From Bareclona to Berlin, Glasgow to Guangzhou, we are living in a golden age of coffee events. From speaker series to honorific award ceremonies to live podcast follies to consumer-focused nerd hangs, it’s never been a better time to get together with your fellow coffee lover and check out an event. Far from the stuffy trade shows and central command pageantry of yore, today’s new breed of coffee events are nimble, grassroots affairs, with a unique regional character and heaps of inspiration.
It’s a trend that shows no sign of slowing down, and one of the coolest of these new events happens each year in Vilniua, Lithuania at the Dark Times Coffee Conference. Besides having the undeniably coolest name of any coffee event in the world, this festival highlights some of the most interesting coffee work happening in Eastern Europe, and this year features speakers like author and Sprudge staff writer Anna Brones, Berlin coffee bon vivant and Cup Tasters Champion Cory Andreen, noted digital cultural historian Rimvydas Laužikas, experts from the fields of whisk(e)y and chocolate, a one-of-a-kind gourmet market, and much much more.
To learn more, Sprudge co-founder Jordan Michelman spoke digitally with festival organizer Emanuelis Ryklys, founder of leading Vilnius roaster / retailer Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories. Read more below, and enjoy this weekend’s truly dark event.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Hello Emanuelis Ryklys, and thank you for speaking with me. What is Dark Times? Tell us about the event for folks who are unfamiliar.
Emanuelis Ryklys: “Dark Times” coffee conference is dedicated to coffee culture, knowledge, and inspiration. This event is calling curious people. The ones who want to delve deeper into dark liquid, its history, present, and also future.
Why “Dark Times”? Where does the name come from?
The name “Dark Times” was created by my friend, copywriter, and storyteller Solveiga Masteikaitė. Four years ago when I decided to organize this kind of conference in Vilnius I wanted to have a name which would show that coffee can be less technical and more magical, and I think “Dark Times” name has this power.
What is your approach to selecting guest speakers? It’s not just “coffee people”—you have a professor of digital social science, and a chocolate master, for example. Why include these people?
In general I see coffee as a very diverse issue. You can speak about it from the typical technical side—grinders, roasting, brewing—and that is ok, but I think it is only a small part why people enjoy it everyday. It can be a complex food, a botanical question, part of culture and history, and a reason to meet. And so on.
In the first two years we really tried to show people that coffee is not as simple as everybody used to think. Coffee can inspire and connect very different people. That is why we started to organise “Dark Times”, and invite quite a diverse group of speakers. And every year we try to come up with special theme for the conference, and this theme suggest also our speakers. This year we want to talk about coffee as a gourmet food so that is why we invited a whiskey expert, a chocolate master, a real foodie and also a professor of digital social science. Actually, he is a big historical culinary expert and we asked him to find some old tasty coffee recipes. All these stories let you rethink your habits and I hope to fall more in love with your daily dark drink.
Tell us about the gourmet market part of your event—and we hear there is also an official restaurant?
The gourmet market will support the concept of coffee and food pairings. We know and work with most of the participants being featured, and all of them do something special, from local cheeses to guilty sweet cakes. Gaspar’s restaurant is a place where you can experience a fusion of different cultures. Chef Gaspar Fernandes has got a huge diversity of tastes, as he was born in Goa, with Portuguese grandparents, growing up and living in England, and now staying in Vilnius. We have previously organised a couple of coffee and dessert pairing events with the chef, so I know how open he is to complex world of coffee.
If you could have any guest in the world at the next Dark Times, who would it be and why?
I would love to invite David Lynch. He is so nicely obsessed with coffee and detective’s Dale Cooper character from “Twin Peaks” is a great example of his passion. I am sure he could share some original ideas about coffee.
What’s something most people don’t know about the coffee scene in Vilnius?
I do not think this is anything new for me to say, but for the last two years coffee culture in Vilnius has been really growing and lots of places started to care a lot about what they serve in their cups. I think it is also connected to the growing of food culture in Vilnius and Lithuania. And that means what you can enjoy not only good cup of coffee, but also find lots of great new food spots in town.
How much are tickets? Are they still available?
The tickets cost 30 euros and are still available here.
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy of Visvaldas Morkevicius, used with permission.
Event poster designed by Rokas Tarabilda and Dangiras Bugas, featuring original photography by Darius Petrulaitis Photography.