Located between the affluent neighborhood of Leblon and the beautiful Arpoador rock, Ipanema is at the heart of the South Zone in Rio de Janeiro. You’ve probably heard the famous song—but there’s more to Ipanema than tall and tan girls. The beach of Ipanema is divided into segments (postos) that are also the lifeguard tower numbers. Posto 9, for instance, was the go-to spot for the alternative, hippie, and gay crowd back in the 1980s. Until recently, Posto 10 was famous for its compulsive gymgoers and sunbathers obsessed with showing off their muscles. Today, thanks to Rio’s pluralism, Ipanema is quite diversified throughout its postos (yet without getting as tumultuous as neighboring Copacabana). Ipanema is also known for its numerous delicious juice bars, pay-by-the-weight restaurants, and fashion stores. And the coffee, you ask? Well, not so much.
Enter Kraft Café, a small Australian-inspired spot just a block from Posto 10. Owner Duncan Hay, an Australian expatriate, and his wife, Priscila, opened Kraft after Hay got laid off by an oil company in Brazil. Since they both loved to cook and have friends over, they decided they would do that for a living. So during a trip to his homeland, Hay corraled his friend Nick Raven, owner of Ravens Coffee, to talk about the tricks of specialty coffee roasting. Hay quickly realized he didn’t have to deal with the logistical challenges of shipping the beans from the interior of Minas Gerais all the way to Denmark, Western Australia (the home of Ravens Coffee). Back in Brazil, he was around 300 kilometers from that farm. The coffee component of the Hays’ new startup became clearer when Duncan’s sister, who lives in the US, sent him an article on the growing influence of Australian coffee culture in New York City. So the couple decided they would try something that didn’t yet exist in Rio: a cafe that served crafted coffee beverages and brunch-like food options all day long.
Kraft’s roasting spot is in Cosme Velho, also in Rio’s South Zone. This site, where Duncan roasts and cooks, can only be described as a beautiful old house at the feet of Corcovado Mountain. If you stretch your sight up the tree-covered slope, you could even spot the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. Far beyond the noise, hearing only the songs of the birds around us, this place did not feel like Rio at all.
We open beer cans—after all, he says, it’s Friday—and start chatting about roasting. “If I’m going to do it,” says Hay, “I’m going to do it properly. The beans I am sourcing come from many regions in Brazil, but once I roast them, it’s me—it’s me on that bean.” He wasted many pounds of specialty coffee early on while getting to know the craft and finding his sweet spot. He is constantly in experimental phase, making sure each roast is to his own quality standards before he puts the beans out for sale. Their La Marzocco GB5, which arrived three months before the cafe was able to actually open its doors (thanks to Brazilian bureaucracy and some unscrupulous service providers slowing things), went instead to the roasting home. Hay used that time to master the handling of the machine, with the help of his friend Jason Lee, a New Zealander and a seasoned barista.
I ask what he is most proud of serving at Kraft. Of course, he says the coffee, but he is not serving light-roasted nano-lots. Hay’s goal is achieving a roast that offers what Brazilians usually expect from an espresso: chocolate and almond notes, with a bit of acidity and without hurting the beans by overroasting. “When you work with specialty beans, it’s not difficult to [do],” he says modestly.
Another singular menu item is the flat white—Kraft is the only place serving it in Rio. What’s more, there is actually some mystery around the milk Kraft uses. I asked, but Hay refused to tell me the label. In fact, there’s no label—I spotted baristas getting it from a clear glass bottle. It’s indeed special, fresh milk; I’d risk saying there is no other cafe in the city using fresh whole milk in their beverages. The general mandate in Brazil seems to be that every cafe in the country uses UHT milk bottles. With a laugh, Hay says that what Brazilians drink as cappuccino—overfoamed milk, bitter espressos with cinnamon and cocoa powder—should be forbidden. I sort of agree.
Beyond the coffee, Kraft’s nutritional juices and food have gotten raves. Priscila prepares and sources the health food offerings, the artisanal bread, and the juice menu; the cafe’s Glow juice—kale, pineapple, coconut water, spirulina, and avocado—is a hit, and in general the artisanal and ethnically oriented treats do well in this area of Rio, which is heavily visited by foreigners. The expat community has embraced Kraft (Duncan mentions Fabrizio Moretti, the Brazilian-American drummer of the Strokes, became a regular when visiting Rio), but neighbors who are going to or from the beach are also trying it out—and approving! So now, the next time you are in Ipanema, you know there is a place to get good coffee.
Juliana Ganan is a Brazilian coffee professional and journalist. Read more Juliana Ganan on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy of Cicero Rodrigues.