Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan (and its former capital), is said to be the ancestral home of apples. Today the city is less about the fruit and much more about its many gardens and iconic fountains, as well as its status as the economic powerhouse of Central Asia. Almaty’s location—in the foothills of the ancient Mount Imeon range (also called Trans-Ili Alatau)—means the city is mostly either beastly hot or practically frozen. Of course, in such extremes, coffee is most essential for cooling and heating its citizens—call it relief and comfort, if you will.
D.O.M. (which comes from the Russian translation and means “home”) officially opened in April of this year. But it has been in the works for the past five years in a country that, for the most part, had never heard of specialty coffee and eagerly celebrated its first Starbucks opening in 2015.
Over that handful of years Mantas Sapoka, owner of D.O.M. and a native Lithuanian, was getting established in Kazakhstan after relocating there with his wife, a native of the country. D.O.M. is the result of his well-timed reunion with an old Lithuanian friend: Mindaugas Ryškus, former owner of StrangeLove, a cafe/restaurant in Vilnius.
“I met Mantas in Vilnius five years ago. He came to the cafe where I worked and we started to talk about coffee—he was super interested and excited about my coffee stories,” says Ryškus, who never sits still and, enviably, just keeps traveling the world learning about coffee. “He helped me to find a new job as barista trainer and salesman, and it was a big step in my career, so [in return] I trained and educated him about coffee,” Ryškus continues. “As soon as he finished up the course he moved to Kazakhstan, [and eventually] became La Marzocco’s official dealer there.”
So last year when Sapoka invited Ryškus to visit and help build his coffee business in Almaty, Ryškus left StrangeLove behind with a wink and a wave to go and assist.
“The coffee market for specialty products is quite difficult here, because customers are used to drinking dark-roasted commercial blends of Arabica and Robusta,” says Sapoka. “People expect coffee to be very bitter and dark, and most of them prefer to have it with milk. People didn’t know any of the coffees we bring from European suppliers like Nordic Approach, Cafe Imports, etc.” Winning Almaty over to specialty coffee was going to be a challenge.
Starting with the right machines was important, of course. “We roast our imports on our shiny Probatone 5, we pull espresso shots on a La Marzocco Strada EE, and we also have the first brew bar in Almaty,” declares Sapoka. “At D.O.M. you can now choose from several brewing methods—AeroPress, V60, Chemex, siphon, French press and even cold drip. And lately we have expanded into alcohol-coffee cocktail classics like Irish coffee, and espresso Negroni or an espresso martini.”
Drinks like that seem like an easy sell, but D.O.M. is making progress on the coffee front too. “Some [customers who] came and drank our coffee for the first time [said] that they had never drank coffee without sugar before, and they really loved [ours],” Sapoka says, smiling. “This was for us, the biggest compliment possible! It meant that we were making a real difference here.”
But, he adds, customers still want lots of explanations and to hear stories about specialty coffee trends. Says Ryškus: “The mission at D.O.M. is to prepare coffee warriors”—don’t worry, he means baristas—”and bring the right attitude to [Almaty’s] coffee culture.” For Ryškus, the mission is complete—he’s already moved on to Spain, where his next amazing project is underway. But the good work in Almaty continues. “I do believe we have set a new coffee standard and that interest will keep booming,” says Sapoka. He moved to Kazakhstan for love and gives some of that love back in every cup.
Daniel Scheffler is a Sprudge staff writer at large. His work has appeared in T Magazine, Travel And Leisure, Monocle, Playboy, New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Butt. Read more Daniel Scheffler on Sprudge.