When I started The Coffeevine nearly ten years ago, I spent quite a bit of time visiting Eastern European capitals like Warsaw, Prague and Budapest where I discovered exciting and vibrant third wave coffee scenes that were much further ahead than in many Western European cities. I found that suprising and, at the same time, fascinating.
Looking back, however, it makes a lot of sense to me. It’s often the case that new trends find a much faster foothold in places where there is no particular culture or history of consumption of a certain product. During communist times, coffee was a luxury that few could afford, unlike in Western Europe where big brands like Douwe Egberts, Jacobs or Tschibo were household names.
This doesn’t mean that people in countries like Hungary didn’t have a rich history to start with. On the contrary. Hungary is well known for its excellent food and wine as anyone who has been to the country will attest to.
Yet, despite the fact that Budapest has a large number of excellent third wave coffee shops, it somehow does not have a big selection of well-known specialty coffee roasters. Casino Mocca, a long-term Coffeevine partner is most likely one of the few that comes to mind. The other must be Awaken.
Co-founded by Adam Dobos in 2016, Awaken set out with the goal to become one of Hungary’s top roasters and it has been on my personal wishlist for many years. Finally, we’re teaming up with Awaken for the upcoming August 2022 Coffeevine box to bring you a delicious tea-like washed Ethiopian coffee from Halo Beriti.
Last week, I caught up with Adam for a little chat and in this interview he shared what makes Awaken unique.
THE COFFEEVINE (TC): “What’s your background? Did you work in coffee before you co-founded Awaken?”
Adam Dobos (AD): “I started off in business school in Budapest. My whole family consists of entrepreneurs. Everybody has their own business. After graduating from school, I wanted to pursue a career in a multinational company. I felt like the black sheep in the family, ha ha. But I soon realised that the 9 to 5 in an office was not for me. I did not see this as my future for the rest of my life.
At the time, I was already into coffee as a home barista. This was in 2012 or 2013 and I soon decided that this was something I would love to do as a business. So, I started to read about the coffee industry and got myself a job at My Little Melbourne in Budapest, one of the best cafés in the city. I was really honest with the owner about my intentions to start my own business one day and after a while, that’s what I did. I opened my own coffee shop.
TC: “What was it called?”
AD: “It was called Ébresztő, which is Hungarian for wakeup call. The funny thing was though that I quickly realised that hospitality itself was not really for me. I loved coffee but I didn’t love the idea of being in a café all day. I thought if I kept going, I would get a burn out and I just didn’t see myself hustling like that.
“Our longterm plan is to have strong relationships with our farmers.”
I then began to learn how to roast on my own without any help. This was in 2016 or so but the issue was that I didn’t feel confident enough to do this without proper training. That’s when I went to the first roasting camp in Estonia where I met Patrick Rolf of April Coffee Roasters. I had long conversations with him and I felt like he was the kind of mentor I needed. I invited him to Hungary and he helped me set up the roastery.”
TC: “How did you want to differentiate yourself from other specialty coffee businesses that were already established?”
AD: “Well, I didn’t look at it this way. I just felt like I wanted to roast coffee and that’s it. I knew then as I know now that it is a bit risky. There is a lot of competition across Europe but I like a challenge and I really feel that this is my calling. I really dig data and diving into the numbers although nowadays, I am mostly just running the business. Back when I started, I had this idea that I would just be roasting coffee but that was never going to be true, of course. A coffee roastery requires a lot more than that.”
TC: “Who’s in your team?”
AD: “We’re two actually. Two Adams. The other Adam is called Adam Nagy.”
TC: “When we speak about your brand, Awaken, it’s all about forgetting the snooze button and getting excited to start every day with a delicious cup of coffee. It’s literally your tagline. How would you describe the personality of the brand?”
AD: “The brand Awaken stands for everything I believe in. I know that we all need something to motivate us to get out of bed every morning. We need a purpose and for me that purpose is coffee. To wake up and embrace the day with coffee. So it has a double meaning in a way.
In addition, sustainability is very important to us.”
TC: “How do you achieve sustainability in your business?”
