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KB Coffee: French coffee pioneers with Aussie roots

KB Coffee: French coffee pioneers with Aussie roots

Remy Bompart and Conner Bramley of KB Coffee in Paris share more details on the company's story, coffee sourcing and future plans

Naming your company can be one of the most stressful things you’ll have to go through as an entrepreneur. You want to be original and memorable. You want your name to convey something. Sometimes, people are very literal and name their companies “Fresh salad deliveries Ltd. Pty.” or something like that. At other times, you have no idea what’s in a name, like “FRDRAS”, for example.

When I started The Coffeevine, I had hundreds of potential names that I was considering before eventually settling on this. KB Coffee from Paris is one of those classic examples of a business whose name comes with a touch of mystery. Although I have personally been a fan of theirs for ages, I never actually knew until my recent interview with Remy Bompart and Connor Bramley what its name stood for. Find out more below.

KB Coffee have been at the forefront of the Parisian third wave coffee scene for years and they’re known for making specialty coffee fun and accessible. Unbelievably, it has been almost five years since they last made an appearance in one of our boxes and after running into Remy at last year’s Paris Coffee Festival we decided it was time to rekindle an old friendship. I’m glad to have these fun people back this month with a truly gorgeous natural anaerobic Ethiopian from Chelichele.

But now, it’s time to let Remy and Connor do the talking. I hope you’ll enjoy our conversation that I taped last week and published today.

THE COFFEEVINE (TC): “Remy, what can you tell us of the origins of KB Coffee? What does the name stand for and why was this business set up originally?”

Remy Bompart (RB): “KB started in 2010 after Nick [Piègay], the owner, came back from Australia and noticed that there was no specialty coffee shops in France at the time. Shortly after, KB one (the first coffee shop) opened in Montmartre near the Moulin Rouge. I am sure most people will have heard of that.

In the early years, between 2010 and 2015, we mainly worked with different guest roasters like Five Elephant or Square Mile. After 2015, we began to roast our own coffee at a shared roasting space called The Beans On Fire. Incidentally, when we were first featured in a Coffeevine box, we roasted our coffee there. Most recently, we opened Back in Black where we are today and which also houses our own roastery.”

“There wasn’t really this kind of ‘let’s sit down and have a latte’ kind of culture. People here drank their super bitter long black with a few sugars in a rush.”

Connor Bramley (CB): “Yep, and KB Coffee stands for Kookaburra. It’s a very common bird in Australia and while Nick lived in Sydney for two years, he really got to liking them.”

TC: “I recently went back to Paris and I was quite amazed by the transformation of the city’s specialty coffee scene. When I first went and wrote about my favourite cafés there a few years ago, there was just a handful of places. Now, it feels like specialty coffee is everywhere. Connor, what do you think gave the local third wave its kick in the butt?”

CB: “I think that the traditional French coffee culture is a huge contributing factor. It’s this particular type of roast from particular types of companies that is consumed in particular ways that has held French specialty coffee back, I think. There wasn’t really this kind of ‘let’s sit down and have a latte’ kind of culture. People here drank their super bitter long black with a few sugars in a rush.

This idea of appreciating coffee was not part of French culture, which might sound contradictory given this country’s incredibly rich food and drinks culture in general. People were not willing to change their ways. At least for a long time. And what’s more, the proximity to Italy also had an impact because French people think that Italians do coffee best.”

TC: “I think this theory has been debunked.”

CB: “Oh I am sure! I’ve also heard really great things about Italian specialty coffee. But the simple truth is that people are slowly but surely learning that there is more to coffee and they’re willing to move out of their comfort zones, particularly young 30-somethings who are happy to break with tradition.

The people that are into craft beer and natural wines and all these nice things, they’ll take the plunge into specialty coffee and that just kind of kickstarts everything. We’re pretty happy that we were here at the beginning of it.”

TC: “I think a large part of this is also down to the fact that coffee doesn’t grow in France. At least not on the mainland. And as a result, people were not really able to build much of an understanding of what goes into specialty coffee. For the majority of consumers it was always this slightly exotic commodity that didn’t deserve a second look. But now, this is changing, of course, and not just because specialty coffee has become so much more popular but because people can actually see roasters at work in their roasteries, talk about coffee, learn something and taste the differences.”

CB: “You’re totally right. In France, there is a huge interest in locally produced foods. Markets bring in the finest produce from around the country. Sometimes, I FaceTime with my parents and they’d mention a great wine from Chile that they’re drinking and I catch myself thinking ‘oh yeah, they also produce wine.’ When you’re here in France, the food world really revolves around French products.

Having said that, many of the younger coffee shops, I think, have suffered a lot because they’ve not been able to increase their prices as much as they would like. This is partially also to do with this idea that coffee shouldn’t cost much and you don’t want to alienate all of your customers. But in Paris, you can get away with selling coffee as more of a luxury product and charging more.”

