In the warmer summer months Praguers have started flocking to cafes, just as much as to beer gardens, enjoying a dark cup of joe, good company, and often pleasant street-side seating. Some cafes around the city have begun to offer much more sophisticated coffee choices that the traditional infamous Czech ‘Turek’ coffee or the misnamed ‘presso’. To find out how and what’s brewing in Prague these days, I went to visit Jaroslav Tuček at his small, but quite well-known, café in the Karlín district.
Jarda, a true coffee connoisseur, decided to introduce specialty coffee to Czechs about six years ago, and founded a direct-source coffee roastery with two friends. I decided to ask him not only about his own path to loving coffee, but also to show me how good coffee is made.
Since you are not only the owner of a café and a roastery, but also an expert barista, I wanted to ask about all the interesting ways of making coffee these days. But, before we get to that, I was wondering actually how you got to love coffee, you weren’t always a big coffee fan, were you?
“No, not really. Actually, ten years ago I didn’t even drink coffee. [laughs] Initially, I got into coffee while working in Monterey California. I was there on a work-and-travel program, and we found this kind of a ‘survival’ job in the Monterey aquarium. And basically I became a barista within a few days. They gave me a machine, an esperesso card and I made coffee. The coffee was terrible.
“But then I went to study in Vancouver and the only job I could do was on campus. So, I started working a local student café and that really got me interested in coffee. So, when I returned back to Prague, I applied for a job with the first specialty coffee roastery in the Czech Republic – La Boheme café. And then, progressively, I learnt more and more about coffee and became more interested.”
But you didn’t stop there. You went all the way to Latin America, as far as I understand. How did that come about and what did you do there?
“Actually, it was Central America, it was Panama. You know, you get to a point where it’s hard to learn more here, so the only way to do that was to travel abroad. So we decided to move to Panama with my girlfriend Kamila, to Boquete, which is like the center of specialty coffee nowadays. And we started working with this really strange guy named Graciano Cruz. He is an experimental famer; he has projects all over the world, teaching other farmers how to grow quality coffee.
“So we moved to Boquete, which is a small mountain village, in the western part of Panama. And we stayed with him, learned amazing stuff. Every day, we went to the farm and helped his guys to pick coffee, to process the coffee, and then he took us a few times to El Salvador, so we could see other different coffee farms, other traditional ways of working with coffee. So, this was a kind of a big moment for us, in our careers.”
And did you believe that other Czechs would share such an enthusiasm for coffee when you came back to Prague?
“We did. We knew that it was the right time to show people that there is something else than what they are used to drinking here in the Czech Republic. So, all year long, when we were in Central America, we were kind of planning how to start the business back home and how to introduce the specialty coffees here.”
“I think it was. I think people were ready, and they were eager to really try something different. And the stuff we started doing was different. Not only taste-wise, but we also started selling something that was really transparent, sold under the name of the producer, not just as a photogenic blend from Brazil, or from Colombia. So, I think it was quite different from the other products available on the market.”
So, maybe you could show us a bit of what you have in store today. What is this month’s special coffee?
“We usually offer three coffees for the whole month. And for this month we have Colombian coffee from a small farmer in San Agustin, it is in the south of Huila, the southernmost region of Colombia. And his name is Ramon Hoyos. This guy is really a small producer. We buy only a few hundred kilograms from him. And it is a Caturra variety, which is the most common variety of Arabica in Colombia nowadays. And it’s washed coffee.
“The second one we have is a fresh crop from Kenya and that’s a hybrid variety called SL28. It’s got kind of a weird name, but it was made in Scott Laboratories in the 1950’s and it is a specific Arabica variety used mostly, although not only, in Kenya. And it has this really traditional taste of black currant.
“And the last one is from Ethiopia. It is a fresh crop from a cooperative called Wote, and it’s in Yirgacheffe, which is the most famous terroir in Ethipia. So these are the three coffees we currently offer and we brew them on a device called Hario V60. It sounds strange, but it’s not. It’s a typical ceramic filter. It was created in the ‘20’s in Dresden. And the Japanese added a special design and brought it popularity. It’s one of the most popular coffee brewing devices in the world right now.
“It’s super simple. You just need a paper filter, and you need to grind you coffee fresh and use good hot water."
Before we begin making coffee, I wanted to ask about the farmers from whom you get the coffee. You know them quite well, because you source the coffee yourself. Do you get to actually visit all the farms from where you get your beans?
