Tell us something about QBF (What Inspired you to start, how was the journey so far)?
My journey with coffee started with a lot of curiosity. Many years ago, my go-to coffee was a cappuccino and I wanted to make a cafe-quality cappuccino at home. I started experimenting with an Aeropress and a Moka Pot to replicate an espresso shot, and a battery-operated milk frother to texture the milk and failed miserably. Somewhere down the line I developed a taste for manually brewed black coffees and bought myself a hand grinder and a V60. This is also when I developed a liking to light roasts. I started reading up a lot of coffee, and, in early 2016, I remember opening Wikipedia to look at different types of coffee roasters (machines). Back then, there were a few challenges:
1. Profile Roasting information was not easily and readily available. Especially how to approach a roast based on the coffee type, processing etc. and modulating the flavour of coffee by making changes to the profile.
2. This might sound a little hard to believe today, but, information regarding good coffee plantations was not easily available. Today, a lot of coffee growers have a social media presence, but back then, I remember going through 6-10 years of Fine Cup Award winner lists and finding names that would regularly show up. In most cases, the contact information was just a landline number.
3. I decided to opt for some courses, but all SCAA and SCAE courses back then involved a lot of foreign travel that needed to be done repeatedly and would only cover one topic in one go.
This is when I discovered Kaapi Shastra by our Coffee Board. By the time I went for this one week course to Bangalore in mid-2016, I had already spoken to a few plantations and fixed visits for December. I had also done a lot of reading and watched a lot of videos on coffee, coffee cupping and coffee roasting and I left for Kaapi Shastra with 3 main goals:
1. Sitting in North India, we don’t get to see green coffee. I wanted to understand green coffee.
2. I wanted to develop sensory skills.
3. I had a lot of profile roasting questions.
Only #1 was fulfilled to my satisfaction.
Leading up to December I had discovered good starting points to understand roasting techniques and during the plantation visits later, I got to see everything I had read about in the last few months with regards to coffee harvesting and processing. This also reminds me, back then, only floats were used to process naturals and this “cherry” coffee would be sold at a low price. Fast forward today, so many planters are using their best coffee with the highest Brix to process as naturals.
In 2017, we received our roaster and started roasting 6 types of coffees from a small room. Our goal from day one was to only source and roast speciality coffee. The big challenge then was to find cafes that would buy our coffee. A lot of cafes did not understand speciality coffee and were not willing to pay the price for it. A lot of others only wanted dark roasts and were not open to understanding modern brewing techniques. They never understood why they should use a medium roast and use 18gms when they could use 7gm of a dark roast coffee. There was also loyalty towards existing suppliers but that is present across all industries.
Later in 2017, I visited Japan during the Tokyo coffee festival. I also had a chance to interact and roast with many roasters across the country. My roasting has always been heavily inspired by the Japanse and Nordic style of roasting because that is the kind of coffee I like to drink. By the time I got back, I knew it was the right time to shift the roaster and open a cafe. This is when the Dhan Mill project came about and was finally opened in 2018 end. You may not know this, but, back in 2016, when I was planning to go for Kaapi Shatra, I had already visited Dhan Mill and chosen this spot! However, later, I decided to concentrate on roasting for some time and then open a cafe at a later stage.
What were your main challenges when you started out as a coffee roaster? What did you do to overcome these challenges?
Opening the cafe gave our brand a big push. We started getting a lot of enquiries and this helped our B2B and B2C business tremendously. In 2019, while sourcing coffees, we knew that we could not out price a lot of other roasters and made a conscious decision to only source the best coffee and sell them at a fair price. Frankly, nothing gives me more joy than roasting the best coffees that we can get our hands-on. Over the years, we have developed good relations with a lot of plantations and are now slowly getting more involved with the harvesting and processing side.
If you can go back in time, what would you like to change?
If I could go back in time, I would probably buy a different roaster.
How has Covid-19 Impacted your business?
COVID19 has impacted us tremendously from all sides. Our B2B wholesale account sales are negligible. Our cafe is shut. We have however seen a huge growth in our online business.
As a roaster, how are you helping or contributing to the coffee farming industry?
In terms of contributing to the farming industry, our relationship has grown from a buyer-seller relationship to a far more involved one. We have been involved in cupping and evaluating coffees along with giving valuable feedback through the year. This year, we plan to have certain lots specially processed for us in a certain way. We also have many small lot launches planned through the year involving different techniques and processes.
As a homebrewer, how can one Support local roaster?
Homebrewing is a growing market, but there is still a lot to be done in terms of customer education. Educating coffee drinkers on good, freshly roasted coffee has a direct impact on local roasters’ businesses. Homebrewers who understand these things are already supporting the local roasting community.
Your favorite Coffee
Your favorite food
Best feedback/compliment you ever received by a customer?
“Best coffee in Delhi or India. Best roastery cafe in India”
What makes a Roaster Happy?
An exceptional/exciting coffee on the cupping table
If you can be any person for a day, who will you choose and why?
Tim Wendelboe maybe? His involvement in the Nordic coffee culture is immense. Whether its the roasting side of things, or the sourcing, including his involvement in Nordic Approach.
First thing you wanna do after the lockdown?
Meet friends and family.