The first thing he told me was that his dream was to become a coffee roaster.
A coffee roaster I asked? Until than, although I drunk coffee every day, I had never been thinking that somewhere, somebody had to “make” this product. I had no idea what the process was behind my daily cups of coffee. Tom was raised in a coffee family. His grandfather was a roaster, his uncle was a roaster but besides that their was nothing. No experience, no knowledge but a lot of passion and a very clear view on the different kind of coffee we wanted to bring to Belgium. I quickly felt something for the idea. Tom and I fell in love with each other and with coffee…. A few months later we decided to leave for a sabbatical trip during 1 year to Asia. During this trip the idea of starting our own business was born.
We started our own coffee roastery back in 2001. Now this sounds more than it was at that time. We rented a nice but little shop in Aalst, a small town close to Brussels. In the shop we installed a shop roaster and we literally started roasting, without knowledge, without experience, without real business plan but with a massive amount of passion which we would need. And when we doubted about our business, the investment we made kept us going. There was no other option. We invested every single Euro we had in our coffee project.
Now I don’t have to explain you that nobody was waiting for Tom and Katrien starting to roast their own beans. Coffee was there, had always been there. So we needed to create our market, to find our way, to explore the coffee market,…. At that moment I still was working in informatics, at Apple computers. Given the fact we needed money to live from I needed that job more then ever before.
After some struggling and …. we noticed that roasting coffee is only a single step in the total chain. Preparing coffee was another job and surely not less important.
At that moment we already had a nice number of wholesale customers, restaurants, cafes etc… But until then we were only able to roast coffee and deliver it, not to prepare it. We decided to open up our first coffee bar, which should become our “coffee lab”. Giving us the possibility to learn, test and finetune our roasts.
This step was the best decision we ever made next to falling in love with each other ;-)
Our first bar in Ghent was a successful startup and soon we decided to open up a second one, in Brussels. Until then Brussels did not have any real specialty coffee bars. At that moment we had control over our roasting process, preparing coffee but we realized that all these green beans already have a history before they even touch the Belgian soil. So we decided we needed to learn more about the origin. We started travelling to the origin. Soon we started buying our first beans directly at the farmer. Did we have to do this to earn more money? No, not at all. However was there any other way to learn everything behind the bean, the cultivation, processing, harvesting, etc… No there is only one way to learn this, that is by experiencing it at origin.
Again, this step teached us a lot and still does today.
Today we buy 50% of our beans directly at the farmer. The other 50% still is bought through specialty coffee traders. Our goal is to go to a 100% direct trade model which is not easy being a relatively small roasting company.
Today we have our roastery, a training center, 3 own espresso bars (Ghent and Brussels) and about 250 wholesale customes. Will we ever have finished? No for sure not as coffee is a never ending story. So we will continue writing it!