How many of us have left our home countries behind for love? Love, the 5th element that is one of the most important things in life and still remains a fleeting concept. Hard to grasp and yet powerful.
I’ve met so many people who work in specialty coffee who settled in a foreign land because of love. Like my friend Andrew Taua’i from Samoa who now runs a lovely coffee shop in Helsinki or Josh Cotton from England who moved to Amsterdam for love and runs Uncommon, one of the city’s finest cafés and roasters, together with his partner Clay Tobin who moved from Australia to Amsterdam for love.
David Rozali, founder of Rozali Coffee in Berlin is shares their story too. The Indonesian coffee professional who first learned the tricks of the coffee trade in Australia, later moved to Germany where he settled with his now German wife. Rozali is a roastery that I’ve had my eye on for some time and I’m glad that David is finally making his Coffeevine debut in our forthcoming February 2023 Coffeevine box with a super exquisite Ethiopian coffee from Yaye.
Just the other day, I caught up with David over video call to chat about traditional Indonesian coffee culture, working for The Barn and his ambition of focusing mainly on the highest grade specialty coffees.
THE COFFEEVINE (TC): “Hi David. Tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you come, from where did you go?”
David Rozali (DR): “I was born and grew up in Indonesia where my parents still live. At age 17, I moved to Australia to study and work.”
TC: “Wow. That’s young! Hey, so I have a question for you. I am half Mexican myself and when I go back to Mexico I always seek out specialty coffee so I don’t know what it’s like when you grow up in a coffee producing country but can you tell me what sort of coffee you drank while living in Indonesia?”
DR: “So our normal coffee is locally grown. That’s what you start with. When you have a bit of money though and you want to upscale, you drink Nescafé.”
TC: “Seriously? Locally grown coffee is worse than Nescafé? I am shook!”
DR: “How it works is you buy green beans and then you fry them at home. I remember my grandma “roasting” coffee in a large wok outside our home. You just keep on stirring the coffee until it cracks and when it’s crunchy, it’s ready to brew. The preparation is a bit like Turkish coffee. You pound the beans in a pestle and mortar, add lots of sugar and then you let it steep. It’s almost like when you’re cupping and you let the residue sink to the bottom.”
TC: “Sounds kinda fun. Wok-roasted coffee! OK, let’s go back to your time in Australia. Is that where you discovered specialty coffee and if so how?”
DR: “I worked in a café while I was studying to earn some extra cash and it was then that I realised just how much coffee connects people. I really loved that. I also discovered how each coffee tastes completely different depending on the origin or the blends. Things got a bit geeky at some point when we started making mathematical models for measuring extraction. Later I learned how to roast and even got my Q Grader certification.”
TC: “And what were you studying exactly?”
DR: “Tax accountancy. I have a thing for numbers really.”
TC: “I see! Numbers don’t lie, that’s for sure. So what brought you to Germany?”
DR: “My girlfriend at the time was German. We’re married now. We were faced with the decision that either she moved to Australia or I moved to Germany. I didn’t want to move around much any more so we decided to try Germany. The first six months, I lived in Leipzig, learning German before moving to Berlin where I got a job as head roaster at The Barn.”
TC: “In a blog post you mentioned that one of the main things that you experienced working in Germany was the difference in customer interaction compared with Australia. I mean, that’s nothing really shocking per se. Germany has always had a bit of a reputation for not exactly being the most customer service oriented place but I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the two scenes, Sydney and Berlin, differ?”
DR: “One of the biggest differences is the coffee drinking culture. Australia is very much a takeaway country. Coffee shops open at 6 am and it’s full steam ahead right from the moment you open your doors. If you’re based in the business districts, you often get single orders with 10-15 different beverages for people in nearby buildings. The cafés have huge volumes. One that I worked at got through 20kg in a single day. That’s mental!
“I want to create a premium brand, for sure. This means sourcing super premium and more experimental lots.”
When I moved to Berlin I initially thought ‘gosh how boring, this is nothing compared to Sydney’ but then I realised that people in Germany love to drink their coffee at home or they sit down in a café to catch up with friends. Germans buy way more beans to prepare at home. And yes, at first I thought German people were a bit rude but then I understood that communication here is different and just because someone doesn’t give a you a huge smile, it doesn’t mean that they’re being unfriendly. It’s just a bit colder.”
TC: “Being half German myself, I can definitely relate to this. At the same time, I think that this huge influx of foreigners who run cafés, restaurants, bars and such has had a very positive impact on German culture. People are much more used to being welcomed with a smile now and ‘hey, how’re ya going’ than before. People can have little chats and they become friends with the baristas.”
DR: “Yeah, there is very little chit chat going on in Australia. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Sydney scene but there’s a place called Campos where the roles are clearly defined. The hosts interact with the customers while the baristas focus on producing perfect espresso shots and meticulously poured latte art every single time. They do this to ensure the baristas don’t get distracted.
In Australia, being a barista is much more of a career than it is in Germany, I think. It’s a super competitive industry that pays way better than here but it’s also a lot more demanding. Of course, you also have part-timers there but generally, the skills required to be a good barista are much higher and that, by default, excludes many people like students who just want to earn some extra cash.”
