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A new approach to sourcing coffee: why Blum Kaffee puts relationships before quality

Swiss roaster impressed restaurants and grew in hospitality despite the pandemic. Their secret? A fruity Ethiopian natural produced by Boledu Coffee and a relationship-driven sourcing model that shows their customers what they are really about.

Source coffees from Ethiopia

What makes a coffee special?

Specialty coffee roasters are spoiled for choice. They can easily get samples of high-quality coffees from multiple countries shipped to their address for free. If quality has become so easy to find, then makes a coffee special? For Mike Kohler, founder of Blum Kaffee in Widnau, Switzerland, it’s the relationship between his roastery and the producer. 

“There are so many nice coffees you can buy! For us, the story behind it and the environmental impact come first. And secondly is quality”, he declares.

Mike represents a movement of new roasters who puts the relationship first. And this strategy seems to be paying off. The roaster has been able to serve his customers the Ethiopian coffee they fell in love with for two (soon to be three) consecutive years and to provide them more information than most roasters sourcing spot are able to. Despite haven’t had to chance to visit producers because of COVID, the material Mike shares with consumers is proof of his involvement and care. It also alludes to the roastery’s core values and strengthens its sustainability message.

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MIke at the converted garage roastery space. Blum Kaffee uses 3 or 4 garages. "There is coffee everywhere." (Photo: Blum Kaffee)

Mike says the natural lot from Aricha CWS (right) "got better from the first to the second harvest" and highlights the coffee's consistency over time. "It's an easy coffee for us to roast consistently on our Giesen 15 kg." He points out that the beans are also versatile, working well as filter, medium roasts and dark roasts. "The hard thing is to decide which one to choose!" (Photos: Blum Kaffee / Algrano)

Great quality AND matching values

Aricha Natural Grade 1, produced by Boledu Coffee at Aricha washing station in Gedeo, Yirgacheffe, is a success with Mike’s customers. They use the fruity natural to convert Swiss restaurant owners, used to dark Italian coffee, to a medium espresso roast. Whenever they host a cupping, this coffee is there. “We had such good feedback on our first trials, especially about milk beverages. Restaurant customers recognise that they are drinking something special”, the roaster explains, praising the coffee’s power of cutting through milk. “They can literally taste the raspberries!” 

Selling a funky natural to traditional coffee drinkers was easy because the quality is good AND the values behind the coffee and the roastery match, making them easy to communicate to buyers. Blum was inspired by the work of Mike’s grandmother, Emi, in sustainable food growing and grocery shopping led by provenance and circular economy. Mebrahtu Aynalem, the young Ethiopian that co-founded Boledu, believes in working with the same farmers year after year to strengthen communities. He focuses on organic coffees with full traceability.

Mike (top photo) and Mebrahtu (Bottom photo, on the right) clicked (Photos: Blum Kaffee / Boledu Coffee)

When the producer is good, quality follows

“Mebrahtu was very responsive”, Mike remembers. He first got in touch with the producer through Algrano before ordering a sample. “The quality had to be nice but we were looking for a sustainable coffee”, he adds. Mike always writes to producers before and after cupping samples and receiving orders to keep communication flowing. “Compared to chats we had with other farmers, Boledu was definitely a better match for us. I had a really nice conversation with Mebrahtu.” The roaster says it’s easier to build a relationship when you meet the producer in person but admits that “sometimes you just know”. With Mebrahtu, they “clicked.”

Mike also explains that his sourcing always starts by asking himself questions like: “Is the producer an open and transparent person?” and “Is this person open for me to visit at some point?”. 

“What about quality?”, one might ask. Well, when a producer is transparent like Mebrahtu, quality usually follows. He ticked all of Mike’s boxes, inviting him for a visit straight away despite the relatively modest volume ordered: 10 bags in 2020 and 30 in 2021. Many Ethiopian exporters would only do that for large volume buyers or group visits organised by traders. 

Despite not having met each other in person, Mebrahtu recognises that roasters like Mike are important because they allow him to focus on the coffees he values. The exporter finds Europe to be a “difficult” market, lagging behind the United States in both quality and price. “Boledu is focused on high-quality grade 1 coffee but there are many wholesalers in Europe whose market strategy is low price. They always need low prices and buy a lot of commercial coffee, like grades 4 and 5. It makes things very difficult for exporters”, he explains. 

“If a roaster does well, everyone else will do well”

Mebrahtu is always keen to receive feedback and news from roasters who buy his coffees, following them on social media and responding to messages on Algrano. “If a roaster is doing well then everyone else will do well”, he says. Blum Kaffee is certainly in that category. Despite being fresh in the coffee scene - Mike opened for business right before the pandemic - the roaster is about to inaugurate a new roastery and café space with more capacity to supply more restaurants with a fresh gastronomical concept. 

The new space will host the launch of Aricha Natural’s third consecutive crop, which Mike can easily secure in advance by using the function “Plan a rebuy” on Algrano. 

By doing so, the Algrano team is notified and contacts Mebrahtu directly to pre-book the coffee and secure the beans, which the roaster only has to pay after delivery. This is key for Mebrahtu, who benefits from Algrano’s sales support and pre-contracting initiatives, and for Mike, who has a business model based on direct sourcing. “We don’t want to have just a business. We want to have an impact. Buying direct is crucial. It’s more challenging but at the end, it’s really rewarding”, Mike concludes.

More about Rebuys

With the Rebuy feature, roasters can easily secure their favourite lots!

Coming soon: source coffees from Boledu

Aricha Natural Grade 1
Aricha Natural Grade 1

Offered by Boledu Industrial PLC Verified Seller

  • Ethiopia
  • Natural/Sun Dried
  • 86.75 points
Halo Beriti Anaerobic Micro-lot
Halo Beriti Anaerobic Micro-lot

Offered by Boledu Industrial PLC Verified Seller

  • Ethiopia
  • Anaerobic fermentation
  • 89.0 points
Halo Beriti Carbonic Maceration Micro-lot
Halo Beriti Carbonic Maceration Micro-lot

Offered by Boledu Industrial PLC Verified Seller

  • Ethiopia
  • Experimental
  • 87.75 points

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