AD: “Honestly, it’s not easy but our longterm plan is to have strong relationships with our farmers. Not necessarily in the sense of direct trade, we really value the middlemen we work with, but in the sense of knowing the farmers and buying from them year after year. From seed to cup really. We also want to build long term relationships with our customers, of course.
That is how I see sustainability for the coffee supply chain. I really want to value the work of the farmer and know that the money I spend on his or her coffee is spent on the location itself. On buying new equipment or investing in the local community. Our challenge is that we’re still too small but it’s our goal to make this happen.”
TC: “It’s interesting to hear this coming from you because the term ‘direct trade’ has often been used by some people to imply that they’re buying directly from the farmers when that is actually not the case. They are using a middleman who facilitates the whole process and so I find it a bit misleading sometimes and also not fair to the importer who is doing a lot of the heavy lifting.”
AD: “I agree. What is important to me is to have the same coffee year after year and thereby build a relationship with the farmer. So, for instance, the Halo Beriti that you will have for your subscription is in our program for the third time this year. We loved the coffee the first time we bought it and we continue to love it, which is why we are supporting this washing station.
They work hard and they deserve recognition for that. Of course, it would be a big bonus to travel there one day and to meet the team.”
TC: “Looking at the European specialty coffee roaster scene, it feels like every day there is a new name popping up somewhere. It’s astonishing! And I’m actually thrilled that more and more roasters are setting up shop in smaller towns, not just the big capitals. You guys are based in Tata, which is halfway between Budapest and Győr. How do you select which customers you want to work with?”
AD: “To be honest, we focus mainly on Budapest. Most of our longterm partners are there and we have a few more in the countryside and smaller cities like Szeget. Hungary is a very specific country, I think, because in terms of big cities, we only have Budapest and the rest are all quite small.
Our goal is to educate people and help them understand specialty coffee better. We don’t want to say to a place ‘we’re not going to sell to you because you know nothing about coffee.’ That’s not how we should communicate. We have a partner barista school in Budapest and we always encourage our customers to follow trainings and push forward their education.
“We need a change of mentality to really make a change for the better.”
And on a personal note, I want to launch a coffee blog in Hungarian. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for ages but I never have time. There is so much content in English and in some other major languages but nothing in Hungarian. Currently, our aim is to work on customer retention rather than acquiring tons of new customers.”
TC: “Going back to your coffee sourcing, I’d love to know a bit more about how you pick the coffees that you work with and how you categorize them.”
AD: “We have a pretty good strategy for that. We have five categories for our coffees. Classic, Elegant, Explorer, Extravagant and Limited Release. The Classic is our bestseller, without a doubt. We almost always have a natural Brazil there and that’s very good value for a lot of cafés who use this as a base for milk-based drinks and let’s face it, there is not much point in putting a Kenyan into a Latte if you’re not going to actually taste it properly.
Then we have the Elegant category, which is almost always a Central or South American coffee, something that is a bit more on the sweeter side. The Explorer is usually an African coffee. Sometimes we have something a bit more experimental like an anaerobic Ethiopian but I personally prefer washed and natural coffees.
Usually we put the anaerobics into our Extravagant category and they really have to be quite special. Right now we have a 120h anaerobic fermented Pacamara from Colombia, for example. These are usually the most expensive and unsual coffees.
The Halo Beriti that you will have for the subscription is classified as Extravagant but is actually somewhere between Explorer and Extravagant. It’s super floral and delicate but super delicious. A classic Yirgacheffe profile. The final category is for exclusive nano lots.
Going back to your question, we order a lot of samples all the time. We roast them with the IKAWA and cup them blind and then make our selection. The funny thing is that for three years running, we’ve ended up choosing almost the same coffees and maybe that is proof of what we’re looking for.”
TC: “Looking at Hungary’s international profile, what do you think could be done more to increase awareness of the local coffee community?”
AD: “There should be a bigger focus on quality and sustainability than just the business. I think that’s the result of the political system here in Hungary. We need a change of mentality to really make a change for the better.”
TC: “Thank you for joining me today.”
This coffee is part of our upcoming August 2022 Coffeevine box that also features other delicious coffees from Nowhere Future Coffee Roasters and Rum Baba. To choose your ideal box and get in on the fun, just pop over to our shop now.