When I started my Coffeevine journey nearly ten years ago, there was only a handful of specialty coffee shops in Amsterdam. I could basically count them on one hand, albeit not for long because this was around the time when the city’s third wave coffee scene really took off.
One its the earliest specialty coffee shops was Coffee Bru, a super fun and friendly place in Oost that was co-founded by Joris Kobussen, Marielusan Drost and her partner Jeroen Keyzer. It quickly became a local institution and in some sense, the spring board for Jeroen’s future venture Rum Baba. What originally started as an independent specialty coffee bar and cake business eventually morphed into a coffee roasting brand in its own right and today, I dare say, is the most exciting roaster in Amsterdam.
After many failed attempts to get Rum Baba featured in one of my previous boxes, I finally managed to get them on board for this month’s Coffeevine box with a super delicious washed Peruvian coffee from Los Coronados. Earlier today, I caught up with Jeroen for an interview to get a better picture of who this brand really is and what drives it. Here it goes.
THE COFFEEVINE (TC): “How did you end up in specialty coffee?”
Jeroen Keyzer (JK): “I stumbled into specialty coffee around twelve years ago. My partner [Lusan] and I wanted to open an espresso bar after having experienced espresso culture in other parts of the world. We wanted to showcase coffee origins in a dedicated coffee bar and we felt that this was missing in Amsterdam at the time.
This meant not just serving the coffee but also preparing it. As a barista you have an influence on the taste experience that the customer gets and that makes coffee more exciting than serving soda or beer. So, we started with a successful coffee business and then later, I founded Rum Baba as a sort of natural next step of my own specialty coffee journey.
As a roaster you also have some influence on the flavour of the coffee and you decide which coffees you want to work with. Initially, we only wanted to roast for our own in-house consumption at Rum Baba and Coffee Bru but over time, demand started growing and so did our roasting business.”
TC: “Next to Rum Baba, you also run your own tea brand Monkey Chief and as I recall from the days when I had my own pop up coffee bar in Amsterdam and you were one of my suppliers, you also have a flourishing cake business. How do you juggle all of these balls at the same time?”
JK: “Well, the strategy for the past few years has been to regain our focus because it’s challenging to do everything equally well. You only have two hands and even if you have ten people working with you, you still need to provide leadership. Whatever your vision is, you need to explain it and it needs to be implemented.
The bakery was born out of the Rum Baba café because just coffee on its own was a bit too little for us. We think that people also need to be able to have a nice treat with the coffee. In the end, the bakery became bigger and bigger because people kept asking for cakes but initially, it was not the intention to start a bakery as well. Ultimately, you also take opportunities that come your way. In the end, we stopped the cake business though in order for us to regain our focus on coffee.
And yes, the tea is something I started with at the same time as coffee. There are many similiarities, of course. From different varieties to processing methods, origins and preparation methods. Tea has so much tradition and that is something I really like. But coffee is my true passion and that is why we had to refocus the business.”
TC: “I remember the first time I walked into your original Rum Baba café and being struck by how how incredibly colourful it was. This really is a unique characteristic of yours, isn’t it? Your brand is a bit crazy, colourful and fun but at the same time, it has a lot of intricate details that are very well thought out. If I compare it with many other roasters out there, it definitely stands out. What motivated you to go down this path?”
JK: “I think this is something that’s very close to our hearts. We wanted something fun. Look, coffee itself is quite serious. You’re talking about quality control and development etcetera. But from the consumer’s perspective, you also need to have a great experience.
It has to be a bit playful. People who visit our shops have to feel like they can join us on this journey. If you visit our Elandsgracht location and you’re a coffee lover, you should feel like you’re entering a candy shop with lots of different things to choose from. This includes super exciting coffees with expressive taste profiles, for example.
In the end, we work really hard to offer our customers a great quality product and a unique and fun experience.”
TC: “Now, if we look at your coffee offerings, I recall that Rum Baba was the first place I ever saw a ‘thermal shock’ processed coffee. Are experimental coffees something that you really love working with?”
