% coffee, there's nothing else. Two, because of the design and the feel of that place. We teamed up with one of the most established Danish furniture designers - House of Juhl, on all of our interior.

This is not your average coffee shop. We are trying to create an experience.

It's just a space where you come for the experience more than anything else and then hopefully you get to taste some really, really, really good coffee.

L: The second project that I would like to talk about is your April Coffee Brewer. Can you tell us more about what this product is about and also how your experience was launching this new product into the consumer market?

P: For the April Brewing kit we had one very simple goal in mind, and bear in mind, we haven't succeeded with that goal yet, but it was that I wanted to win a World Championship. A part of that was also to bring something else to the table at the Brewers Cup. 

It's been a discussion for a long time but the Brewers cup feels more like a sourcing competition rather than a brewing competition. It's so much about the green coffee you're working with more so than anything else. I wanted to change the focus there and actually bring a brewer that I created myself to emphasise the brewing aspect of the competition.

It's been a three year process. I first brought it to Brazil in 2018 where I had the highest compulsory but then one of the judges thought I had poured too little coffee in his cup but I didn't say much about it.

So the thing with the brewing kit and what we improved in Boston was that we had the highest score by far. In the final, we were four points higher than anyone else, but the Chinese girl had a stronger compulsory than I had so she ended up winning by 0.2 points.

When you prepare a flatbed brewer versus a cone brewer, you'll realise that in the colder temperatures (and the colder temperatures are very important when you compete), the cone brewer is going to create a more acidic taste experience that is not as balanced as a flat brewer. A lot of people when they compete, if you look at their score sheets, they start with quite high points at the hot temperature, but then the judges will cross over your score and write something lower after, because the attributes in the temperature changes doesn't benefit the cup.The judges will taste your cup of coffee for the last time in the lower temperature as well. So that needs to be the best experience of the cup.

A lot of the focus with the brewing kit was to make an experience that maximises the taste quality of the mid to lower range (temperatures) in the cup and you do that by creating a bit of harmony and structure, with a better mouthfeel to the coffee as well, making everything fit together a bit. That was the goal.

It took us about three years to do it with ten prototypes. It was always important for me that we're not launching this product before we proved that we can do good stuff with it and I think second place in the World Championship was kind of the tipping point there where it's like, “Okay, we've got the highest cup-score in the world championship, we got a silver medal (we wanted a gold medal, but that's how it is - come back for that later on)”, then it was time to launch it.

It's been a great experience. It's been challenging, because COVID happened the month before we were supposed to launch. So it's been a bit disruptive to our production lines but apart from that it's been a good experience.

L: Let's talk about your capsules, your coffee line. What was the tipping point for you to decide to use this Nespresso compatible format to share your coffee?

P: It was the fact that at a point when I tasted Nespresso for the first time, many years ago, instead of saying “this tastes off”, “it’s not nice”, “I don't like this”, “It's not quality” etc. So most people kind of disregarded it as just something that Nespresso does. But whenever I taste coffee products I don't like, I get excited.

It's the same that we have this cold brew line but I don't like cold brew. So instead of saying, we're never going to make cold brew, we say how do we do a cold brew that April likes - likewise with the capsules. Generally capsules didn’t taste good, they had extractions issues, and a lot of materials issues (where everything was plastic in the beginning).

Then we asked ourselves, “How do we do a tastier one?”. That was the only incentive. Business wise, it didn't really make any sense back then. We pushed a bunch of money into trying to make a tasty version of a capsule and it’ll be years before we recover the money we invested into making the capsules the way that we do.

I looked at Nespresso, the same way I do at La Marzocco and you guys have understood that as well right? Because you guys are creating your own machine. What Nespresso did was to create a brewing system, right? They didn't create a capsule, they created a brewing system - a machine that you can brew some kind of coffee beverage with. To me that was amazing, because now we have a platform and you creating another machine now, which I hope is better. But I think the format of a capsule is amazing, it's consistent, fast and tasty (if you do it well).

I think the biggest struggle with selling coffee as a product if you’re talking about coffee beans, it's the fact that someone needs to brew it. You sell them a bag of espresso beans, they need to take it home, start up their machine, dial into the grinders and I would say 9 out of 10 times our coffee doesn't taste the way that it should, because someone else has to brew it. Which is what makes it difficult. Whereas with a capsule, we can guarantee 100% of the time that our coffee will taste exactly like we intended it to taste. It's a fantastic product.

So I'm super excited and have been for years since we started this whole product and I feel we're getting on top of it. Not convinced still, being as small as we are, it's a hard product to push because it's really a volume product.

L: Yeah, we get quite a bit of requests for your capsules from this part of the world, especially the Costa Rican Volcan Azul. Predominantly in Singapore, people prefer a bit more chocolate and then if it's honey and fruit in a way where you still have chocolate people will likely reach out to those coffees. Do you roast your coffee differently for capsules?

P: Yes, which you have to. We can’t go into too much specifics but the thing is for this brewing format, the temperatures and pressures are quite different from any other type of extraction. So, you can't really roast it the way you normally do, like how a lot of people take their espresso roast and put it into capsules.

