Fair Trade Coffee with a Real Barista

From the grandiose cafes of the past to small-scale emerging roasters, it’s an exciting time for coffee lovers to be in Prague right now. My daily routine consisted of a frothy cappuccino at Kavarna Prazirna in the Vinohrady neighbourhood but I wanted to go beyond merely ordering and sipping, and dive into the culture behind what I was drinking.

I popped into old coffee houses like Louvre, and drank so much caffeine for my research on the new wave movement that’s happening right now. I also signed up for a cupping session to learn about coffee tasting. But to really understand the essence of coffee in Prague, you have to go to the source and where it all began. Mamacoffee, one of the first small, local roasters and modern cafés to open in the city has given new energy to Czech’s coffee scene. Since 2008, it founded six locations, a coffee NGO, and a coffee festival with the main goal of showcasing how good coffee really is in their country.

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I met Zuzana who heads up Original Coffee (a new brand by Mamacofffee). The café may be simple and minimalistic on the exterior but the coffee is not. Here you get complex coffee flavours, sometimes fruity and not what you’re used to but it’s purist. That is, the way coffee is originally intended and if you’re a coffee connoisseur like Zuzana, no one will brew you a good cup when you come here than her. She won the Czech cup tasters championship (twice) and is considered one of the best baristas in Czech Republic (and Europe).

Naturally, she invited me in for a chat over a cappuccino (I had the chocolatey tasting Costa Rican bean – so good!) and we chatted about all things coffee, her passion for coffee, and the influence Mamacoffee has had on coffee culture in Prague.

Zuzana coffee barista

Changing the way a city thinks about coffee.

The company first started as an e-shop selling fair trade product and then later opened as a café. It became the first café in Prague to serve up certified fair trade coffee and the first to introduce not only locally roasted beans to Prague, but also the whole “farm to café” concept.

From Farm to Café 

Just as the slow food movement is pushing for more locally sourced and farm-to-table practises, coffee is no different. Zuzana just recently came back from a trip to Africa. She spent her vacation in Rwanda, tasting coffee and meeting coffee growers. Travelling to plantations and meeting the local farmers in person each year is one of the ways Mamacoffee tries to establish relationships with their coffee producers and make the connection between the personal labour that comes from local coffee growers (in Africa, Brazil, Colombia, and Indonesia) and what’s in our cup.

What sets a real barista apart from others, say a coffee guy at Starbucks? 

Real coffee baristas understand the importance of this connection and the affect that fair coffee trade and consumption can have on the livelihood of those living miles away on plantations.

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A coffee farmer she met in Rwanda

A coffee farmer Zuzana met in Rwanda

 

Mamacoffee is not 100% socially responsible but it’s getting there. The reality is it’s expensive for cafe owners to meet each farmer and buy entirely direct. Eventually, she does plan to buy direct from producers, eliminate the middle man, and help keep more profits in the hands of coffee farmers.

How do you know if a café is buying ethical and fair?

Unfortunately, you don’t know (unless you do your homework). Right now Mamacoffee buys coffee from importers they trust in Amsterdam and Scandinavia. Zuzana says as long as you trust your importers, you can still be fair and ethical.

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We must have chatted for at least an hour and I could almost see the bottom of my red mug of frothy cappuccino but when you’re having coffee with a coffee epicure there’s always those personal questions that you want to know.

How much coffee do you drink?

I might drink 6 cups a day.

Yikes! You’re always awake I bet. Why do you drink so much coffee?

It’s a way of training my palates to distinguish between different kinds of coffee. The cup tasting competitions can include up to 8 different types and sometimes they try to trick you – they might make me sample three coffees, two of which are the same and I have to choose the odd one out.

Do you have a favourite type?

Filter coffee. I love Ethiopia beans for its lighter but floral sweetness.

How did you become a competitive barista?

I started working as a barista five years ago. I didn’t finish school but I completed a shorter, specialized education and became passionate about my job. I learned about coffee culture just being at the café and then got involved in coffee tasting championships. I like it because it means I don’t have to speak. Just drink.

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A lot of the emerging cafes in Prague (think La Boheme or EMA) are now following in Mamacoffee’s footsteps to offer fair trade choices. Tourists might visit the traditional grand coffee houses that still exist (these usually serve up packaged, off-the-shelf beans with that pre-communist experience), but the real queues I found were at shops where local Czechs are opting for something more personal, locally-sourced, and sustainable.

A big děkuji (thank you) to Zuzana and Mamacoffee for sharing their love of Czech coffee culture with me.  

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