Tucked under a portico off a buzzing Athenian boulevard, Taf Coffee has an influence that stretches far beyond Greece.
The small specialty coffee shop has grown from a family business into an international force, partnering with independent cafes around the world. Here in Athens, the cozy, open-concept bar puts the barista at the center, with La Marzocco and Anfim grinders on full display.
In the back, beyond the wraparound seating, is a well-stocked wall lined with packs of Taf roasts. The company sources beans from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and beyond—dealing directly with the farmers themselves to promote quality coffee that is produced using sustainable practices.
Taf owner Yiannis Taloumis is committed to coffee from farm to cup. He has won the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe Coffee Excellence Innovation Award (in 2011), as well as the SCAE’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2014). Taloumis sees Taf as a coffee brand that is in constant evolution. From Athens, Taloumis spoke with us about Taf’s history, the changing Greek coffee scene, and his dedication to the company’s direct-relationship program.
What drew you to coffee?
I found myself in coffee due to the fact that Taf is a family business that started with traditional Greek coffee. The business started at the beginning of the 1990s, importing and roasting traditional Greek coffee. Through the years, I started to look at coffee from a different perspective, and I found my idea of coffee started to change. From there, Taf evolved and made a multi-level transition from the traditional Greek coffee to the more specialized high-quality coffee that we are now known for.
So, Taf began as a family business—how do you find working with your brothers and cousins? [Our] collaboration is easygoing, and everyone has a different role. Everyone shares their thoughts, and in the end, we find common ground.
Why Athens? Have you witnessed the coffee community changing in the city?
Taf was a pioneer in creating a new coffee scene not only in Athens but all over Greece. When [our] coffee shop first opened in 2009, it brought new perspectives to a small group of people in Greece. This group started to see coffee a lot differently—to see [it] the way we did, too. We are really happy to have started what I used to call the “new wave of coffee” in Athens.
Where do you see Taf fitting into the spectrum of specialty coffee today?
With every coffee, we are trying to move a step forward. We are looking for eccentric coffees. Taf wants to constantly evolve and to go beyond what has been already achieved, so we could say that Taf is something like an explorer.
Why did you start the Taf direct-relationship program?
The direct-relationship program includes exceptional and important (to me) coffee farms from Central and South America, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. I visit each farm every one or two years during their most crucial period—the harvest. The Taf direct-relationship program is based on both high-quality interactions and relationships with the producers. To trace the quality, you have to be on the farm, where the coffee grows. You have to see the coffee in its origin in order to know what it will become.
What type of machinery do you use in the shop?
Coffee must be used properly to ensure the results are exceptional. La Marzocco and Anfim are the main machinery we use because they highlight a great result. They are synonymous with expertise and consistency.
Has this attention to detail paid off?
We recently won third place in a Best Espresso international competition in Taiwan with our single-estate Finca Kilimanjaro from El Salvador. But our team [itself] is clearly the most important factor in the customers’ experience. For example, Stefanos Domatiotis is a champion of multiple competitions worldwide, and Stefanos Paterakis has won first place in the Hellenic Barista Championship in 2016. Last year, Konstantinos Iatridis placed second at the World Brewers Cup.
Fantastic! And for people who cannot make it to Athens—where is Taf coffee sold?
Apart from Athens, Berlin, Vienna, London, and Chicago, where we work with independent coffee shops on a regular basis, we also work with coffee shops around the world periodically, as guest roasters. You can also purchase beans from our e-shop.
What is one thing you wish people knew about your coffee?
I would like people to get to know the journey of the coffee. To experience the unique taste profiles that are created, and know all the effort and the hard work that the people of Taf (from our network of producers to our in-house Taf team) do in order to keep it in top quality!
Coffee is a product that we have to give more time and thought to when it is consumed. We have to look at it from every aspect, we have to pursue it, as we do with every gastronomic product. Coffee is about aroma and flavors, not just about caffeine.
Natalie Kennedy is a California-born, Italian-based travel writer and the publisher of An American In Rome. Read more Natalie Kennedy on Sprudge.