One of the first small, local roasters and third wave cafés to open in Prague has given new energy to European coffee. Since 2008, Mamacoffee founded six locations, a coffee NGO, and a coffee festival with the main goal of showcasing to the rest of Europe (and the world) that coffee can be both good and fair.
I met Zuzana at her café, Original Coffee (a new brand by Mamacofffee). Located in the Old Town, it is modern, simple and minimalistic, but the coffee is anything but. Here you get complex coffee flavours, sometimes fruity and while it may not be what you’re used to, the coffee is pure. It’s the way coffee is originally intended and if you drop in, no one will brew you a better cup than her. She won the Czech cup tasters championship (twice) and is considered one of the best baristas in Czech Republic (and Europe).
We sat down over a cappuccino (I had the chocolatey tasting Costa Rican bean) and we chatted about all things coffee, her passion for fair trade, and the influence Mamacoffee has had on coffee culture in Prague.
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 locally roasted beans and the “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. They want to create that 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.
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 more 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.
We must have chatted for at least an hour when I could almost see the bottom of my frothy cappuccino, but when you’re having coffee with a real barista there’s always those personal questions that you want to ask.
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?
Five years ago I started working as a barista and became passionate about coffee. 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.
A lot of the emerging cafes in Prague are now following in Mamacoffee’s footsteps to offer fair trade choices. Tourists still visit the traditional grand coffee houses in the city (which 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.