Bocca. Menno Simons' mission to change the way we drink coffee.
Quite frequently I happen to visit one of the many shared offices the city of Amsterdam offers. I usually go to Spaces on the Vijzelstraat. One of the reasons why I prefer Spaces is their friendly baristas serving great cappuccino, from a brand called Bocca. In my favourite hangout, the Lobby, Bocca is served as well. Without really realising it, in less than one year Bocca became my preferred brand. So this made me curious. This is a story about Bocca Coffee and its founder, Menno Simons.
Bocca started twenty years ago with Menno visiting Ethiopia. He had been a trader in sesame seeds and by coincidence he stumbled upon local farmers growing coffee beans. Fast forward twenty year and Simons and his team now operate two coffee companies. Trabocca, the trading company and Bocca, the coffee brand.
Trabocca has grown into a very successful international trading company, selling over 6 millions kilos of non roasted coffee beans annually to roasters around the globe. They trade not just regular beans, but many specialty and organic varieties. Trabocca buys beans in all major coffee producing countries from local farmers, with a focus on Ethiopia. The team isn't just trading, part of the concept is also to invest a lot of time and money into educating farmers. They've trained the farmers to implement organic farming. With new ways of working on harvesting, fermenting, composting etc. Moreover, farmers get a better price, sometimes even 30 to 50% higher than what they were used to in present trading systems. Nowadays prices of coffee beans are at an all time low, but the price of a cappuccino in your local coffee bar has increased over the years. Obviously somebody is making a lot of money. But definitely not the farmers.
In Kenya, Simons visited the Nyeri area a few years ago, close to Mount Kenya. As in many other countries coffee farmers were being forced to sell beans for very low prices to large corporate traders and cooperations. Some farmers even stopped producing coffee and were already in the process of uprooting trees. Trabocca explained to them that the local variety was unique and that they could sell for a much better price by skipping the middleman. This sounded like an easy deal, but it was not. The local Kenyan market was infested with corruption and illegal practices, gangs tried to block farmers leaving the cooperations. Eventually Trabocca won the hearts and minds of the farmers. Trabocca's relation with them is one of the key drivers of the success of the company.
Trading coffee to roasting companies around the globe is just part of the picture. Simons beliefs that a perfectly good coffee bean, harvested by a local farmer with much love and care, doesn't make a great cup of coffee by default. Both the roasting process at the one hand and the handling and processing by a barista are vital steps into serving great coffee to consumers. So not long after Simons started Trabocca he kicked off with Bocca: the coffee brand. Bocca sells coffee wholesale to restaurants and offices. Just a very small part is sold to retail, never via mass market formats. Consumers can buy via Bocca's own e-com platform. Roasting is being done with three different machines, operated out of Dronten in the Netherlands.
Bocca developed a training facility in Amsterdam. Baristas are trained using grinders, with different grinders for different beans. They learn that 30 seconds after grinding coffee should be made. Also that beans are best fifteen days after being roasting. Bocca is a true vertical integrated operation: they know exactly which farmer produced which specific bean, they are aware of all the specs on the farm and Bocca operates the roasting process.
The big challenge is to educate the consumer and barista. Bocca believes that great coffee actually has comparable story telling, learnings and lingo like wine. Many consumers understand the differences between grape varieties, like Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Other attributes like ideal serving temperature and the small taste variations between wine producing chateaux and regions are important. In a good restaurant a sommelier can talk about wine with candour and passion. That is exactly Bocca's mission: to educate both consumers and baristas that coffee's realm is comparable to wine and grapes. That beans from the Ethiopian Guji region differ from the Marcala region in Honduras. An espresso brew is totally different from a filter brew. Bocca even educates on the number of milligrams per shot weight, the number of seconds extraction time, the temperature for filter coffee etc. When it comes down to coffee at the end of a great meal, ideally a barista should be coming to your table to discuss the different options best suited for you.
Bocca trains baristas and organises workshops in the beautiful Bocca Coffee Bar on Kerkstraat 96 in Amsterdam. It's a relaxed place in a packed part of the city center, the feel is laid down, the design light and modern. As a consumer you can enjoy a great cappuccino or any other cup of coffee you would like. The bar has a retail operation as well. You can buy many different coffee beans: 7 different blends year round, and 3 specialty variants in-out. Bocca sells also coffee machinery and accessoires.
It is important for every market that people are pushing innovation. Menno Simons is exactly doing this with Bocca. His aim to change the way we perceive and drink coffee is getting traction. He's not just focussing on either supply or demand, but he starts with the farmers, by educating them and giving them ownership, offering a better price, and from there on controlling every step towards the consumer. The company aims to add value to the whole coffee chain and wants to make quality coffee more accessible. Next time you order a coffee, either in your (shared) office or in a restaurant, ask for Bocca.
Bocca Coffee Bar, Kerkstraat 96H, 1017 GP Amsterdam
photo credits René Repko and Trabocca