TOMA CAFÉ: Madrid based pioneers finally make their debut

TOMA CAFÉ: Madrid based pioneers finally make their debut

After years of being a fan of TOMA CAFÉ, these Madrid based prodigies finally get featured in a Coffeevine box with a yummy Guatemalan coffee

There was a time, a few years ago, when I visited Madrid pretty regularly. My friend Erica was living there and I had developed an affinity for the Spanish capital that was born out of the city’s tolerant and welcoming vibes, outstanding arts scene, great food and fast-growing specialty coffee community.

Back then, and we’re taking 6-7 years ago, Madrid was on a winning streak that seems to have continued uninterrupted until this day. Even during the pandemic, Madrid stayed largely open for business, making it a magnet for people trying to escape draconian lockdowns elsewhere.

One of the places I used to frequent a lot was TOMA CAFÉ, a third wave coffee bar that started in the Malasaña district and served some of the the best coffee at time. Nowadays there are plenty of outstanding cafés and a rising number of roasters but TOMA laid the groundwork and since 2017, it’s also a roastery. And yet, it’s not until this month that we finally got them to be a guest roaster in one of our boxes, making them the first Madrid based roaster since Hola Coffee’s debut in 2017 to represent the Spanish capital.

The other day, I spoke with TOMA’s Joaquín Molina Jiménez who is responsible for running the operations. Check out the full interview below.

THE COFFEEVINE (TC): “I used to visit Madrid a lot back in the day and I always came to the first TOMA CAFÉ to get coffee. TOMA’s founder, Sanitago Rigoni, used to be an art director and he’s from Argentina. So what made him start this business?”

Joaquín Molina Jiménez (JMJ): “Well, like every other trend, the coffee wave had to eventually reach Madrid. Santiago and Patricia Alda, his co-founder, didn’t want to have to travel to cities like London to drink great coffee. Therefore, they started with this small concept and little by little, it gained shape. Neither of them come from the hospitality sector nor the coffee industry but they loved learning and giving it their own personal touch.”

TC: “It’s funny that Madrid’s scene took off so late, especially compared to Barcelona, which has one of the best specialty coffee scenes in mainland Europe.”

JMJ: “I’ll tell you a personal anecdote. When I arrived here from Ecuador in 2013, I actually expected there to be a much bigger scene. I was suprised at how small it actually was. I eventually found TOMA after a few months and got a job there. But it’s true, once you start working with specialty coffee in Spain you become aware of this invisible barrier, which was ingrained in the local culture over decades.

In Spain, people are used to drinking pretty bad quality coffee that is roasted too dark and then you have to add tons of sugar. So the chain of mistakes just isn’t broken. And then, people don’t know how to prepare the coffee properly. So, yeah, it was difficult educating people and trying to explain to them that things like acidity and sweetness, which we take for granted, are totally normal and desireable.”

TC: “But it wasn’t just the cultural aspect of how coffee is roasted and consumed. It was also the matter of having to explain to people why they should be paying more for their coffee, right?”

JMJ: “If I have to pay more for something that I normally pay X for, then I would expect the quality of the product to be better. That is what we wanted people to appreciate. We wanted to offer them a chance to try something really different and more delicious. Of course, you can taste the difference when you try specialty coffee for the first time but really understaning why paying more is important, is a longer process.

This requires a special time line that gives room for people to gain knowledge and learn about coffee. Lately, more and more specialty coffee shops have opened here and I’ve noticed a real evolution in the consumer. The more they know, the less the price becomes a problem.”

TC: “Sure. And did you originally come from the world of coffee?”

JMJ: “Yes, I have been in coffee for around 15 years now.”

TC: “And did you learn everything in Ecuador?”

JMJ: “Well, I used to work for a sports events company and I had a friend who got into specialty coffee in America, and one day he told me ‘hey, I learned something you might like.’ That’s how it started. I originally studied enology and I got really curious because there is a general similarity between coffee and wine. Then I started visiting Fincas and well, living in a coffee producing country just gives you a whole other perspective.

A little while later, I came to Madrid on holiday and I just got trapped here, in a positive way.”

TC: “Did you come to Madrid for love?”

JMJ: “Not really. I mainly came to visit family and once I was here, I had no real reason to go back to Ecuador. I’m quite well settled here now.”

Interior of one of the cafés
Roasting on a Probat

TC: “That’s great! Do you guys have any direct relationships with farmers in Ecuador that you knew from back when you still lived there?”

JMJ: “Not really. I actually worked at TOMA until around 2016/2017 before I did some other things for a while and during that time, TOMA had quite a few Ecuadorian coffees but these didn’t come from me or from my relationships. We source most of our coffee via Belco.”

TC: “What did you do in those years? Were you still working in coffee or did you go back to Ecuador?”

