By Mike Love
Last year, I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to work with Bracket Coffee in China as a consultant. China has a tiny, but rapidly expanding coffee industry, and they needed someone to help them get up and running.
It started in November 2016 when a good friend of mine, Taylor Mork from Crop to Cup coffee importers, asked me to join him on a project. He asked if I would have any interest in going to help do some training in Beijing with Bracket. “Hell yeah” I thought! I love China! Less than a month later I was sitting on a plane headed for the far east. It was a great trip! I was there for about three weeks and loved every second of it. I could see this was a company that wanted to bring specialty coffee, and the quality and social responsibility that comes with it, to the growing Chinese coffee industry.
5 Months later I received an email from Bracket. They wanted me to come back to china for 3 months to help them with roasting, training, quality control and many other things. I was excited, but also very nervous about this. I was going to go away for three months (which actually turned out to be 4 months). Serious decisions would have to be made before I committed to this. I had Coffee Labs to run. We were and still are preparing to open a new store of our own. How was I going to go to the other side of the world and try to manage helping the Chinese open their shops and opening and running my own, with a 12 hour time difference. It’s one thing to work remotely in the states, but its definitely another to do it from the other side of the world. How the hell was I going to get this done? I would have to sacrifice certain things, but at what cost to my own business? After discussing it and meditating over it with my Wife and Business Partner Alicia, we decided that going would be a good move for our future as well as the future of Coffee Labs.
During this trip, I have had to adjust to a complete cultural shift in specialty coffee. It’s very different than what we do and enjoy in the states. Only about 1% of the Chinese population even drinks coffee. It’s a very new industry over there. Also, just like most Asian countries, their flavor choices and palates are very different from here in the U.S. The desired flavors, roast styles and drinks are very different. It’s been a serious learning curve for me! For me this is a major plus, I get to learn new things as well as teaching new roasting standards. This is why I love coffee in the first place. It’s a never-ending journey of education and experiences.
The relationships I have made here also remind me of why I love coffee so much. I’ve met some amazing people despite the language barrier. We’ve taught each other some of our own languages, especially swearing. Everyone loves swearing in a new language!
I originally came here to teach people how to roast, but the scope of the work has changed since I got here. I do far more than roasting now. I help others with quality controls and teach them how to have the best workflow on an espresso bar. I teach them how to develop new recipes and drinks as well. I do not mind this at all! I believe in this company’s visions and goals, and the people are some of the best I have ever worked with, honest, open and focused on the utmost quality.
No expense is too much for quality for them, which is something that I have enormous respect for as a coffee professional. Cut corners don’t fool anyone. To me, that is what the specialty coffee market is all about. What I mean by that is a small portion of roasters and cafes use non-specialty coffee and try to pass it off as the real deal.
I have made great friends and lasting relationships here that will go beyond my work. Their progress has far exceeded my expectations. In the future, I hope to be able to bring these new friends to origin to give them a full understanding of coffee processing. You can tell people what it’s like to go to origin, but there’s nothing like going there yourself. Bracket is well on it’s way to becoming a driving force in the specialty market here in China. I’ve implemented complete barista training and coffee roasting, advanced cupping programs, quality control and workflow. Everyone involved has made huge leaps forward in their knowledge. Since my arrival we have opened two stores. One is the new headquarters and training facility and a main roasting facility, and the other is the flagship. The only word to describe this flagship store is stunning. It has three floors including the rooftop deck overlooking the Sanlitun river. I have seen coffeehouses all over the world and this has to be the most well designed and executed layout I have ever seen.
I will be sad to leave my crew here, but Coffee Labs needs me as well. I will be happy to be home though. Nothing is as important to me than the wellbeing of my business and the way Coffee Labs is moving forward with our own expansion.
Coffee Labs has entered the world of overseas consulting and the ongoing education process. The opportunities and doors that have been opened here will benefit myself and the coffee houses here equally. Once again, after 15 years of being in the coffee industry I am constantly surprised at the directions it has taken me. Who knows where it will take me next.
Wherever that is, I will give it 100%, just like everything I do. I keep my standard high, and I am committed to everything I do whether it’s for me, my business, my family or my friends. Coffee has allowed me to grow in ways I never knew were possible. It’s an industry I love, and it is my life. My passion has shown others that coffee is not just a beverage, it’s a lifestyle, a job and a culture. In short, I love being in coffee.