In our first HELLO GINA blog post we visited STOW Coffee Shop in Ljubljana, where Peter Ševič, the coffee master, showed us what it takes to brew the perfect cup of coffee.
But we wanted to dig deeper into the coffee story, so we booked a visit at the “coffee godfather” of STOW Specialty Coffee Roasters, CEO and head roaster, Aleš Turšič for an evening of roasting, brewing and enjoying specialty coffee.
Aleš goes far back when it comes to coffee and knows every aspect of it - from selecting the beans to roasting, blending and brewing. We found him in an old industrial facility that went out of business at the end of the millennium and is now home to several small and mid-sized companies, mostly dealing with construction materials and chemistry. But hidden behind a row of large industrial buildings, there’s a pleasant smell that lures us into a hidden place … a coffee lover’s dream house, the STOW Specialty Coffee Roasters roastery.
There’s no sign or doorbell
You need to call Aleš and he’ll open the industrial rolling door for you. As soon as you enter, there’s coffee legacy all around … Empty coffee bags are the welcome committee, but our eyes wander off to the top shelf of the warehouse-style coffee haven … packed in protective foil, three vintage espresso machines are an eye-catcher, for a coffee enthusiast, at least. “That used to be my work, I restored about 120 of these,” Aleš told us.
He used to be the guy you called when your machine was giving you trouble. He still is, actually, but the repair work is now mostly done by his colleague. But Aleš knows what a coffee machine should be like, what makes it work, and what doesn’t. So it’s no surprise that he was one of our to-go people when we needed advice while developing GINA and he’s giving us precious advice while we’re developing our next GOAT coffee adventure.
Another door opens and now we know where the intoxicating smell is coming from … a 15kg roaster is murmuring in the background, heating up for work, while a smaller sample roaster sits quietly on the countertop. “I thought we’d roast a few batches today, want to see how it’s done?” This is an invitation we just can’t refuse … we wanted to join in before, but somehow we always missed Aleš roasting the beans that we so often use in our office as well, as he is our “house roaster” lately, especially for our espresso beans for the Linea Mini we have in our office.
The brew experiment
“But first, let’s see what this little thing can do,” he says and already has the water in the kettle boiling and a shiny white GINA on his worktop. Aleš comes from an espresso background, as he worked (and still works) in the commercial coffee world, but his true passion is specialty coffee and the different ways of brewing to complement the special beans.
He can’t hide his enthusiasm about GINA. “As someone who’s been involved in coffee for so long, it is amazing to see that we had a world-class coffee device developed practically at my doorstep,” he tells us while putting a filter into GINA’s funnel.
When it came to brewing, Aleš took an analytical approach to coffee. When we shipped out GINA, we added a set of filters to the package and when using them, we quickly found out that these just aren’t the same as the samples we tested and confirmed. So we took off on a little experiment with Aleš. He made several brews that night, testing GOAT STORY filters, a Hario V60 filter, and a Chemex filter. Okay, we thought we’re in for a little taste sampling and comparing results, but we ended up discussing the different tastes of the coffee he brewed, while analytically testing the TDS in the brew. While enjoying different shades and tastes of every single brew, we also got an analysis of GINA’s filters. We didn’t plan it, but he did … and we’re glad he did! Because now we know how to explain the performance of the filters to our customers.
Okay, so we drank coffee and discussed it … but at all that time the murmur from the roaster in the background wouldn’t give us peace.
Before the roast
Aleš has now established himself as one of the best micro-roasters in Slovenia. And just like with everything else he does, his roasting is very analytical. “A friend of mine persuaded me to get into roasting coffee. I started with this baby (pointing at the smaller roaster he now uses for sample roasting) and quickly I knew I needed a bigger machine because the demand grew quickly.” His beans are used in his specialty coffee shop in Ljubljana and he also supplies several other coffee establishments. And they (finally) set up an online store for his roasts, so STOW Specialty Coffee is now available to everyone that enjoys great coffee.
When talking about selecting the beans for roasting, he let us in on a little secret that makes a good roaster great: “Of course, at first I experimented with a variety of beans to roast, but now a made a selection of beans that have made it into my ‘all-star” lineup. It’s easier that way and I believe that it’s the only way to maintain great quality coffee. It’s all about dialing in the perfect roast and then repetition, repetition, repetition, without compromising quality.” STOW coffee made a mark in the espresso field with its legendary Red carpet blend, but now they are focusing, even for coffeehouse espressos, on a single-origin Guatemala El Morito (we use that at GOAT STORY as well quite often and love it!). And then there’s a selection of 5 - 6 coffees that are roasted to perfection and are a specialty coffee lover’s dream come true.
“I believe that too much variety makes you lose your focus on quality, that’s why we offer a limited selection. But we do love a good experiment when it makes sense!” Even when he mentions an experiment, it’s hardly that … When Aleš was showing us his green beans on stock, it took us about 20 minutes just to check the four different bags. This guy is an encyclopedia of coffee!!! He knows every aspect of a bean and he explained to us how washed coffee will roast differently from naturals, how fermentation shows even in the greens and so much more after it’s roasted … And so much more!!!
Back to the experimentation … a special spark glowed in his eyes when he told us that they're equipping a local barista for the barista championships in Austria that’s coming soon. The coffee he’ll use is as premium as it gets, as he’s getting a batch of Ninety Plus Lotus. “I’m looking forward to roasting that and I am sure that Matej (Matej Šerer is the barista who will use the beans) will kick ass over there!”
But our visit is not an experiment. Today we’re roasting the Guatemala that he needs for the coffee shop. It’s a pleasure seeing the man caress the beans, feel them, smell them, before loading the batch in the heated roaster.
Then the magic starts … the beginning is not quite as romantic as we’d have imagined, with Aleš sitting at the computer, working on the roasting software. But then, as he opens the hatch and the beans flow into the drum … the murmur becomes intense and we see the beans rolling through the screen. Minutes are passing and, we can see them turning from greyish-green to subtle brown, while Aleš checks the beans regularly, smells them, inspects the roast. What follows is a true highlight for any coffee lover … releasing the freshly roasted beans in the cooling tray. The room fills with an intoxicating aroma … Aaaaaaah yes! Let’s do this again!!! (and we did … two more times that evening)
A NOTE TO ALL READERS:
If you have the chance, do visit your local micro-roaster. It’s an experience to remember and you’ll appreciate specialty coffee even more!