“We wish that it would be the case. In the future, I hope that we will have all of our coffee sourced directly from farmers we know personally. Currently, it’s about 70-80 percent of all of our coffees. For example, Ramon Hoyos’ farm in Colombia we visited about two years ago. We went to Ethiopia to visit Wote a year ago. And we haven’t been to Kenya yet, so that’s in the plan. This year we are planning to go to Brazil, to see our producer Marcos Croce. So, we’re trying, but we’re not a big company. Usually the big roasters have green bean buyers all over the world and they source all their coffee directly, which is the best thing you can do.”
So, let’s have some coffee!
[pours water over filter]
“Yes, this is quite an interesting device. It’s called Uber Boiler, and it is made by an Irish company called Marco. And these guys made this device so that you can set the temperature [of the water] by a tenth of a degree. You can used for teas and for coffee.
“It does make a difference. It’s also a nice looking device. It really helps the workflow. It has a digital scale, you set your temperature and you just go. You don’t have to think about anything else. But if you brew coffee at home, the easiest way is to bring the coffee to a boil and let it sit for one or two minutes, so that it comes down to about 93 or 94 degrees. Never use boiling water for coffee, it’s not black tea. And you can really taste the difference, in just a one-degree difference, easily.
“So, now we will grind the coffee.”
“It’s really good also to have a scale at home, so you can weigh you beans and also the amount of water you use, if you really want to be precise.” [laughs]
[places filter on top of the cup]
“The golden rule for making coffee, is to use 60 grams of coffee for one liter of water. So, right now, we’re using 20 grams, and 330 grams of water. If you remember one thing, this is it.”
We now pour the water over the coffee and the filter.
“The carbon dioxide makes [the coffee] bloom and you can see the crust on top. That’s what makes the crème on the espresso as well.”
So, you said before that after four minutes of pouring the water, the coffee gets bitter. Are you actually timing this right now?
“Yes, I am. You can see here, that right now we are at about three minutes. Three-and-a- half to four minutes is ideal. This is usually the problem with drinking the Czech “turek”. People leave it to brew for 15-20 minutes on the table and it just becomes really bitter.”
“You can also influence the extraction time, by how coarsely you grin [the coffee beans]. So, if you filter coffee, and it goes too quickly, you need to make you grinder setting to more fine.”
Before we leave the bar with our coffee. Now in the summer, although it’s not really summery today, do you get special requests now that the weather is a bit warmer?
“Absolutely. We do all of our filtered coffee on ice as well, which is quite popular. And it’s super easy. You first add ice and filter the coffee through the ice. But you always have to measure the weight of the ice against the water you use for brewing, so it doesn’t become too diluted.
“I usually prefer to use high-acidity coffees. For example, the Kenyan or the Ethiopian would be amazing. This is because when you pour the coffee over ice, you lower the acidity, and if the coffee doesn’t have it, then it becomes dull and flat.”
And this is not part of this month’s chosen brewing process, but I know that you also use things a number of other devices and contraptions to make coffee. Can you tell us more about them?
“There are so many of them. Quite a popular one is aeropress, especially in the Nordic countries. It’s a device created by a guy in California who makes toys. So it’s like two plastic tubes, which you use in a way that you extract the coffee for one or two minutes, and then you push the coffee through a paper filter.
“It’s plastic, so it’s great for taking outdoors, it doesn’t break and it’s small. So, when you go on a field trip with other coffee roasters, usually everyone has an aeropress in their pocket. And they get up in the morning in their hotel and they brew their coffees.”
That sounds like a very interesting option as well. But even the coffee in front of us, which we just made, looks great. So, to finish up, I just wanted to ask – what’s next? You seemed to have done so much already with coffee, do you have any big goals for the future?
“Yeah. We’re actually just about to finish our training and workshop center, which is right next to the café. And that will be a place where we want to do public cuppings, tastings, workshops. Not only coffee related, but I also want to show people good teas, good beers. I know it sound strange in the Czech Republic, but I think we are quite conservative when it comes to beer.
“So, this will be a place for people who are open-minded, who want to try something different, taste-wise. So, once that’s done, we will do public workshops on a weekly basis. And obviously there will be events for coffee professionals. For baristas, we will do certified courses by the SCAE, the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe. So it will be also for professionals, but mostly for regular people who just enjoy these kinds of drinks.
“So, that’s next, and then we’ll see. The goal is to source better and better coffee, prepare it better, prepare it more consistently, and perhaps open some more fun cafés.”
Well, thank you so much for inviting us to your café and showing us around.
“Thank you as well.”
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