You might remember ‘meeting’ Dario and Alexis Scilipoti of BlueBird Coffee Roastery in our Roaster Feature a few months back. They recently completed a European trip where they visited some amazing cafés and met some incredible roasters. This is their story…
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Cats, Mahlkonig EK43 coffee grinders and Ethiopian naturals coffee everywhere! That is my first and lasting impression of Istanbul, stop one of the unofficial “BlueBird visits as many European coffee shops and roasters as possible” tour…
After an uneventful flight and taxi ride to our home for the next week, we had a few hours to kill before checking in. Lex was ready to chill and I was ready for some coffee. Brew Lab, here we come! I should clarify a few things before we start drinking coffee. Firstly, Lex wasn’t “ready to chill”. She was exhausted. It turns out that growing a human is extremely tiring and we had just found out that she’s pregnant. Flipping stoked!
Secondly, my high school sweetheart and the love of my life hates coffee. This is her right. I have forgiven her (mostly). You would think that this would be a challenge given the nature of our unofficial tour, but her constant state of exhaustion meant that extended conversations with café and roastery owners suited her perfectly. Thirdly, our guide for this tour came in the form of a series of videos and a map from the guys at European Coffee Trip. Thanks boys!
Exploring Istanbul’s coffee scene
With our bags securely stored, we located Brew Lab on Google Maps, just 4.3km away. 20 minutes and many one-ways later, our very bling limo-style Uber got us there. Lesson one learned: switch Google Maps to Walk mode – the café was actually a gentle 10-minute walk from our apartment! Brew Lab is a delightful little café serving coffee roasted by Petra.
I immediately noticed the abundance of high-end brewing equipment; this however turned out to be the norm. I enjoyed a delicious Kenyan pour over while trying to communicate with the barista – his English and my Turkish left us pointing and smiling politely. Little learned, but a great experience nonetheless. We’re Instagram friends now.
After a day of exploration, which included a few must-see sights like the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace Garden and the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), we were ready for a quiet place to process the day’s activities. This brings us to Kronotrop. This trendy little café and roastery is a great example of a third wave coffee business. First class equipment and the two baristas on bar were passionate and eager to share information about their coffee options and favourite brew methods.
I enjoyed multiple coffees, including a delicious naturally processed Ethiopian pour over and a chocolatey Guatemala as espresso. Kronotrop also has a small shop in the airport which rescued me from the HSBC lounge coffee, which had distinct notes of tar, smoke, and demons.
A tour of specialty coffee shops
Istanbul is an assault on your senses. People everywhere, most of whom seem to smoke. Diverse food options, most of which we sampled. Sweet teas, Turkish delight, baklava, artisanal chocolate, shawarma, roasted chestnuts…the list goes on. But nowhere is more ‘full-on’ than the Grand Bazaar. Thousands of stalls selling knock-off big name brands, beautiful carpets, local delicacies, and jewellery.
We had a specific item in mind though: an antique Turkish coffee pot. After locating the shop we were after within the antique section of this massive undercover market, we struck gold. Well, it’s actually copper and brass, but you know what I mean. Stoked!
Then it was off to Petra Roasting Co. We had seen the signs in bookstores, cafés, hairdressers and offices - “Petra Coffee served here”. We had to go to the source! Petra is a large restaurant and coffee roastery. Big, bustling, and beautiful. Modern yet comfortable. Friendly staff, a huge selection of pastries, and a top-notch coffee offering. The roastery featured a new Probat, automated packaging, and a lot of coffee!
I got to meet the owner, Kaan Bergsen, who was super cool. We swopped bags of coffee and spoke roasting styles. He shared some of his frustration around buying green coffee on price as the average income in Turkey is pretty low. I feel his pain. Asking the average South African coffee consumer to pay R400 for a 250g bag of coffee would be ‘interesting’.
As we were leaving, he excitedly ordered their award-winning Kenyan Kainamui AA as an espresso for us to taste. Fruit forward, bright acidity, creamy body and the intense aroma accentuated by the handmade Tim Wendelboe designed cup – a wide base to cool the espresso and a narrow mouth to channel the smell.
Our final day in Istanbul was one of the best coffee days I have had! We started with a meeting with Cagatay Gulabioglu from Probador Colectiva. Widely regarded as one of the best roasters in Europe, Cagatay overflows with knowledge. From optimum brewing water, to green buying, to roasting styles…he was incredibly generous with his time and expertise.
While enjoying a 90+ Ethiopian coffee, we spoke about the ethical responsibility of the coffee professional. He feels that roasters and café owners marketing commercial coffee as specialty is a global problem, one we often see in South Africa. The issue is that the consumer is left wondering why they paid more for the underwhelming coffee experience. We spoke about farmer pay, increasing global demand for specialty coffee, and the challenges of running a roastery without a café.
With no interest in opening a café, I was taking notes! He is where we are going as a company – quality obsessed specialty roastery and QC lab, big home barista customer base and partner cafés who care about their coffee. Heck yeah! We left with a selection of his coffees, a branded cupping bowl, and a deep desire to drop our commercial coffees. A decision we have since taken. Thanks Cagatay!