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Sourcing direct from a small farmer in Brazil is helping this Swiss roaster thrive

Kaffehaus built his coffee shop & roastery around stories, moving away from the “quality lab” look and reclaiming the original role of coffee houses. The roastery’s relationship with Capadócia Coffee is key to making that work.

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Gallus Hufenus is a journalist by trade and has a natural inclination toward storytelling. When he lived in Buenos Aires in the 2000s, he was charmed by local coffee shops, places where intellectuals, politicians and celebrities shared stories and built connections between sips of coffee.

Speaking to a historian, Gallus discovered that coffee shops such as Gato Negro, Clásica y Moderna, and Los Galgos still functioned as the original coffee houses of Europe. They were still forums for discussion and centres of public life. But in the old continent, where modern shops now look more like laboratories, this had been lost.

Kaffeehaus wanted to bring the public space back to a coffee shop serving great coffee (Photo: Nora Sourouzian)

Back in Switzerland, the journalist-turned-roaster decided to reclaim the original coffee house concept whilst still working with high-quality coffee. “With time, I realized the coffee served at many of these shops was terrible. So I also decided to learn more about how to improve what I was going to serve”, he remembers. This is how, in 2010, Kaffeehaus was born.

The concept behind Kaffeehaus is to bring the tradition of good conversation, good coffee and story-making back to life. “I say that coffee should win the Nobel Peace Prize because it makes people sit down to talk and resolve their differences. These dialogues that come up are the reason I don’t sell coffee to go.” 

According to Gallus, the name Kaffeehaus reflects two worlds, the sensory and the social. “Quite often specialty coffee shops seem more like a laboratory to me and not a space of stories. My challenge is to unite the soul of the space and the material that is prepared with care and of high quality as a specialty coffee is prepared.” 

Authenticity kept people coming back

It was this symbiotic relationship between sensory and social that would save Kaffeehaus 10 years later, during the COVID-19 pandemic, while many larger roasteries suffered. “A known big roaster here lost almost 70% of his revenue. We could hold it together, and that's because people continued to buy for consumption at home. Our authenticity and credibility were the things that made people continue to choose our brand.” 

If there was little concern for the coffee’s provenance in the olden days, Gallus knew that this would have to be different for his roastery. A brand built around shared stories would have to include the stories of producers. “I'm interested in the people behind the coffee. We are small in a large market, so we needed to know and understand the micro-producers who could sell the raw material,” he starts. “The most important thing missing was the contacts. I started out buying from large distributors in Switzerland and there was no story behind it, no context about who the producers were”, he remembers.

Gallus (right) was tired of getting coffees from large estates with no story. Above with Augusto (Photo: Kaffeehaus)

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The roaster's visit signalled to Augusto that "I was doing what I dreamed" (Photo: Algrano)

He found the perfect match on Algrano

Gallus went as far as to travel to Brazil to meet a farmer but ended up in a huge estate with “no story behind it”. It was at that point that the roaster started hearing about Algrano, a new start-up that made a bridge between small farmers and roasters like himself. He quickly got in touch, registered on the platform and received samples of the coffee that would become his best-seller: a lot from a smallholder in Brazil called Augusto Borges Ferreira of Capadócia Coffee. Match made in coffee heaven. 

Two years into their partnership, the roaster returned to Brazil to visit Augusto, who was as eager to talk about his family’s history as Gallus was to share it. “When I saw that he actually came to visit to know how we produced our beans, to know our story, it was a confirmation that I was doing what I dreamed. We were examples of the bonds that coffee creates”, says the farmer. Turned out that the two became good friends who visit each other every so often and keep in touch regularly. 

Augusto (right) with his friends Ademilson (centre) and Maurício (left), also members of the APAS cooperative (Photo: Algrano)

Making coffee personal

For Gallus, being able to share Augusto’s story is what “gives soul to the coffee”. And his customers can tell. “I think this saved my life during Covid. We have been able to give a lot of meaning and appreciation to the product. People appreciate the personal, the human behind the product (and behind the Kaffeehaus)”, he says. “It's been seven years buying from him (Augusto). Now that we know each other better he knows exactly what I need”, Gallus adds. 

Kaffehaus makes sure to share the stories of producers even on blends, which usually lack the storytelling element of single-origin coffees. Augusto’s coffee is the base of the Kaffehaus house blend, made also with 30% of robusta from India and 20% of Colombian beans for its fruitiness. His medium roast has won the gold medal at the International Coffee Tasting of the "Istituto Nazionale Espresso Italiano"  in 2016 and 2020.

Zero barriers to relationships

Today, Kaffeehaus works with only four producers, roasting four tons of coffee per year. Gallus doesn't plan to broaden his offering any time soon. “I could, but it wouldn't be me. I met all of these farmers. I know their history.” As for Augusto, who started producing only 200 sacks of coffee a year, production is growing to nearly 3000 bags, of which only 5% are currently sold on Algrano.

Though the volume is small, the platform has kickstarted Augusto’s dream to export and, as he puts it, “sell coffee to gringos”. “Algrano had a direct impact on the way we think about selling and about relationships. There are simply no barriers or any obstacle on the platform and consequently, it connects both producer and roaster with more love.” The farmer wants to grow his direct trade volumes to 50% through Algrano. 

Augusto also plans to return part of the revenue he makes from coffee to help his community, offering good quality education for kids and matching the total area dedicated to coffee production with areas dedicated to protecting forest reserves.  “I believe that sustainability involves helping producers thrive”, he says.  

For Augusto, "Algrano had a direct impact on the way we think about selling and about relationships" (Photos: Algrano and Capadócia Coffee)

Rafael Farias Teixeira is a Brazilian writer and journalist with more than 14 years of experience in telling stories and digital marketing. He has seven books already published.

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