A little girl stumbles between legs, both human and wooden, underneath a tall long table on the far side of the venue. Behind the counter young baristas are pouring water over locally roasted, ground coffee beans. The room is filled with the aroma of “Jesus Maria” from Nicaragua. Or maybe it is “Dona Nenem” from Brazil? Outside the weather is misty grey, with a bit of rain in the air. The atmosphere inside Reykjavík Roasters’ café is relaxed and homely.
– The opening of the café has been really well received. We started out thinking it was not going to be such a big hit. Our plan was that within six months we were going to make fifty-thousand per day, but that actually happened after three weeks — or a month… something like that. It was a lot better than we had expected.
Owner Ingibjörg “Imma” Jóna Sigurðardóttir looks out of the window. She is sitting in her newly opened second café. Across the street is one of the faculties of Reykjavík Art Academy. Students occupy several of the tables around her, surrounded by their Macs and their books.
After attending coffee seminars in Scandinavia, Imma became familiar with the Scandinavian roasting process and decided she wanted to introduce a lighter roasted coffee bean to the Icelanders. In 2008 she founded a coffee house and roastery together with Sonja Grant in downtown Reykjavík called Kaffismiðja.
– It is closer to a medium roast, rather than to a dark roast, which is the more common here in Iceland. That’s the main reason why we started Kaffismiðja.
Learning by doing
Before she opened Kaffismiðja, Imma and Sonja worked together in the same coffee company.
– I used to compete as a barista and I participated in the world championship. It all started when I was working in a bakery. They had an espresso machine and one of the staff members had been competing in the national competition, so she knew a little bit and she was teaching us.
It did not take long before Imma was completely hooked.
– I found it so interesting how the grind could do so much. You could just put the coffee in there and adjust the grinder and get really different results. I found it so fascinating that I decided to apply for a job in an actual coffee house, and that is how it started.
Working there led her to competitions, which included roasting seminars, and a new fire was lit within Imma.
Is it difficult to roast?
– It is not difficult, she says.
– It just takes time to get the feel of it. It is a long process. When I started out, I went to seminars in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Then I got myself a roaster and started experimenting. Just learning by doing, I kept on going and this is the result.
Imma stretches out her arms, showing off the café.
– I guess I am doing something right, she says with a big smile.
– I still learn new things. Different coffees have different challenges. Not every day, but every sixth month I can say that I have learned something new.
Kaffismiðja became Reykjavík Roasters when Sonja decided to leave the business five years later, and Imma teamed up with Torfi Þór Torfason, Tumi Ferrer and Þuríður Sverrisdóttir. In the beginning of August this year they opened their second café in the Icelandic capital. With all of the walls facing the street that is lined with big windows, the new café has an airy feel to it.
The room is buzzing. Everyone seems to know everyone.
– We have regulars who come in every day to have their special. A lot of people buy coffee here to take home to brew. It is like a ceremony, says Imma in a serious tone.
Then she laughs.
When it comes to coffee the Icelanders are not so different from their Scandinavian neighbours.
At the two cafés they only sell their ow roasted beans. The faithful roaster takes up a lot of floor space in the first café, which is quite a bit smaller. Almost two or three times smaller. That is one of the reasons why they decided to open a second one. It just got too crowded.
– We had to relieve some of the pressure. The workers were trying to eat their food at lunch and people were roasting and doingpaper work and packing coffee. Now we have our office here and the roaster over there. It is a lot of people, so you have to get along.
Same but different
With the new café they decided to do everything differently.
– It is completely different, it looks different and the vibe is different, says Imma.
The first café is just around the corner from the well tourist-visited Hallgrímskirkja, a city landmark, which can be seen from every corner of the capital. Their second one lies in one of the more residential areas.
– They started construction on the building next door around about the same time we came here and started doing our thing. If you go a bit further up the street there are offices as well. But also as art galleries, architecture offices and hotels. It’s a mix and it’s different.
According to Imma, that is a good thing. They like to do things differently, even when they get inspired by others.
– We look to what other people are doing and then say, I like that, but I am going to do it like this. So you can tell that the two places are completely different. It shows what we liked at that time. If we open up a third place it might be in a whole other way — adapted to the area.
Communication is key
Earlier this year the four owners became three. To keep everyone informed and involved they used to have weekly meetings.
– Now we talk together every day, face to face as well as by email. We talk a lot, says Imma.
– With our staff members it’s like an open society. We want everyone to feel good about his or her job. It is really important, because the clients will notice when they don’t, says Þuríður.
They try to have defined roles, so that they know what to tackle each day.
– Torfi is probably roasting right now and Imma roasts as well.
– I am in charge of staff and so is she, says Imma, pointing at Þuríður sitting next to her.
– And bookkeeping and salary as well, Þuríður adds.
They all help out in the cafés when needed, especially during rush hours.
What is your favourite part of the job?
– Meeting new people, says Þuríður quickly.
Imma does not answer.
– Oh, that’s a tough question.
After a long pause, she finally says:
– I love travelling, training employees, roasting and being behind the bar. I also like being in contact with customers.
– There are so many things that I do like, whereas I can easily tell you what I don’t like.
– I don’t like hanging out in the office doing office stuff, which is mostly my job. I don’t like the finance part of my job either. It makes me stressed.
To compensate, she often brings her computer out into the café.
Inspiration both home and abroad
– It is easy to be influenced. We often travel to Copenhagen, Oslo and London. Sometimes we travel to compete in barista cups and participate in seminars. Then we go to the cafés in the local areas and taste their coffee, says Imma, adding:
– You can always evolve and you can always change the way you do things. It is good to travel. It opens your mind. You get inspired and then you find your own solution. The key is to get inspiration.
Where do you find inspiration?
– In the environment. I get inspiration from travelling within my country and also I just get ideas; they just seem to come to me. I meditate a lot, so sometimes they just come through meditation. I know that my partners look at Instagram and Pinterest to get inspiration. They often get ideas from Internet and social media. We find inspiration in different places.
Do you always agree?
– We talk as a group, telling each other about the ideas that we might have and by talking together we can find a common idea. Usually it is like that. We have three brains, thinking about stuff, getting ideas, and sometimes someone gets an idea around another’s idea. It is always a work in progress. Sometimes someone has to be a bit more open-minded. We discuss and find a common ground.