Nespresso machines or your machine are not La Marzocco machines. It's not nine bar pressure, nor the same flow rate so it goes without saying that it's a different type of brewing and a different type of brewing requires a different kind of roasting. It's just like how we differentiate the espresso and filter roast where it doesn't make any sense to make one roast profile for both filter and espresso because you have a pressurised brewing method and an unpressurised brewing method with two vastly different flow rates. There's no way that the optimal version of a roast will be awesome for both. It might be good for both but if your goal is to make the best version of a coffee, having the same roast profile is just lazy.

L: Yes, it's absolutely important that we are aware that there is no one roast fits all for the brew method or the way you enjoy your coffee. So that's why we exist and why there’s specialty coffee. Moving on to the next topic. We observed that all your projects are very design centric. We'd like to know where your inspiration comes from? We know that you love to do things that infuse a local craft, a certain artisan craftsmen or certain ceramists, whether from Japan, Korea etc.. We want to know what's your inspiration and how do you come to these design decisions when it comes to April.

P: First of all, thank you for acknowledging that it looks good and there's effort in the packaging. But the key thing is that we put the beauties on the inside first. The idea is that inside comes first, so what’s within the capsule is substantially more important than the packaging of the capsules. So the relationship between quality of taste of coffee and design, is that we don't care about design, taste quality first.

Then when it comes to design, as we do with most things in April, all the design is made in-house. So we have two partners that we work with, a guy called Max Duchardt in Berlin, and then an illustrator called Ryoto Miyaki in Tokyo. Those guys are the ones that are doing the design work for our brand. It's very little of me interfering, so I can't take any credit for that, because it's really just their version of April. We let them do their thing but obviously I also have a clear direction and idea of how I want it to look.

Part of the foundation of April is that when we work with partners it’s the same as when we work with the farmers - we don't go to our farmers to tell them how to farm coffee or how to process coffee. We choose farmers that have a specific integrity in their taste and their approach because their coffee is amazing. We are not farmers, we are coffee roasters, so it’s the same thing with design, we choose people that are very skilled at what they do and then we let them do their thing and then we decide in the end whether it fits us or not but we would never go in and micromanage someone that is very good at what they do.

L: Patrik some people might also be interested to know that other than coffee, what other hobbies or passions do you have? 

P: Inspiration-wise nothing really came out of coffee. Linking back to how I started in coffee, and my assumptions about the coffee industry, the longer I am in the industry, the harder it is to find that quality, coffee is a hobby science at best so I am not convinced that coffee is getting the respect it deserves by professionals. So a lot of my inspiration I find are from other industries.

In terms of interests, I have been studying philosophy for a few years now. I have always been interested in any kind of physical activity, which in my world translates to lifting stuff in the gym. Which basically sums up to training my body and mind. Meditations in various forms which in my world translate to journaling, reflection, walking and being alone in quiet (without any form of distractions).

I just appreciate quality in general, I find people in Copenhagen and around the world that do quality stuff and go and meet them. One of our coolest features in our coffee store is this indigo-dyed curtain with the April logo on it that is dividing the two shops - that is hand-dyed by these awesome indigo farmers in Japan. So that is kind of like a hobby and interest of mine.

L: Are you reading something interesting now?

P: I have a few books that I read continuously everyday that are more so a reminder, which would be Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ (which is also something I travel with). Very recently, I am re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, ‘Talking to Strangers’ - super interesting especially with the Black Lives Matters movement that has been active recently, it’s a great way to get a perspective on things.

There is something else that I have been interested in: There is a foundation in Canada, Munk Foundation, where it’s a very wealthy family that have started something called the ‘Munk Debates’. It is a relatively old concept but I’ve recently discovered it because they have now a series of interviews regarding COVID-19. They have historians, economists, thinkers on 10 episodes discussing how the world will look like after COVID-19.

L: Last question - What is your morning ritual/routine like?

P: I wake up at 5.30am every single day and after taking a shower I am out the door at 6am. What I like drinking now is actually tea, I am really into cold extractions with tea, so I take that with me in the morning and walk out the door to go for a walk for about 30 minutes - just walk without doing anything or listening to anything. It’s a great way to start your mind, I try not to think about anything. After that I go to the coffee store, usually there at around 7am and then have my first coffee at eight o’clock. Today my first coffee was a pourover made by Jo here at April, a Red Honey Processed Gesha from Volcan Azul.

L: That’s a fancy morning coffee!

P: I should say that our store is fancy, we are doing good stuff. There’s no average qualities here and we only bring in the best we can get.

L: Patrik before we leave I would like to say thank you so much for being on Roaster on Roster. We’d like to thank you for your positivity, your dedication to quality, your passion to the craft and your constant need to collaborate with people who also understand quality. Please keep safe in the meantime. We look forward to visiting you some day, or maybe you could swing by.

P: I would actually love to, it is on my list. Last year, I was very close but I am definitely coming. It will be super cool to hang out with you guys.

Watch the full video feature of this conversation with Patrik on our IGTV! And check out Patrik's coffee capsules over here.

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