JMJ: “Yes to both. I stayed in Madrid for a while working in specialty coffee and also spent some time back home, which was more or less during the pandemic and I really took advantage of the opportunity to go back to origin. It’s so important to maintain a close connection to farmers.”

TC: “Absolutely! I don’t know if this is a bad comparison but I’ll let you be the judge. The last time I was in Madrid was in 2017 or so and back then, you had this sudden explosion of coffee places like Acid, Mision and others that appeared on the scene. I am sure that today it’s even better! Is the Madrid scene very different from the one in Barcelona?”

JMJ: “I was in Barcelona last summer and yes, Barcelona definitely got a head start with regards to its third wave coffee culture. But there also came a moment when Madrid really caught up with Barcelona. In the end, I think they have become more alike and I don’t think that there is really big difference any more.”

TC: “But one thing that Barcelona does have, which is still lacking in Madrid is a group of reputable coffee roasters who are also internationally known. I mean, there is Hola Coffee and there is you guys but that’s basically it, no?”

JMJ: “True. Most people here start from a commercial point of view, mainly serving coffee. There are not that many people who are willing to make the investment in setting up a roastery or they simply don’t have the knowledge yet. Indeed there are more roasters in Barcelona but it’s also part of the journey of growing as an industry.”

TC: “So tell me a bit more about TOMA. When did you guys start roasting and where did you use to get your coffees from prior?”

JMJ: “I believe we started roasting in 2016 or 2017 and before that, we had various suppliers, either international roasters or a local roaster who roasted our own green coffee for us with profiles that we liked. I think the bet was made once we realised that we were getting through quite some volume and we thought, we can roast this coffee in house.”

TC: “And how do you plan your seasonal offerings? Do you work with a lot or fewer different coffees at the same time?”

JMJ: “We always try to have on average five or six coffees, at least. We want to have an offer that will satisfy different kinds of customers that we have, including coffees from Africa, and South and Central America. Coffee is seasonal, as you know, and we try to always look for interesting and delicious coffees that fit our bill. If we look for super complex coffees, there will for sure be a market for them somewhere but at the same time, many people won’t enjoy these. We have to find a good middle ground.”

“Of course, you can taste the difference when you try specialty coffee for the first time but really understaning why paying more is important, is a longer process.”

TC: “Where do you see most of your demand coming from these days? Is it mainly from Madrid or also from other parts of Spain and further afield?”

JMJ: “In Madrid we have a good market. It’s very stable and has been growing gradually. We also have more and more customers outside of the capital but mainly in the greater region of Madrid. I feel like cafés that are close to a particular city, will most likely source their coffees from their nearest roasters rather than from across the country.

We have also had some customers in Portugal, France and Germany.”

TC: “It does strike me that for a city of its size, Madrid’s coffee scene is relatively unknown internationally. Until recently, it didn’t even have a proper coffee festival. Now there’s the MAD Coffee Festival. Did you guys participate?”

JMJ: “Well, there is also the CoffeeFest but yes, the MAD Coffee Festival is a new event that also hosted the Spanish Aeropress Championships. These festivals are the result of a growing acceptance by the general public and they show that they’re not just for coffee geeks.

We worked closely with the organisers to help them make the best use of the space, send out the right messages and to ultimately, get the biggest amount of visitors. As TOMA CAFÉ, we were super happy with the results. It was a really nice event and it helped us to connect with others from the coffee industry.

We got to know other smaller roasters and it was great to give smaller brands a podium to promote their products.”

TC: “Let’s talk about the Guatemalan coffee from Finca La Bolsa, which we will now be featuring in our Coffeevine box instead of the original Costa Rican coffee that we picked but that was no longer available in the end. What made this coffee stand out to you? What are its most important characteristics?”

JMJ: “This is a new Finca for us. We only started working with them very recently after receiving some samples from them around 2 – 3 months ago. Generally speaking, we put a lot of focus on Central and South America because the quality of the coffees is really, really good and this is reflected in the cup.

Obviously we can measure this by the popularity of the coffee amongst our customers, not just us as coffee professionals. In this case, this coffee has a very minimal anaerobic fermentation without the classic anaerobic flavour notes that can sometimes be a bit overwhelming.

This coffee is super sweet with notes of chocolate and malt. It’s really clean and tastes amazing as both filter and espresso.”

TC: “It’s definitely a classic coffee from Huehuetenango, which is a region that I really like. It’s got a bit of fruity juiciness with a hint of exotic fruit. I’m super excited to be sharing this coffee in our forthcoming February box and I look forward to visiting Madrid again soon. Thank you for joining me here today!”

Are you keen to try some outstanding coffee from TOMA CAFÉ alongside exquisite picks from Neighbourhood Coffee and Rozali? Then be sure to visit our shop to choose your ideal February 2023 Coffeevine box.

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