Ray: I’m Ray
Kandace: I’m Kandace
Ray: Welcome to Unpacking Coffee. This week…
Kandace: Reykjavík Roasters in Iceland. We actually went there.
Ray: That’s right.
Ray: We went to Iceland.
Kandace: We went to Iceland!
Ray: We did it for you, the audience. So you could see what it was like at Reykjavík Roasters.
Meet Two of the Co-Owners, CEO Dussy & Head Roaster Torfi
Dussy: My name is Þuríður Sverrisdóttir but my nickname is Dussy. I’ve been in coffee since 2005. I always worked in coffee with my studies. I studied art theory at the University of Iceland.
Kandace: She’s competed a ton. She’s been a judge.
Torfi: I’m Torfi Þór Torfason. Rolls off of the tongue. I haven’t got a nickname. I’m a chef by education and wanted to do something a bit more family friendly, but also something I was super interested about.
Kandace: Torfi came out of The Coffee Collective, who we have also covered on the show.
Ray: Episode number 62.
Torfi: Worked there for a few years and learned how to make coffee there and started roasting coffee as well.
Kandace: 2011 Danish Brewer Champion, 2012 Danish Barista Champion, 2013 Icelandic Barista Champion. Torfi and Dussy met when they were competing against each other.
Dussy: He was Team Denmark. I was team Iceland.
Torfi: Yes, at the Nordic Barista Cup.
Dussy: Yes, that was the first introduction with Torfi.
Ray: Dueling baristas. Thunder clap.
Becoming Reykjavík Roasters
Torfi: When I decided to move back to Iceland, I called Dussy and told her I had this plan of starting my own coffee company and she was working on something else with Tumi, a former co-owner, and we merged the two ideas.
Kandace: In 2013, they rebranded as Reykjavík Roasters. I found it really interesting to talk about that rebranding.
Torfi: In the beginning, it was very punk. It was just one uniform color and way too much information. It was Icelandic on one side, English on the other.
Dussy: Really ugly.
Kandace: And then one of their baristas asked if she could have a go.
Torfi: The biggest leap in design was when Julie started working for us. She came up to us really polite and really nice: “You know what, guys. Is it okay if I change the design? It’s been bothering me for a while?” We told her…
Dussy: “Go wild.”
Torfi: Go wild. She is an amazing designer. She designed these beautiful bags. She drew the coffee plant and worked on it gradually. So, it is very easy to read what is on it. It’s always the name of the farm, flavor descriptors just so you have an idea. It’s not that it is flavored, which we had questions about quite a lot in the beginning.
Dussy: Also, “Is this coffee?”
Torfi: Yeah, exactly.
Dussy: It’s coffee.
Torfi: On the back, it is information about where it is from, the roast date obviously, and a little bit of a description about the coffee itself. What to expect.
Dussy: Or the farm…what we find interesting to tell.
Torfi: Or sourcing directly, which we are moving more towards. We think it is more interesting to tell the story and try to get people to connect that it’s not just a big company. It’s an actually person producing this. It’s their livelihoods.
Kandace: This is all in Icelandic. They also put out coffee cards which are in English.
Torfi: On the info cards, we usually tell a bit more about our relationship with that person. One farmer, we met in a Peruvian restaurant in Colombia and had some ceviche and wine with him and he came around for a couple days and traveled to a lot of coffee farms with us. Those type of experiences…they…
Torfi: Yeah, yeah. They really matter.
Dussy: We are producing waste, but we want to have it as minimum as possible. We looked for environmentally friendly, biodegradable packaging.
We bought from TekPak Solutions in Canada and it’s omnidegradable.
Torfi: It’s also that the zip lock and the valve are a part of that. I have compost at home and I chuck these in there. The last ones I did, we had more waste from potato peels than the actual bag.
Icelandic Coffee Culture
Kandace: So, let’s talk about Iceland a little bit.
Kandace: There are just north of 300,000 people on the whole island. In Reykavik alone, there are something like 122,000. Free coffee is everywhere which probably presents a bit of a challenge for a specialty coffee roaster who is charging for coffee.
Ray: Not if you’ve tasted them both.