TC: “Germany is definitely very much a filter coffee country and most people make filter coffee at home, which was a useful basis to have during the pandemic when everyone was stuck at home. People just needed to upgrade the quality of the coffee they were drinking. Now, tell me a bit about your experience of setting up a roastery. Did you do this during the pandemic?”
DR: “After leaving The Barn, I planned to move back to Leipzig to open my café and roastery. It was going to be financed through KfW, a small business fund, and a local bank, and we even had the location but then the pandemic hit and everything fell through. I thought, OK, now there is no money for such an ambitious project so what should I do instead? I tried to raise money by emailing friends and family and I managed to collect about €8.000 – 10.000 to buy green beans and get the business off the ground.
Initially, I was roasting at The Visit but recently I moved out to Spandau to a different roasting company. I keep my business lean and mean and don’t have many overheads like a physical space or a roaster.”
TC: “What does Rozali mean? I know it’s your surname but does it have any special meaning?”
DR: “Not really. It’s just my dad’s name.”
TC: “It sounds really beautiful, like the name of a flower. So your dad is called Rozali Rozali?”
DR: “Nope. Just Rozali. He grew up on a coffee farm in Sumatra, something I only recently learned actually. And there, people usually only have one name. I chose this name to continue the coffee legacy that runs through the family.”
TC: “What kind of coffees do you personally love to work with? The two coffees you sent me were very outspoken. One of them was even a bit too out there in my opinion, ha ha. Not your everyday kind of coffee. The Ethiopian coffee from Yale, on the other hand, was incredible. Super floral and delicate like an Earl Grey tea. Obviously, we picked that one for the Coffeevine box.”
DR: “Honestly, I like everything. Right now, I am really into naturals. I have a carbonic macerated coffee too but largely I am looking for super clean cups. It doesn’t matter if it’s washed or natural. I am curious about the terroir. I do really like washed Ethiopians but I find it hard to get really good ones.”
TC: “Oh really? I’ve had some incredible washed Ethiopians in my lifetime and they’re certainly the ones that most frequently make the cut for our boxes.”
DR: “Hm, maybe my expectations for washed Ethiopians are just a bit higher? With those coffees, the first thing I look for is floral notes. A few years ago, I had a washed Ethiopian coffee from Buki station and this was really the best I have found and it served as the benchmark. I also like Halo Beriti but the last crop was not as good as previous ones. The one from Yaye that you’re getting is from Testi Coffee whose other washed coffees sold out really fast.”
TC: “What is the next stage in the evolution of your business then? You mentioned you put the café plans on hold for the time being but what do you plan to do to further grow your business?”
DR: “Funnily enough, even last year I still had talks with some people to open a café here in Berlin but that also didn’t work out. Mainly because of the Ukraine war, everything got so much more expensive and I’m actually kinda glad it didn’t go ahead. For now, I just want to focus on growing the brand and then, I want to move into my own roasting facility and open a coffee shop later down the line.
E-commerce is quite hard and you really need to commit to it.”
TC: “I think that’s quite a wise move. I’ve said it many times before that spreading yourself too thinly is not a good thing. Many roasters who open cafés and vice versa have experienced that they are suddenly not doing a great job at either and that makes their businesses suffer. Especially, if you’re a one-man show, you have to be sure to do one thing really well.”
DR: “Definitely! For now, I am just building relationships with cafés in places like Krakow, Ireland, Berlin and even as far afield as China and Japan. Chinese customers are super demanding, by the way. If they don’t like something, they will tell you!”
TC: “Good to know! Now, looking at your place in the Berlin coffee scene, where do you fit in? Berlin is quite a competitive place with lots of great roasters and I’d love to know how Rozali differentiates itself from already established names?”
DR: “I want to create a premium brand, for sure. This means sourcing super premium and more experimental lots. You really get what you pay for. There are a lot of players at the medium to lower end of the spectrum and that’s great because they often offer crowdpleaser coffees. I also have one of those, a good Brazil, but most of the portfolio is now high end. I want people to think of Rozali as a real premium coffee roastery. And we don’t have huge volumes, you know? That’s fine.”
TC: “That sounds like a smart plan. I know that more and more small scale roasters are focusing entirely on super limited micro lots like the ones that we feature in our GEMS boxes and for them, that’s more enjoyable than roasting tons of crowd-pleasing coffees. Not that that’s not a very important job in specialty coffee, but there has to also be room for small players to showcase the most exotic and expensive coffees that can be found.”
DR: “For sure. By keeping my business lean and agile, I can do that. I work with lots of amazing people here at the roastery and in return for letting me use their equipment, I also help them with various tasks. For me, it’s a complete experience from the packaging to the coffee. It has to be super premium.”
TC: “Right on. In closing, let’s go back to the coffee that you will be roasting for us. It’s a ‘special preparation’ natural coffee from Yaye in Sidamo. What made this coffee stand out to you?”
DR: “Yaye on the cupping table is super clean. I cupped a lot of peach, florals and black tea. I really loved this coffee and it’s a great representative of Ethiopian coffees. Also with regards to the green, it had hardly any defects, which is testament to the great work being done by the people at origin.”
TC: “Brilliant. Thank you David!”
Are you keen to try this outstanding coffee from Rozali alongside exquisite picks from TOMA CAFÉ and Neighbourhood Coffee? Then be sure to visit our shop to choose your ideal February 2023 Coffeevine box.