Man, I had a good time on Red Square in Moscow a couple of weeks ago, and it’s not just because I finally saw Lenin’s mummy (Yes, he is still there in his mausoleum, stop by to say “Hi”), but because I got to participate in a unique event for Russia – the first international coffee festival organized by Soyuz Coffee Roasting company. The coffee festival coexisted side by side with the international military music festival – Spasskaya Tower, where military bands from a multitude of countries showed off their exotic beats along with colorful and at times weird attires.
The coffee fest is where I was most of the time; it was so heavenly that if Hieronymus Bosch came by, I bet he would have made a new painting and call it “The Garden of Coffee Delights.” Make sure to sit down, and let me give you some stats: 1060 liters of milk, 1200 liters of water, 200 kilos of coffee, 17,000 espressos, and 10,000 people served in just 5 days. Now add 7 barista champions to the mix: Alejandro Mendez (El Salvador), Francesco Sanapo (Italy), Javier Garcia (Spain), Olga Melik-Karakozova (Russia), Pete Licata (U.S.A.), Stefanos Domatiotis (Greece), and Monika Palova (Slovakia) and “Whoa!!!” – here comes a coffee coma.
Let’s meet the man who was in charge of the event and ask him some questions. Ladies and gentlemen, Drago Lakic, Soyuz’s executive is here with us today.
V. What up, Drago! Let’s start off with a little bit of your company’s history and how and why did you decide to pursue the coffee business?
L. Hi Max! Our parent company Soyuz Corporation has been involved in other areas of the food business since 2000 (www.soyuzcorp.com), earning the national title of “Official Purveyor to the Moscow Kremlin” for outstanding quality achievements. We have recognized an opportunity in serving an excellent coffee in a market that has started shifting away from instant coffee towards higher consumption of roasted coffee. Together with my friend and colleague Regina, being BIG coffee lovers and naturally knowing only how to work with high quality products, we have lead the branching out towards specialty coffee products. There is something divine about coffee. We are very proud of the fact that from the moment we have asked ourselves at the conference table (about 2 years ago) “Maybe we could try roasting coffee?” 18 months later we had a medium-sized state-of-the art roasting facility and three primary brands fully developed: Mon Ami, Paretto and Barista. Thus, Soyuz Coffee Roasting was born!
V. I know that most of your production takes places in Kaliningrad, why this city out of all others in Russia?
L. As I have said earlier, SCR launched three primary brands (Mon Ami, Paretto and Barista) in January 2011. A total of 7 espresso blends across those 3 brands are being roasted at a new state-of-the-art roasting facility and coffee quality laboratory in Kaliningrad (a Russian territory between Lithuania and Poland). Kaliningrad region is of strategic importance to us since it falls under the Special Economic Zone laws (import, profit and property tax breaks) and is also the only non-freezing Russian port. Since our company grounds are within the port itself, this allows us to have a direct relationship with exporters from the origin and have the green coffees coming in 365 days a year. Moreover, proximity to the European markets is of great importance also!
V. What did the festival mean to you personally?
L. Like with any great event, you are left with mixed feelings. On top of our daily business activities, SCR team was preparing for 3 months and working on average 18 hours during the 6 day festival to ensure that all went really well, so we are glad that it is over now. We have been a great host to all of our guests. But on the other side, we are all missing the energy and vibe created during the event, and the friendships. After all, each one of us left a small piece of our hearts on the Red Square this year. At some point, nobody wanted the festival to end. Personally, I miss the smiles of satisfied coffee lovers! And when you see two students having a discussion about what coffee notes one is getting from our Paretto line when compared to Mon Ami and Barista lines, it is a highly satisfying feeling since you are witnessing at first hand a new trend being born in Russia: “sophisticated coffee tastes”.
V. What was your company able to accomplish with the festival?
L. The Russian consumer expects a certain element of theater and bravado in product marketing, so we thought to ourselves, “we’ll have to go big or go home!” With the Spasskaya Tower festival approaching, we could not think of a better opportunity to make a big splash with our first public product introduction, and what an impression it made: in just 5 days, the Soyuz Coffee Roasting stand was the talk of the festival, our barista champions delighted visitors from around the city and around the world. In one long weekend, we served around 10,000 people. Our mission to introduce our coffees to the public, promote professional barista culture and to get the Russian public thinking differently about coffee was a definite success.
V. Could you please describe the experience of working side by side with the world-class baristas?
L. The idea of having seven Barista champions was even more exciting because nobody before (not to my knowledge) has had such a crew put together under such festive conditions. It was really interesting to see what kind of synergy would develop across the 3 stations in our SCR Red Square Coffee House. The synergy that was created I simply called “Crazy House”. Joke on the side, and not that they are our friends, but those seven guys are really the world class professionals in every way!
V. I was amazed at the level of personal connection you and the baristas were able to establish with each and every single visitor who walked in; taking into account the total amount of people served, you guys are coffee world Rock Stars!
L. We (SCR team and Baristas) are professionals and very passionate about what we do. We have tried very hard to give each guest at least a minute of our attention and talk about the coffee he/she is drinking. That is the only real way to establish the connection between the product and the customer and really move the coffee culture forward: personal interaction is the key! Based on the feedback we have received during the festival and after, I can guarantee that over 10,000 people have developed a greater appreciation for coffees in general.
It is a very special feeling and a rewarding one, to learn that your efforts of developing a fairly new concept of specialty coffees in Russia are being recognized and valued by leading coffee industry experts around the globe. The entire Soyuz Coffee Roasting team takes a great pride and joy in what they do.