Torfi: In discount supermarkets, you usually get free filtered coffee. At the bank, free filtered coffee. Teaching people that coffee shouldn’t be free and explaining that there are so many hands that go into producing their cup of coffee and there are so many people behind it and it is a product that they should respect a little bit more. Explaining to them why this coffee is better than what you get for a ridiculously low price.
Dussy: It’s a challenge every day.
Torfi: There are international companies that have a stake here in Iceland and they are just importing everything. When you do that, you are maybe getting fresh coffee three months already from roast and it is never really going to taste as good as something that has been thoroughly sourced and worked on. We have this scientific approach on how we are going to achieve consistency as well. It’s a struggle to fight against those big companies so we decided not to.
Dussy: We are aiming for the enthusiast.
Torfi: The people that are focusing on good quality, good flavors.
Dussy: They see through this. When we focus on that, it is “easy.”
Kandace: They are really involved in finding the right coffee for wholesale partners.
Torfi: There’s this restaurant within a restaurant. When it is fully booked, it is like 11 seats or something. And they are doing table-side siphons in front of the guests. That’s fun to think, “How are we going to find a solution for that?”
We’ve tried giving them hand grinders, grinding it for them with an EK43 (a better grinder) and delivering very often. We have this constant dialogue and that’s what’s fun.
The café scene is very small, especially the high end of that. However, the coffee culture itself here in Iceland…
You know, it is the first think you get asked when you go to visit, “Would you like a coffee?” almost before they say hello.
What About the Cafés
Kandace: They don’t really have a formula for what they are building in the cafés. They’re creating spaces that would meld into the environment.
The first café that we visited was right in the middle of Reykavik in what a guidebook called hipster central. I’m not sure what that means exactly.
Ray: I think it just means that they have good coffee there.
Kandace: I know. They did have a record player and some records out that you could put on and the second time that we went, the record that as out was The Shins from Portland so that was pretty cute.
Dussy: In 2015, we opened the second one. In Brautarholt and now, last year, we opened the third one in the art hall in Freyjugata.
Torfi: Three very different cafés as well.
Dussy: Yes, three very different cafés.
Torfi: We also wanted to let the environment and the building and everything around it dictate. What we wanted to accomplish in a particular place. We didn’t just want to copy and paste.
Dussy: We don’t have any formula for our looks or our bar or anything. Only the coffee has a good formula, a red thread.
Torfi: And, the atmosphere as well; the experience.
Kandace: When we went to the second location that we visited, they had this great mural on the wall of how to describe coffee taste. It is beautiful. Beautiful.
Torfi: We have a really nice base of regulars. I would say that the main location, the oldest location, that is right downtown has probably gone up to 50/50
Torfi: Yes, tourists.
Dussy: Yes, or more during the summer.
Torfi: So, the regulars that have always gone there couldn’t go there anymore..
Dussy: They moved to Brautarholt.
Torfi: They’re kind of like migrating birds. They went there and then they came back during the wintertime when it got a little bit more quiet.
Dussy: It’s seasonal.
That Super Incredibly Awesome Thing That Happened
Kandace: Something exciting was happening actually in the middle of our interview.
Ray: They had just taken out their 4 kilo roaster and were putting in a 15 kilo roaster.
Kandace: Say that like you are excited.
Ray: Who’s jet lagged?
Kandace: This guy.
Ray: This guy right here.
Torfi: One of the first things we did when we got involved with the company…it’s always been the focus of improving day by day…so we started using refractometers and weighing everything and we systematically went though every single detail in the company. Now, the reason we are in this location is because we are waiting for a new roaster to arrive. We wanted to create this platform for being able to buy better equipment and you can’t really do that if you don’t improve every single aspect of the company, financially and growing organically.
It has been a lot of work behind the scenes to get to this point. And now, we can reap the benefits.
Dussy: Time now in our business is like, “Until the roaster comes, then we can do this and this and this.”
“Why aren’t we going on a trip?”
“Because the roaster will come.”
Everything is invested in this. It is not only about this equipment. It is about everything else.
Torfi: I think this is the roaster driving. I need to take this.
Ray: Reykjavík Roasters of Reykjavík, Iceland.