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Mabó Coffee Roasters: How Bogdan Georgescu stumbled from IT to specialty coffee

Mabó Coffee Roasters: How Bogdan Georgescu stumbled from IT to specialty coffee

The former World Roasting Vice-Champion recalls roasting terrible coffee in his kitchen and muses about his chances of competing again.

Life is full of unexpected meetings, surprises and twists of fate. While I am sure that it’s not unique to specialty coffee per se, I am often baffled by the astonishing number of coffee entrepreneurs and professionals who never meant to end up in coffee but eventually did.

Unlike other product categories, I suppose, coffee is universally loved and consumed no matter the background. And why the heck wouldn’t you pursue a career in this industry if you are passionate and you spot an opportunity? Basically, that is the story of Bogdan Georgescu, the 2019 World Roasting Vice-Champion who started his coffee journey in his kitchen and now runs one of Bucharest’s best roasteries.

This November, Mabó is back as one of our guest roasters following a two year break and after winning the Roaster of the Year Coffeevine Award in 2020 with an exquisite washed Ethiopian coffee from Gora Kone. For its next feature, Mabó is offering our subscribers a fabulous honey-processed Ethiopian coffee from Nazimu Abamecha. Expect a super juicy cup profile with notes of apricot, pear and orange.

Just the other day, I caught up with Bogdan who joined me in a video call from his brand new coffee bar near the Gara de Nord railway station in Bucharest to chat about what’s been happening at Mabó since our last collab and find out what Bogdan will be up to next.

THE COFFEEVINE (TC): “Hey Bogdan, it’s nice to have you back. Can you, for those of us who don’t know you, just tell us briefly who you are?”

Bogdan Georgescu (BG): “Yes, sure. I’m Bogdan and I started my career in coffee about ten years ago. Actually, instead of learning how to be a barista first, I went straight into roasting. I didn’t really know how to be a barista so I decided to focus on the other aspect of coffee.

The funny thing was, I had bought one of the worst roasters in the market but I thought to myself ‘I’m already drinking really bad coffee so why not roast my own?’ Couldn’t be that difficult. Big mistake. What I roasted in the beginning was basically undrinkable but because I had roasted it, I was quite forgiving. The truth was, I had no idea what I was doing.

After a while, I bought a more expensive roaster but the coffee was still shit. So clearly, the problem was me. That’s when I realised that I needed to properly learn how to do this.”

TC: “But why did you want to roast your own coffee in the first place? Were you just personally curious or was there simply no place to get good coffee in Romania at the time?”

BG: “No, there was good coffee in Romania but not much. I learned about specialty coffee in Los Angeles, actually, and when I came back here, I only drank shitty supermarket stuff. Most of the roasteries at the time were pretty old school with only a handful of specialty coffee places. We’re taking 2013/2014 here.

My interest was in the phenomenon of roasting coffee. You know, the Italians always say roasting coffee is an art form but it’s not. It’s pure science. And I wanted to know how I could go from green coffee to creating something extraordinary.

That’s how I decided that I wanted to learn this for myself. At first it was just a hobby, something I obsessed over next to my job in IT but I kept on buying all this expensive equipment and at some point I decided, OK, I have to do this.”

TC: “Where was all of this equipment then? Did you have a garage?”

BG: “It was in our kitchen actually. I took over the whole kitchen step by step. I bascially left my wife with the sink and like 1m² of free space!” (laughs)

After a while, I got a job at Sloane who you have also worked with. In fact, the first time you ordered coffee from them, it was roasted by me. And then I started competing. In the beginning I was pretty bad but then I managed to win the national championships in 2019 and immediately went to Taipei to the world finals where I lost the first place. As it says on the bags, I became Vice-Champion.”

TC: “Well, even coming in second place is a huge achievement.”

BG: “True. As an engineer, I understand what happens inside the roaster. It’s a lot of chemisty and physics etc. There are people who roast with a feeling and there are those who have the actual scientific knowledge. I tried to acquire both because I am really, really into coffee.

At the start of 2020, I founded Mabó Coffee Roasters in Bucharest. It was just a small roastery with a small café and I think this really helped us during the pandemic because people were at home and brewing a lot of coffee there. Luckily, we only had a very short lockdown in Romania when cafés were actually closed. Throughout this time, we did a lot of takeaway, we supplied a lot of cafés that did takeaway and we sold a lot of coffee online.

“Italians always say roasting coffee is an art form but it’s not. It’s pure science.”

In those two years, our business doubled every year but we still operated out of the same 60m² space where we started. This year, we moved into a new roastery and we just opened a new coffee shop.”

TC: “What does Mabó mean? I tried to look it up on Google Translate but it came back empty.”

BG: “Mabó is the name of the two founders. Ma is for Marius and Bo is for Bogdan. The accent is basically just a fashion gimmick.”

TC: “Oh that’s so flazedá! In the past, you had said that your favourite origin was Ethiopia but these days, with all those crazy fermentations, it’s becoming harder and harder to identify specific terroirs. Is Ethiopia still your favourite or how do you approach your sourcing?”

BG: “In the beginning, like everybody else, we decided that we didn’t want to be like everybody else. Of course, some origins like Colombia, Brazil and Ethiopia were very popular with the public and we needed to have them.