JK: “Absolutely. I am actually pro-actively looking for new coffee experiences for myself. And that is something that I want to then offer to my customers too. We certainly also have some more classic cup profiles and I know that many customers value those. Coffee is a journey for me. If you look back at specialty coffee ten years ago, it’s totally different today.
“Over the past few years, we spent a lot of time sourcing really experimental coffees but now, we need to focus on deepening our relationships with producers.”
Thankfully, we can take customers along for this ride with our Rum Baba label. Coffee is continously changing and we are always looking ahead at what the next big thing could be. That’s exciting! When talking about those experimental coffees, I can only say that they can indeed be very expressive and yes, sometimes they can be too much. At the same time, if you’re someone who’s not a huge coffee connoisseur, they offer a great opportunity to discover where coffee flavours can potentially go.”
TC: “You guys have grown quite a lot over the past year or two. Where is this growth predominantly coming from?”
JK: “Certainly from our growing B2B business but also from direct to consumer sales. I think we have a good balance but thanks to our retail stores, we also sell a lot of bags to consumers there. Since the lockdowns ended, B2B really increased a lot. I really enjoy both. Working with wholesale partners is quite different from working with consumers. It requires a lot more personal attention and guidance. Coffee’s not a finished product. You have to work together to make it taste great.
Our shops, on the other hand, have been designed to allow our staff to show our customers how coffee is prepared properly and for any potential business clients to discover our coffees first hand. They serve a double purpose really.”
TC: “Your two retail shops are quite different from each other. The original one is more of a sit down café with ample seating and a terrace while the second one is more of a retail shop. What do you think better suits your brand?”
JK: “Actually, the original coffee bar will be closing soon because the building needs to be completely renovated and this suits us quite well. Running a full café in these times would require a lot more energy from me than what I have available. If you want to run a proper café, you have to offer more than just coffee and this requires diluting your focus from other activities such as roasting.
We will keep the small retail shop near the original café where we had our first roastery and, of course, we still have Coffee Bru.”
TC: “Let’s chat about the coffee that we picked out for our August Coffeevine box. This is a beautiful washed Peruvian coffee from Los Coronados. What can you tell me about this coffee?”
JK: “We came to this coffee via Maru Mallee who is our Head of Training and our Production Roaster and who also happened to win this year’s Dutch Aeropress Championship with this exact coffee. The exporter/importer of this coffee is called Cultivar and after Maru’s win they reached out to us.
Cultivar has been working hard to set up a scheme for local producers in Peru to improve their specialty grade coffee output and Cultivar then brings these coffees to The Netherlands. I’ve known one of the founders of Cultivar for many years and this coffee offered a nice opportunity for us to rekindle an old relationship.
The coffee itself is very accessible. It’s got a clean cup profile with lots of sweetness and a round mouthfeel. If you look at our current assortment, it’s not as extreme as some others but it almost has some characteristics that you’d normally associate with a natural-processed coffee. You’d definitely recognize this coffee as a Rum Baba coffee.”
TC: “Not like that Brazilian coffee that tastes like Pistaccio Gelato!”
JK: “(laughs) No. I mean you really need to be in the mood for that kind of coffee, right? This Peruvian coffee would be perfect for breakfast, for example.”
TC: “Let’s look ahead. Where is Rum Baba going next? Do you have plans for any new ventures?”
JK: “As I said before, our main mission for now is to create more focus. I think we’re well on our way to make this happen but of course, there is always work left to be done. We are currently spending quite a lot of our attention on improving our sustainability, for example, we recently purchased a new IMF roaster, which is comparable to the Loring.
Over the past few years, we spent a lot of time sourcing really experimental coffees but now, we need to focus on deepening our relationships with producers. We actually buy a lot of our coffees directly from the farmers or from exporters at origin. This attention to our relationships, also with customers and wholesale clients will now be taking up a lot more of our time.”
TC: “I’m excited to see where Rum Baba is going next. Thank you for your time.”
This coffee is part of our upcoming August 2022 Coffeevine box that also features other delicious coffees from Nowhere Future Coffee Roasters and Awaken. To choose your ideal box and get in on the fun, just pop over to our shop now.