Coutume Instituutti in Paris’s Latin Quarter was packed last Wednesday morning. The upstairs cafe hummed with several different languages as coffee professionals from around the world chatted over espresso from Rocket Bean Roastery (Riga) and filter brew from Five Elephant (Berlin). Despite the tragic events that unfolded in Paris during the night of November 13th, the Barista Guild of Europe and its partners, Frogfight and Tamper Tantrum, decided to carry on with CoLab:Paris, a 3-day series of educational workshops and activities held in the French capital’s specialty coffee locations.
“The first question was, is everybody safe?” Jenn Rugolo told me as we chatted during the second coffee break of the morning (she’s the Managing Director at Tamper Tantrum, based in Dublin). “Once that question was out of the way, the next was, what do we do? We decided to let the community lead. If they needed time to deal with personal things, we would respect that.” Within hours, David Flynn of local host Frogfight got in touch. “He said, ‘We want to do this,’” said Rugolo.
Wednesday’s lineup of speakers and roundtables drew a healthy crowd, despite some cancellations. BGE was happy with the nearly 50-50 split of local and international baristas in attendance. Out of the 100 tickets sold, only a handful of refund requests came in following the events of November 13th. “Quite a few people who elected not to come didn’t ask for a refund out of support for the community,” Rugolo told me.
Katie Carguilo of Counter Culture Coffee, a United States Barista Champion who travelled from California to attend and speak at CoLab:Paris, echoed this sentiment: “For me, it was always, if the event was happening, I would come. It was important for me to show up and be a part of it.”
By 10am, Coutume Instituutti’s lower-level conference room was packed for Norwegian roaster Tim Wendelboe’s presentation about Finca El Suelo, his coffee farm in Colombia. It was clear from his talk and the following roundtable with Stéphane Cataldi of Caffè Cataldi and Patrik Rolf Karlsson of Five Elephant, that quality relationships with coffee producers need to be a priority for specialty coffee professionals. “I hope that more baristas and roasters get interested in farming, in origin and farmers, and understanding their problems,” Wendelboe told me during the lunch break. “Without the farmers, we don’t have anything to serve.”
The three morning speakers were all roasters, but with very different backgrounds. “We have a really diverse group of speakers this time,” Rugolo tells me, “and we’re really excited about that.” Stéphane Cataldi, a micro-roaster based in Brittany, shared his story of starting out over ten years ago, when specialty coffee was virtually unheard of in France. “For 8 years, I roasted beans in my kitchen with an air roaster, a Hottop,” he said, which set the audience laughing. Cataldi does most of his business online, but earlier this year he opened Hexagone cafe in Paris in partnership with David Lahoz, Sébastien Racineux, and Chung-Leng Tran.
Berlin-based, self-described “young” roaster Patrik Rolf Karlsson followed Cataldi with a passionate talk about roasting for competition, emphasizing a data-driven approach to roasting and brewing that he feels many coffee professionals still lack. His final line hung in silence a moment before the crowd applauded: “Some of us are not testing enough because some of us are already done—there’s no way in hell we’re done.”
Karlsson’s message that there is no perfect coffee, only “a perfect combination,” could have been a teaser for Carguilo’s afternoon presentation. “The title of my talk is ‘Quality is a moving target.’ I’m talking about the complexity and frustration of dealing with coffee topics because it seems our understanding is always changing and the goal is always changing,” she told the crowd.
For an event that felt as emotionally charged as this one, I left with a deeper awareness of just how exciting the moment is right now for progressive, quality-focused coffee culture, here in Paris and across Europe. Jenn Rugolo echoed that excitement in describing to me the immense growth she’s seen in the Paris coffee scene since 2012. “When putting together the map [of specialty cafes in Paris], we asked our hosts to give their top ten specialty cafes. When we got them, the lists had 18 to 20 places and there wasn’t always crossover. Before, I could list the specialty cafes on one hand,” she said. “We’re happy to be able to help facilitate the coming together of the growing coffee community, and this is even more special in light of recent events.”