When we did our cuppings with Colombian coffees, we realised that we didn’t just like one of them. We liked many! So, we decided that we needed to have two of them as single origins and one in the rarities collection. Then, we also realised that we really liked Ethiopian coffees and naturally, we couldn’t just have two Ethiopian coffees. Thus, we have one washed and one natural and one honey, the one that you will have in the subscription. Basically, we like to choose our coffees based on quality, not based on origin.

For us, it’s quite complicated to have lots of different origins and to expect all of them to be good. The truth is, everyone tells you their coffee is good but just because it says so on the bag, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s true. We usually find that of all the ‘good’ coffees that we cup, only 10% are actually good.

That’s why we prefer to source more coffees from origins that we know are good. Another example, for the longest time we didn’t have an Indonesian coffee because I literally couldn’t find a good one until recently. Just because everyone else has Indonesian coffees right now so we somehow also have to have one? No.

The same applies to Kenya and most other African origins. I’ve tried to find good ones but I couldn’t. This year, coffees from Central America are really good and I’ve decided to focus on that region instead.”

TC: “What is the story behind the illustration on the sleeves that go around your bags?”

BG: “About ten years ago, I was at a fair and I saw these incredible drawings of animals and people. I took some pictures at the time but I didn’t buy any of the artworks. Then, when we started this brand, I remembered those drawings and I tried to find the artist behind them. Turns out, it was a lady who just loved drawing but she was not a designer by trade and had no idea how to do branding.

I told her, listen, just draw something fun for us and we’ll put it on our packaging. Basically the illustration is a drawing of me and my wife and my two associates. We’re holding the same cup of coffee together, sharing the same goal if you will.

“It is funny. Even if you give people a good Colombian or Brazilian, they will almost always say, ah the Ethiopian was better.”

My associate is very good at design and took this lady’s drawings and created our whole brand identity and the packaging. I love it, don’t you?”

TC: “I do! Now, I don’t know if you know this but I lived in Bucharest for a few months back in 2009. One of the things I found most curious about Romanian culture was that people met in coffee shops until late at night. The coffee was not great, of course, but I’m curious to know how the coffee culture has evolved since from your perspective.”

BG: “What happend was quite interesting. The main problem we had was that Romania was quite a poor country after the fall of communism. The big international coffee chains like Starbucks or Costa were not really present in Romania because they didn’t think the market had a lot of potential. In the early days, I think we had about 5-6 Starbucks cafés in the whole country while in the UK there were thousands.

No one was in charge of educating the customers and this void was then filled by independent coffee shops. There were the classic Italian espresso bars and Origo. They really did a lot to establish the third wave coffee culture in Romania and then many other coffee shops followed. There was a huge growth in 2016-2017 and during the pandemic, they just exploded because people were staying at home and they learned how to buy coffee locally instead of from the supermarkets.

Naturally, it’s very easy to find great coffee online and people are becoming more and more educated too. This has inspired many entrepreneurs to open coffee bars and start roasting. Some of them think, ‘ah this is easy’ but the truth is roasting is quite hard because producing really good and consistent coffee is very hard.

If you are coming from commercial coffee and you taste specialty coffee for the first time and you don’t think it’s good, maybe there is a reason for that. Maybe the coffee is simply not good. The market still has a lot of potential and as consumers get more educated on quality, it will also mean that some people who don’t keep up, probably won’t make it.”

TC: “Is there a favourite origin that your customers love the most?”

BG: “Definitely Ethiopia.”

TC: “Really? I am surprised because I remember the coffee culture to be quite old school with people drinking Italian style blends with lots of milk and sugar. I would have expected something like a Brazil or Colombia to be more popular because they might be more accessible.”

BG: “It is funny. Even if you give people a good Colombian or Brazilian, they will almost always say, ah the Ethiopian was better. Many of the people coming from commercial coffee have a fully-automated machine at home and they just want good coffee. They don’t really care what it is. For them, we have a Brazilian coffee that we simply advertise as good coffee for fully-automated machines.

However, the people who are already a little big knowledgable about coffee, they come into the coffee shops and ask what we have on the grinder and even if we tell them we have this really nice such and such, they almost always want Ethiopia.”

TC: “Going back to you personally. Do you ever want to compete again?”

BG: “Yep. I am going to compete again just not in roasting. This time I will be competing in the Brewer’s Cup. The next national is in May and I want to bring it home. I also think that we have an advantage here because sourcing great green is cheaper than sourcing great roasted coffee.

This means I can practice with more profiles. But let’s see. It’s usually quite hard to win anything at the first attempt.”

TC: “In closing, what can you tell us about this outstanding honey-processed Ethiopian coffee that you will be roasting for our box?” 

BG: “We were searching for great washed and natural Ethiopias and we decided to go and see what the best coffees were that we could buy for the money we were willing to spend. At a recent coffee show in Paris, I met this one distributor who told me ‘I have this very good Ethiopian’ but you know, most of them say that. So, I told him ‘let’s see this coffee that you have’ and I honestly couldn’t decide if it was washed or natural.

It has the clean cup of a washed but the fruitiness of a natural. I asked him ‘what the hell is this? A honey?’ and he said ‘yes’. I decided to buy that coffee right there and then.

When we received it at the roastery, we profiled it but the first two attempts didn’t come out good. We simply approached this coffee all wrong. The third profile, which is the one that you have, came out amazing.”

TC: “I cannot wait to share this coffee with our subscribers!”

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

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