When Daniel and Marta Kolský opened their first cafe in Prague’s Londýnská street they shared a passion for coffee and a determination to fulfil their dream. Today they are respected professionals in the coffee business and own seven cafes and a bakery, operating with a certified fair-trade label. Their chain of Mamacafes is known for its excellent coffee, mouth-watering pastries and quality service. I asked Daniel Kolský to tell me how they established the business and why they chose to work with coffee.
“My wife and I met at a friend’s wedding and at that time she was working as a waitress at one of the coffee places in Prague. That was where we met. Three years later we went to Ethiopia for our honeymoon. And Ethiopia is the home of coffee. And it was there that we decided that this is really something that we would like to do.”
Apart from that romantic memory, are you a coffee lover yourself?
“Definitely, though now I would call myself a coffee professional rather than just a coffee lover. But definitely, it is not just a business, but a big passion.”
You work with small farmers in Indonesia, Brazil, Nicaragua and now Uganda. Why not just one place and one type of coffee?
“Well, there are millions of coffee farmers around the world and the coffee is different in different places. And it is part of our philosophy as a company to work with a number of them, also because we want to offer our customers different types of coffee.”
You have several coffee shops and a bakery. Can you explain the concept of your business?
“We offer freshly roasted and freshly ground coffee and freshly baked pastry to customers in our cafes as well as to other coffee shops and businesses. The coffee that we produce is really different, because we work closely with farmers in different parts of the world. We have people on the ground and we work directly with the farmers and that is what our customers like about our coffee and our business.”
What makes your cup of coffee special?
“It is a combination of factors. Usually people buy coffee in Hamburg or from green coffee sellers, but we really combine an education for the farmers, social programs for the farmers and the quality in the cup, so it is a combination of different approaches –it is not just the quality of the product itself but also the social quality that we add to the product and the services in general.”
How do you chose your coffee and the farmers that you work with?
“We have certain priorities. We work with farmers who are fair to their employees and they must want to produce quality coffee, to improve their education in this respect, and the third aspect, which is crucial for us, is environmental awareness –that they want their coffee farming to be sustainable. It is not just about high quality coffee but about how they run their farm, treat their employees and protect the environment, whether they save water, how they treat waste water and so on. And we really help them to achieve this, on an educational or technical level so it is a more sustainable and better business for them as well.”
So you offer them technology and know-how and are a stable partner. What do you get in return? Can you influence the quality of the coffee –do you really get a special product?
“Yes, pretty much so. We offer them technical support, educational support as well as feedback on the coffee they produce, which is really important. For some of the farmers it is the first time in their lives that they taste and cup taste and really evaluate the product they produce. And what we get? We get long-term business partners which means building a relationship and that is one of the values that we stand for.”
Was it hard starting a business in a different cultural environment, a foreign country, different laws in place, I know you had help from the Czech Development Agency, but what was the environment like? Is it a place where you seal a deal with a handshake?
“Every place is a little bit different, culturally or from the technological point of view, but we try to do it so it is always sustainable. There are places where we didn’t succeed –one of them is Ethiopia where we are not entirely happy with the way the project works, but on the other hand, the business in Brazil or Nicaragua or Uganda is something we would like to keep and take further. And it is pretty much business done on a handshake, yes, but on the other hand it is also a business run with a long-term strategy. It is not like we get in fast and get out fast. It is something that we built up and that we want to build on and we hope to continue to grow in all these destinations.”
How closely are you involved in the process? Are you in direct contact with the farmers? Do you visit often?
“We are pretty much in daily contact with the farmers, today that is possible thanks to modern technology, so we can be updated by the hour what’s going on at the farms. We have a lot of personal chats about what is going on and we get weekly reports from each and every place. Even now, during the coronavirus pandemic, we are briefing each other about what is going on at our end and at theirs.”
What is it like to make your own coffee from scratch?
“Well, first of all, I have to say that specialty coffee is a team effort – it is not the work of one person alone. So you need to build up a team of people who will each contribute to the process with their knowledge. You need to motivate the team to produce a high quality product and to stay focussed on the goal.”
You have seven coffee shops and a bakery. Why did you choose the name Mamacoffee?
“We named it after Ethiopia, the country where coffee comes from, the name says “the mother of coffee” or Mamacoffee. Many people think we are a chain for mothers, but that is not so, our coffee shops and coffee places are for everyone, not just mothers with children. We are a place for everyone who loves coffee.”
Are Czech consumers discerning enough to appreciate an excellent cup of coffee?
“I think Czech coffee drinkers and coffee lovers are discerning. It is one of the most dynamic places at the moment. There is such a growth of independent small roasters and coffee shops that I have to say that travelling around the world I haven’t seen anything like that anywhere else, in the US or elsewhere. There are a lot of small, interesting projects, even locally in different cities, not just Prague or Brno, but all around the Czech Republic. So Czech coffee drinkers are quite educated and there is a lot of dynamics on the scene here. I really enjoy it very much because there is so much good coffee around.”
How can you tell a good cup of coffee?
“There are different ways of evaluation. We use the points scale of the Specialty Coffee Association. But in addition to the scientific evaluation you also have the emotional one. People often tell me they tasted the best coffee ever on holiday, which I totally understand, because on vacation you have the time to enjoy things, to savour them properly. So we as professionals do the proper testing but it is also important for people to have the time to really enjoy the coffee with friends and loved ones, to make time for that special coffee moment.”
What is your own favourite coffee and how did you become a connoisseur? Where did you get training?
“When we started there was no place to get a proper education in coffee, so we had to learn it all ourselves, through experience and we have been in the business for more than 20 years now. Today we provide educational training to our staff. Today there is so much information, so many platforms where you can learn new things about coffee, compared to when we started. As to what coffee I like, I prefer natural coffee from Ethiopia, Nicaragua, but I also enjoy the sweet espresso from Brazil. There are times when I prefer filtered coffee and times when I want espresso, so it is not just one coffee, but it depends on the given time of day and the foods that complement it.”
And what is the secret to making a good cup of coffee? Is it freshly ground beans?
“I think one of the secrets is to follow certain rules and take it seriously, on the other hand to be open minded, listen to the ideas of others.”
You keep expanding, you have seven coffee shops, you work with coffee farmers from around the world, is there anything you would still like to achieve? A dream that you have?
“At the moment we would like to have more international partners, more roasters to work with and involve them in our work. That’s quite challenging, given the coronavirus pandemic when everything has stopped, but we really hope to have more synergy with other roasters, to work together and to expand our projects in Uganda, Nicaragua and Brazil. I think that is important also for the farmers, to support them.”