Romania’s coffee culture is changing. Slowly but surely, we’re seeing signs of a new kind of coffee in town: a Chemex on the coffee shop shelf. A consumer skipping the sugar. A roastery offering single origins.
So, what’s caused this change?
Over the past six few years, young entrepreneurs have been leading the spread of specialty coffee throughout this Eastern European country. I spoke to some of them to learn more about it.
You might also like: The Pioneers Bringing Specialty Coffee to Bulgaria
Specialty Coffee Is Brewing in Romania
In 2012, you had to look outside of Romania for specialty coffee suppliers. Now, in 2018, there’s plenty of great roasters who not only sell great coffee, but also work with other shops to nurture this fledgling industry.
Radu Manea, Founder and Head Roaster at Papa Jacques & Cafai, tells me, “Years ago, the Romanian [specialty] coffee scene was almost barren. I remember there were two, maybe three, coffee roasters who pushed for quality.”
But much has changed since then. Radu tells me that, every year, more and more roasters opened. And today, how many are there? “Right now, I’ve lost count,” he says.
A barista pulls two espresso shots.
Ionut Bindila, Co-Founder of Bucharest-based coffee shop Two Minutes, says, “The last years in Romania have been electric in developing the specialty coffee market and I think that this is mostly the contribution of some passionate [people] that created beautiful communities around their shops, inspiring people to drink, learn, and preach good coffee.”
The growing number of coffee shops is welcome news for Romania’s specialty pioneers. Radu says, “It’s helpful because you can learn from them. I can’t perform well if I lack competition. Now, I’ve got plenty and the game is fun. I hope they are having fun too.”
A barista pours tulip latte art.
Introducing a new product to your customers is hard in any business. It’s even more challenging in a market where big brands dictate the taste and price of your product.
Some of the challenges specialty coffee shop owners have faced include:
- Palate: Many Romanian customers describe coffee as “always strong and bitter; sugar is a must.” This affects specialty coffee shops, because consumers often associate the acidity of a high-quality coffee with sourness, leading to the conclusion that it’s not good coffee.
- Sugar: Since most traditional cafés across Romania serve strong and bitter coffee, many customers are (understandably) used to adding sugar to their brew. However, sugar can drown out other flavors, making it harder to appreciate the complex fruity notes of a single origin.
Join in with the debate! Read Is Adding Sugar to Coffee Really That Bad?
- Methods: Discovering how to make consumers curious about brew methods, so that they’ll try the Chemex, V60, and French Press as well as the frappe, macchiato, and caramel latte, is a challenge.
Yet café owners, baristas, and roasters are working hard to create excitement over specialty coffee. Razvan Roșu, Co-Founder of Yume Coffee Roasters, says, “We see today, in Romania, a quick shift in perception about what good coffee means.
“Undeniably, Romanians have a love affair with espresso. The dark-roasted Italian blends adopted in the early ‘90s are slowly replaced by single origin coffees and specialty blends. There is also a pour over movement that is growing slowly, as more coffee shops and coffee roasters are entering the scene.”
Have you read Espresso vs Filter: What’s The Difference?
Coffee blooms when brewed with a Kalita Wave.
Early Influencers Lead The Way
But how did this all happen? Well, first, there were a few curious people that were intrigued by the taste and story behind specialty coffee.
These early adopters are the strongest specialty coffee advocates – we owe them our current success. It is through their passion, determination, and willingness to go against the current that we are where we are now.
Silvia Constantin, Membership Coordinator and AST Trainer at SCA Romania, says, “I am very happy that this new wave improved the hospitality business with wonderful places and beautiful people, called baristas, that strive to offer high-quality coffee-related products.”
She continues, “Due to my optimistic nature, I think that what happened in the past years is just beautiful and I think we can do better than that, as long as everything you do, you do it with passion.”
Two lattes, two rosettas.
As the specialty coffee market has grown, more and more people have been drawn to café ownership. Most of these entrepreneurs were former specialty coffee professionals or young people with a growing passion for coffee and an urge to leave the corporate world.
In either case, most of them share five traits: they are young, connected to the digital world, drawn to quality, passionate, and resilient.
Adrian Simion, Founder of the coffee shop and school Guido Coffee in Bucharest, tells me, “Looking at the specialty coffee scene in Bucharest over the last [six] years, one can only see an exponential development curve. This is supported, in part, by the steadily increasing demand for a better product, but mainly by the eager competition between main players.”
Mix the early adopters with the “coffeepreneurs,” and you get a niche that slowly but steadily grows – overcoming all the challenges along the way.
Filter coffee, a cornerstone of the specialty movement.
So, Is Romania’s Specialty Coffee Scene Growing Strong?
The best way to answer this question is by looking at the diversity of specialty coffee shops and roasteries: how many opened last year? How many opened this year? How many stayed in business?
If the number of coffee shops around you is increasing, it means the trend is also growing.
Luckily for Romania, these numbers are going up.
In 2013, there were no more than five specialty coffee shops. Today, you’ll find more than 50 across the country – most of them located in Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca.
Another way is by checking what the big food businesses are including on their menus. And more and more, these businesses are introducing specialty coffee. This means the demand from their customers is growing.
So, what’s next? Adrian says, “Looking toward the future, basic quality should be the main focus, since the coffee business may seem very appealing at the moment.”
Change doesn’t happen overnight. The Romanian coffee scene still has a long way to go.
But, taking these six years as an example of what we can do, I am hopeful for the future of specialty coffee in this beautiful country.
As Razvan says, “We are all living coffee history here.”
Enjoyed this? Check out The Pioneers Bringing Specialty Coffee to Bulgaria
Written by Antonio Iftimescu.
Perfect Daily Grind
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