TC: “Remy, you guys are known for being a bit rock’n’roll. Not only is your second café ‘Back in Black’ named after an AC/DC song, you generally like to do things a bit dofferently. You do huge late-night cuppings, for example.”

RB: “Yes, it’s all a bit of fun! But we do this so we can share a bit of pleasure with our customers afterwards.”

TC: “But how would you describe the character of the company? Many roasters are very much all about minimalism and design and so on but I feel like you guys are a bit more in your face, you know what I mean?”

RB: “I think it’s because we started really big from day one. KB one is a huge coffee shop, the biggest in Paris probably. We go through 10kg of coffee a day, which is quite a lot for France. So, actually, our biggest customer is KB one and we want to find amazing coffees for KB one and Back in Black and the people who visit our shops.

For many smaller roasters who depend very much on their wholesale business, it’s more challenging to buy coffees because they have to buy for these customers first and foremost. We don’t.”

TC: “I find this super interesting. I love how this gives you so much more freedom to buy what you really love and not what is necessarily expected from you. I mean, this natural Anaerobic from Chelichele is so gorgeous. I told you this already, it really tastes like lavender and citrus. I suppose if you have lots of these coffees, then your customers must really have good taste!”

CB: “We taste so many coffees. Maybe out of 50 green samples, we might choose two. We’re constantly test roasting on the IKAWA and tasting samples and we only go for coffees that we really like. We don’t buy coffees with the ingoing position of ‘oh will this one wholesale customers who buys some espresso from us every 3-4 weeks like this?’. No. We buy something because we love it and then we really talk about it with passion. We put our heart and soul into it and transfer that love for the coffees to our baristas.

And what happens kind of in a roundabout way is that most of our wholesale customers end up loving these coffees too. You might think that these traditional wholesale customers might not like these coffees but in most cases, they actually do because when they sign up with us, they know that they’ll get this sort of thing.”

TC: “How would you describe your coffee offerings more broadly? Do you actively look for really crazy stuff or are you more in favour of souring sweet and balanced coffees that will have a broader appeal?”

RB: “I love crazy coffees! I love everything that is super experimental and funky. We want to feel a crush for these coffees. Of course, we want to have a super clean and lovely washed Ethiopian but if we don’t find one, we don’t buy it.”

CB: “We don’t want to limit ourselves to one or two coffee importers when we look for our coffees. We have lots of sourcing partners and we really go with the flow here. We tell our importers what it is that we like and by giving them this feedback, they can target their samples much better. It’s actually hard to describe what we really love, haha. We have ended up with this Ferrero Rocher milk chocolate super super sweet medium body coffee on espresso that we’ve then also done on filter. And then we’ve gone through all sorts of middle ground and ended up with super funky crazy experimental coffees.

It’s as Remy said, we want to find have a crush on every coffee that we choose. We do give a score to every coffee that we taste in an effort to be as transparent as possible and even if a coffee might be scoring super high, it could be that we don’t feel that crush that we’re looking for so we don’t end up choosing it.

The question that we ask ourselves is: “Could I drink four or five of these in the morning without realising?” If the answer is yes, then that’s the kind of coffee we want.”

TC: “Let’s look towards the future now. What are you guys looking for the most this year?”

RB: “Mostly, we’re just excited to continue this work and finding the best coffees out there. We’re going to introduce some new packaging at some point and make some experiments with cold brew and cascara.”

CB: “We have this wall covered in post-its with things we want to do in the short term and things we want to do in the long term. It’s really an ongoing process. What we did learn during the pandemic was that our webshop literally exploded over night. Suddenly, Remy found himself taking over the shop front of our biggest café just so he could package all those online orders.

“We buy something because we love it and then we really talk about it with passion. We put our heart and soul into it and transfer that love for the coffees to our baristas.”

We understood the value that people place in getting really good coffee, freshly roasted, delivered to their door. We’re now also doing local eco-friendly bike deliveriers in Paris, for example. We’re also pushing our own subscription to offer our customers something really exciting to try every month. Our webshop is getting a lot of attention at the moment to make sure we’re fully transparent and offer our customers all of the information that they need.”

RB: “Actually, if I may add this, at the Paris Café Festival, we recently cupped the best coffee I’ve ever had and we’ve ordered it for the end of the year. This is a real crush. It’s a coffee from Colombia.”

CB: “Oh yes, this one is really crazy.”

TC: “Can you tell us who this coffee is from?”

CB: “Well, all we can say is that it’s from Aroma Nativo. More details to follow in September, ha ha.”

TC: “On that note, thank you so much for being here today guys. I cannot wait to share this gorgeous natural Anarobic from Chelichele with my customers this month!”

This coffee is part of our upcoming July 2022 Coffeevine box that also features other delicious coffees from Orbita and Old Spike. To choose your ideal box and get in on the fun, just pop over to our shop now.

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