Alkemisten - The Alchemist

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

If you have been following us you know that we recently went to Denmark and Sweden on a motorcycle trip.

We Live in Trondheim, Norway and we had a few days off work at the end of the summer. So we wanted to do a roadtrip. But we had no idea where we wanted to go. So we headed towards Denmark.

I am a coffee roaster for Jacobsen og Svart and I love finding good coffee experiences when I travel.

One of the best things about the coffee industry is the people who work in it. Coffee people are a weird bunch, but they usually are very open and friendly people. We all have a passion for coffee which makes it easy to connect, and because coffee is such a big part of almost everyones life and economies all over the world it often leads to very interesting conversations.

On our way to Gothenburg we googled coffee shops in the city and the first one that popped up was Alkemisten (The Alchemist). So that's where we went.

While we sat outside enjoying a hand brew a car pulled up and someone took out a crate with coffee bags inside. I thought he looked familiar, but I was pretty far from home so I didn’t think I knew him.

But I figured it was the roaster for the shop and I wanted to ask him some questions about the coffee.

When I presented myself we both looked at each other with a befuddled expression for a second. We both recognised each other but could really place it right away.

After a few seconds we realised we had met in 2017 at the Norwegian coffee roasting championship where we had competed against each other.

I particularly remembered his profile because it was so far from what everyone else did.

This probably makes no sense to most of you, but he used a lot of energy from the start so his profile was very short. This technique was new for me. I remember wondering what the hell he was doing!

When roasting coffee there are two main things you try to find the right balance between acidity and sweetness. Very generally speaking adding a lot of energy early in the roast gives more acidity and less energy gives more sweetness. There are many other things that play a part too, but watching his profile I expected his coffee to be very acidic and unbalanced. But it turned out to be pretty sweet.

I asked him about it then and he gave me some tips for how to roast for acidity which I have used in my own roasts.

I didn’t really know much about him or his roastery so meeting him here in Sweden was very random but very fun. He even invited us for a cupping on our way back home.

So after visiting Copenhagen we headed back to Gothenburg to taste some coffee.

Itchy Cvetanovski runs Coffeacirculor in Arendal in Norway where he lives, and started Alkemisten in Gothenburg, a 5 hour drive away. So a few times a month he drives down to Gothenburg with fresh coffee.

When he was working in the environmental branch of the United Nations in Kenya and learned about the trading side of the industry first. After meeting some farmers who were about to lose their farm he suggested they tried to sort the cherries to increase the quality.

He imported the first few kg and did a test roast on them in Norway. It turned out ro be very good, and so he helped the farmers learn how to increase the quality and worth of their coffee.

This was around 2009 and since then he has had a very close relationship to these farmers. He has also started relationships with farmers in other countries.

I learned a lot about how transparency in coffee is not as transparent as we would like. Transparent trade costs more money, and the more details we ask for the more it will cost. In Central America it is a bit easier to show transparency because a lot of the farms are family owned and have long traditions.

In Africa it is a bit different. Large private farms are not very common so each community usually have a central washing station where all the smaller surrounding farmers sell their cherries.

This makes it a bit difficult to trace how much each farmer gets paid. One washing station can have over 1000 small farmers reliving cherries there, so keeping track of all payments can be difficult.

But it is very important for us as the end customer to ask for this information. Because if we don´t, then nobody will bother to trace anything. That leaves the industry open for more corruption and poor work environments.

Coffee farmers are not rich. They are working extremely hard to feed their families and are reliant on us in developed countries buying their coffee to survive.

I like to think of it this way: Almost everything considered specialty coffee is hand picked. 1kg of roasted coffee contains about 10000 individual beans.. We lose about 14% of the weight of green in roasting. Each cherry contains two beans. That means a person had to pick about 6000 berries for us to be able to brew 16 liters of coffee.

Have you ever picked 6000 berries of any kind before? That is hard work. All I am trying to get at is that it is so important to make people aware of where the coffee that they drink every day comes from. How much work has been put into it.

Itchy is one of the people who has really helped push for transparency in the coffee trade. And even though we have become a lot better there is still a long way to go.

This is why I love coffee! Wherever we go we find interesting people who wants to share a cup of coffee and a story with us.

We are so thankful to Itchy for inviting us to cup and sharing information and stories. His roasting partner Anthony was also there, and we talked about how water in Sweden and Norway makes the coffee taste very different. We also shared some tips and frustrations of being a coffee roaster. It was a lot of fun, but eventually we had to hop on our bikes again and head home.

- Kenneth