April 18, 2016

Roaster Life: How to Sell Specialty Coffee in a Financial Crisis


In 2010, Greece was not the best place for a serious business investment – especially if you were planning to sell luxury items, such as specialty-grade micro-lot coffees. Yet that’s exactly what Taf Coffee did.

Their challenges weren’t unique to Greece. They faced consumers who believed coffee was “just coffee” and, above all, wanted to save money: something that many third wave coffee professionals can relate to. But in order to succeed in this most difficult of environments, their solutions had to be exceptional.

Read on to discover how Taf Coffee managed to thrive during the Greek Financial Crisis – and their three-step method for converting consumers to specialty.

SEE ALSO: Specialty Coffee Tourism: 7 Must-Visit Cafés in Athens

coffee cup in green coffee beans

Taf coffee managed to thrive despite of facing a national financial crisis.

Taf Coffee: A Specialty Roaster and Café

Taf Coffee is a specialty roaster that has branched out into cafés. Their priority has always been quality and, when they began operating in 2006, this seemed difficult – but not impossible.

Three years later, they opened Café Taf, a third wave espresso bar in downtown Athens focusing on direct trade with small producers in countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, Rwanda, and Costa Rica.

And then the Greek Depression happened. Just months after opening up shop, small businesses within their neighbourhood were going bankrupt. Cafés and boutiques were closing down after barely a few months in business.

Taf coffee shop

The modern interior of Taf Coffee.

Yet Taf Coffee managed to buck the trend.

Creating a Thirst for Specialty Coffee in 3 Steps

Taf Coffee was determined to continue selling exceptional beans and roasts, refusing to compromise on quality in order to provide low-cost coffees. But in order to do that, they had to convince customers that specialty coffee was worth paying for.

Key to this were three things: training baristas, selecting strong business partners, and communicating with consumers.

  1. Training Baristas

Taf Coffee trained their baristas well, encouraging them to participate in national and international competitions. As their baristas became Barista Champions, both the quality of their offerings and Taf Coffee’s reputation increased.

  1. Selecting Strong Business Partners

Taf Coffee focussed on building a strong network of connections. They partnered only with people who bought not just their coffee, but their coffee philosophy – people with whom they could work together to serve excellent coffee with excellent service.

In order to do so, CEO Yiannis Taloumis had to convince potential partners that specialty coffee could be a unique selling point – a way to differentiate themselves from the masses of other coffee houses.

Yiannis Taloumis cupping on new crop

Yiannis Taloumis cupping new coffees, ensuring the high quality of his products.

He invited wholesale customers to visit the warehouse and experience every aspect of the roasting. He also kept his pitch gimmick-free, making his exceptional coffee the selling point.

And as more of their business partners adopted the third wave, more and more members of the general public were coming into contact with specialty.

  1. Communicating with Consumers

Introducing consumers to specialty wasn’t just necessary for Café Taf’s success; it was the reason for Café Taf’s existence. Taf Coffee knew that this coffee house could be a medium for communicating what specialty means. Consumers could listen, observe, taste, and learn about coffee. They could experience the difference, not just read about it on a bag of beans.

And even in the midst of the crisis, Taf Coffee were delighted to discover adventurous consumers curious about new coffees and new tastes. Some would travel 15 km or more just to buy a coffee from them.

Taf Coffee built on this with coffee events: tastings, seminars, and workshops. By hosting these, often free, events, they helped consumers enter the world of specialty coffee.

Taf Masterclass

A Taf Masterclass, teaching the audience about differences in commodity and specialty coffee.

And even if they didn’t realise it, these converts became Taf Coffee’s ambassadors.

Taf Coffee’s Success

Seven years after the launch of Café Taf, Taf Coffee is continuing to see success. Their customers trust them to always provide a quality product, which has resulted in the company’s continued growth.

As specialty coffee professionals, they believe in giving back to producers, the people nurturing the coffee, planting it and watching it grow; the people placing their trust, along with their best beans, in roasters’ hands. And as Coffee Taf continues to grow, Yiannis Taloumis believes he needs to also recognise the producers’ work. After all, it is their passion, vision, and ethos that has allowed him to succeed.

Yiannis Taloumis checking quality of dried coffee

Yiannis Taloumis checking the quality of drying coffee at origin.

Every year, he travels to Costa Rica to visit those producers. And this year, he celebrated nine of his business partners in a Taf Coffee awards ceremony. They watched a slideshow depicting exactly what happens to their coffee, from roastery to cup, and received their award. The trophy was in the shape of an owl, the symbol of wisdom, engraved with a quote by Socrates: wisdom begins in wonder.

When Taf Coffee first launched Café Taf, they had every reason to feel anxious. Yet over the years, they have discovered that Greeks really do appreciate coffee – and are willing to pay a bit more for it, even in the midst of a financial crisis. Taf Coffee created a thirst for specialty coffee.

Perfect Daily Grind