Featured image: Noémie Reijnen for The Gannet
Coffee culture is serious business in Sweden, but Koppi roasters, based in the seaside city of Helsingborg, boasts an enviable reputation across the globe. Founded by partners Anne Lunell and Charles Nystrand, Koppi’s coffee can be found across the world, with the vast majority of the coffee they produce being sold outside Sweden.
This month, we have the privilege of working with Koppi, and earlier in the week, we caught up with Anne on Skype. Here’s what we chatted about.
Curated Brew (CB): How did you make your way into coffee?
Anne Lunell (AL): Well I wasn’t the one guilty of getting us into coffee- it was Charles, my partner. He was studying sound engineering, and to fund the studies, he was doing coffee on the side. Back in 2003-2005. Back then the coffee scene in Sweden was non-specialty and more like the traditional Italian.
We got into “serious” coffee by competing in 2005 and 2006 with coffee roasted by Kaffa in Oslo, Norway. Charles competed in 2005 and won the Swedish barista championship and ended up moving to Norway to work with Kaffa. I followed 7 or 8 months later, and decided to compete as well. I won the following year – 2006 – and then it was too late to go back.
CB: It’s been about 10 years since you set up Koppi. Can you tell me a bit about the culture, and whether that’s something that has evolved over time?
AL: We were trained rigidly in Norway, whilst working at Java and Mocca. The owner Robert W Thoresen, was a detail orientated man – driven but also strict.
It’s quite unusual to see someone who’s that dedicated, and quality orientated; everything from interior design, workflow, cleanliness and tempo to the products served and of course the service. All those different aspects were of great importance, and there were no compromises.
That formed our vision when we started Koppi. Of course most of it was our choices, but I think also a lot of it was a subconscious heritage from our time in Norway because we’d been in that environment for a long time, and we couldn’t see any other way of doing things.
Basically, we are focussed on creating an experience that is out of the ordinary. We want to make sure that every person who enters our shop leaves in a better mood, with a positive experience. I think that all details matters; from the space itself and how it’s decorated, to the music we’re playing, to how we train our staff to approach customers and last but not least the coffee of course. When I’m thinking about my best experiences; both in coffee, but also in restaurants all the best ones have been shaped by the service experience. Giving good service, and making people feel welcome and at home that’s been our goal.
We want to stay humble, and try to educate people at the same time - not make people feel stupid because they don’t know much about coffee.
The danger in the speciality coffee business is that many of the proffesionals can be condescending to customers. We want to grow the specialty segment of the coffee industry, but i think the only way to achieve that is to stay humble, and not scare people off, not make them feel like it’s snobby and excluding industry but rather a welcoming and including one.
I just look at myself when I started working with coffee - I didn’t know anything and I probably wouldn’t have stayed in the industry if people hadn’t been nice and helpful. But I was lucky to be surrounded with friendly and helpful colleagues.
CB: What’s the biggest highlight of your coffee career so far?
AL: Oh, that’s a tricky one. There are so many, and it’s hard to pick. But if I have to choose one thing I think what definitely made me want to stay in the business was the first time I travelled to origin, which was 2007. I was on the Swedish national team in the Nordic Barista cup, and we won that year. The winning team were always sent to a coffee producing coffee and that year the trip was to Nicaragua.
That trip to Nicaragua changed my perception of coffee. Sure it was fun to make coffee and explore new flavour profiles, but I think the change for me was to go down to Central America, and visit producers, and see all the hard work behind the coffee we drink.
During that trip we visited a couple of previous CoE winners and it was interesting to see the impact that competition had had on the farmers. It was fantastic to see how much they could change and invest at the farm when getting payed a higher price for their coffee.
CB: How important is the roaster-producer relationship?
AL: I would say that it has moulded our company. We have a close relationship with a few producers in Costa Rica. The first time we travelled there was in 2008, so 9 years ago, but we started the real trade the following year with the first couple of farms. Over the past 6-8 years we’ve been dealing with the same 4 producers and they constantly deliver amazing coffees each year.
What is interesting is that in the beginning we almost felt ashamed that we couldn’t buy big volumes; we bought perhaps 3-5 bags from each farm, and we were almost apologizing for not buying more. However they had a different perspective that I found quite surprising. They were excited about us buying their coffee but I also think they saw that we were super eager and passionate. In a way, their relationship to us, is similar to our relationship to a wholesale customer or a guest in the shop.
For us, it’s incredibly humbling to see our coffee being brewed all over the world. That people are buying, brewing and taking photos of our coffees and are praising how it’s tasting. I think it’s the same for the producers. When they see that someone is taking good care of their hard work, (you know they put in enormous amounts of time and energy into cultivating the coffee), it’s exciting for them. Of course it must be rewarding for them to see that we’re taking good care of it on our side, rather that it ending up in a commodity blend sold too cheap at a supermarket.
I didn’t really think about that until Don Luis Monge, one of the two brothers who owns La Lia, a farm we work with, said he was so grateful for us working with him. At first I didn’t really understand why he was grateful but it later made sense, it’s fun for them to see someone who’s being respectful of their work and showcasing their product the best way.
For us, the focus is not on branding our coffee as direct trade. As long as we’re happy with the way it’s been traded, we feel satisfied.
For example, we work a lot with Nordic Approach, and they do a fantastic job of building relationships, paying good prices and they’ve also started premium programmes in several countries to reward better tasting coffees. Every step of the production is being monitored and the producers not only producer higher scoring and better tasting coffees but most importantly they learn how to improve their practises and work more sustainably.
CB: Koppi recently launched some new packaging. What was the process behind that, and how do you feel it’s been received?
AL: It was my process I guess. I would like to think that I am an aesthetic person. I took art history for many years, started to collect art and antiques when I was 14 years old and have in general always been interested by those things.
When it came to our previous packaging, I kind of hated it. I liked it in the beginning when it was new, fresh and was different to a lot of other coffee packaging.
Over the years it started to feel more and more outdated but I couldn’t really change it myself. So last summer, during our vacation, I was out picking mushrooms in the deep forest. I was thinking, thinking, thinking – processing how wo could change our packaging. When I came back after that long day in the forest, I started the whole process, did some drawings and talked to our graphic designer as soon as I got back.
That was the start of it all - I had this idea that I wanted the packages to keep changing, for the simple reason that even if you make a really pretty package it will start feeling old at some point. I think it risks starting to feel old if you work with it every day, handling the same-looking bags from morning ‘til evening. Also, from a customer’s point of view I would really appreciate it a business that kept being fresh and kept bringing new design. That would excite me.
It’s a little bit like the Mast Bros’ philosophy - they have a lot of different patterns and designs but if you know the brand and the quality you trust that even if the packaging keeps changing. There’s a recognition in the design, but you know that the product will keep evolving, keep changing.
The actual design process, the labels, we make ourselves together with our team. We have nights where we paint together, drink beer and eat something nice. It’s a nice way of involving them in the process. We just paint a bunch of patterns and select what’s looking good.
I could draw a lot of it myself but I think it’s fun and more rewarding to involve the rest of the Koppi team.
I think the reception has been really positive. It feels like it’s more visual now compared to before we launched it, and hopefully a lot of people think it’s pretty.
CB: It’s one thing for the packaging to look good, but the reason people keep coming back is for the quality of what’s in the bag.
AL: The quality of the coffee, I’m not really concerned with, because Charles always does an amazing job, and produces consistent and great tasting coffee. Now I feel proud that the outside of the bags better represents what’s inside - beautiful coffees.