We met Edgard soon after his finished his speech at Coffee Island’s event and his cordial embrace, kissing us on both cheeks, reminded us of the warm, characteristic Brazilian welcome.
We quickly proceeded to the loft of the GazARTE, where Edgard joked about being “too old to climb the stairs with such speed”. He was very enthusiastic about being in Greece and so we talked about everything, from his impression on Coffee Island’s core consumers to the exact moment that Greece moved him the most.
You are part of a family with a very big tradition in the coffee industry and we are curious to ask if “filling their shoes” was really your choice or a need to take on the family business.
It was certainly my choice. I studied to become a lawyer and then I studied to be a diplomat. So when I was invited to run the Brazilian Coffee Program for the Ministry of Agriculture, I gave up the diplomatic career. That’s when I became involved in the international marketing of the promotional specialty coffees as well as all barista competitions in Brazil and all the exhibitions oversees. We were platinum sponsors of the BBC network and we organized a group of roasters to visit Britain’s production regions. I also organized the very successful “Cup of excellence” as well as visits from other farmers to learn about our roasters. As a lawyer, I was appointed at the international relations council for the Specialty Coffee Association of America and, then, I joined several international coffee committees. I think I was very lucky in my career, having the chance to be exposed to a lot of good things. So, from then on, there was no way I was going to leave that.
So you’ve been into coffee industry your whole life…
Yeah! And the thing is I am also very curious. So, the production part was not enough. I wanted to learn more about roasting, so I went to America so I could learn to roast. Then, I became a Q grader. I didn’t need to be a Q grader but I feel it is important for me because when I talk to my clients I need to know what I am talking about with all the proper arguments. Otherwise, it feels like rocket science. So we train in all aspects of the industry like how to be a barista and such. I also think it’s important for us to open up doors to people. That’s why I created the international training program. Because I think we always learn and if I am hosting the program then I am learning too. And people are also learning a different culture, a different way of doing things. And that is very important!
What would you say is the best part of working in coffee industry?
I like everything! I love the marketing side of the business and I see how important this is for Coffee Island. It makes all the difference. You can be a very good farm, producing excellent coffee blends, but if you don’t tell that story the right way, how can you succeed? You know, It’s hard to find the gems, if they are not exposed to the light. So I think this is very important to us and for the coffee world.
What was your first impression when you first met people from Coffee Island?
The first person I met was Alex and he was such a gentleman. We started talking and immediately connected. Then we visited a coffee shop with Konstantinos. From then on, we started discussing more and more and the relationship took off. Nowadays, after three years it’s a very close relationship. Sometimes, I am doing something here (at the farm) that it’s so nice for him to advertise. So we try to create this channel, we send picture and videos that they can use. Or maybe they need to post a picture on the papers from cherries so we try to make a difference and be a real coffee solution provider for our clients. I try to select the right people for the job. So I prefer to work with people that are reliable, that I trust. If you are not sure about selling to this person or not, something is wrong. I look and I “study” people a lot! I analyze the behavior because it has to be a win-win situation. We have to trust each other.
You made very clear at your speech that you focus a lot on the correct shipping process for your product. Why is this so important to you?
We have to gradually test the seed so we start from the selection of the seed that we are going to blend. For example, now we are testing a specific seed which is too small. Maybe that seed will produce coffees but they won’t be outstanding, they won’t blend. We are looking for cup quality so we aim for excellent taste in every cup. It’s not only a matter of having a good selection of seeds but having a variety that really behaves well in terms of profile. So, we control every part from blending and nutrients to dry harvesting. You have to make sure every step in well planned and executed. And we have to find people that have a good reputation because we have a limited production. Thirty thousand bags, it’s not a huge amount. There are farms doing two hundred and fifty. We are still small compared to those people but we always think quality first and then try to find the right people to sell. I am not saying that Brazil only has giant farms. The farms are mainly small. We are the biggest farm in our region but not the biggest one in Brazil. We will always be devoted to quality over quantity.
What do you think about Greek Coffee Consumers?
I am going to spend a week here so I am going to visit different coffee shops, try different styles of coffee. I want to know as many Coffee Island shops as I can. Atmosphere and good vibes are very important to connect. Equally important is having an event like this, showing numbers and showing how you work in comparison to the competitors. I was impressed to see that people were happy to be here today. It’s important for them to show how successful they are. Sometimes you focus only on your sales but when you see the bigger picture that’s when you really understand what is happening. it’s really reflecting on you because the more shops you have the more exposed you are. And the more you sell the more “visible” you become. To summarise, selling is a process, from selecting the franchisee to selecting a good barista. And If your customers feel comfortable, they will come back again and again.
What’s your favorite coffee? What would you like to have when you wake up?
I usually wake up and prepare two cappuccinos. I turn the machine on, prepare two cups and hope nobody comes, so I don’t have to share! Or, if I’m in the mood, I prepare a V60 for myself, but all this at seven in the morning. At 7.30 am, somebody will always arrive at the office and start preparing a V60. But you should know, I love filter coffee much more than espresso. I like espresso, I drink maybe three espressos per day, no more than that. But after that, it’s hot Chemex coffee, Hario, Aeropress…I can drink all day long, so I have more than 10 coffees a day, never less. I think I need to increase my coffee consumption (laughs). With this amount of coffee, you’d expect I’d feel a bit “hyper”, but I’m actually used to it! I am also always cupping with visitors, not every day of course, but when I have visitors I am always cupping with them.
What’s next with Coffee Island? How do you foresee their future?
I see a future of a global Coffee Island. I think it’s fashionable, nice and elegant. A perfect fit in any country. Coffee Island gives out a good impression, so in the future I see them expanding and going global. I imagine them opening shops in other countries in Europe, in Korea and Japan. For sure, they have to adapt to the country they go to, the labor costs as well as the cost of the materials will be different. But they are doing a good job and it’s efficient. What surprises me is that it’s a young company filled with young people and that’s nice, very nice. Young people have a vision and that’s good because sometimes people get too old and stop paying attention. The stories are also very important. James Nass, one of the speakers in this seminar, quoted Umberto Eco in his speech by saying “to survive you must tell stories”. Let people know and motivate them. You have to have your own story and tell that story well. Even with this global economic crisis, businesses like Coffee Island can achieve a lot because of their quality. Coffee is something we need to have on a daily basis. We may not often eat out at a restaurant but we are going to have a cup of coffee no matter what. It’s an affordable luxury. And that presents a good opportunity for us.
What’s the most memorable moment you have from Greece?
When I visited Greece the first time, I wanted to go to the Acropolis but we didn’t have the time. So, we had dinner at a restaurant by the Acropolis and we were sitting at a roof top. But when I looked over to the side, the lights of the Acropolis went on and I literally… cried. It gave me such a good vibe, such a good feeling of the past, of the importance of history. Now they’ve promised to take me there tomorrow! So, every time I am in Athens, I become very emotional at the view of Acropolis.