We first came across Taf on a visit to Athens in December of 2014; their café, on a busy street of a still ungentrified part of the city was small, cozy, and inviting. There we had the famous Panama Geisha from Hacienda La Esmeralda as a pour over made by Konstantinos Iatridis (who would become the 2015 Greece Brewer’s Cup Champion), and again, from Stefanos Domatiotis (the 2014 World Brewer’s Cup Champion). It was a life-changing moment in coffee for us, better than anything we had before or imagined. Taf’s coffee is unforgettable in that respect, a taste we kept wanting to revisit, and needless to say, Taf is a big part of the reason we decided to establish Collected Coffee – to celebrate an experience so unusual and so unique, from the other side of the world.
Taf is a family business, started in the early 1990s; they first began with traditional ibrik coffee but branched into and were exclusively roasting specialty coffee by the early 2000s. Helmed by Yianis Taloumis, today, Taf is known for its extensive selection of rare and exceptional coffees. For Yiannis, quality is a matter of principle, and he has continued to roast 90 plus, Geisha, and Heirloom coffees even in the uncertainty of the Greek economy. Taf has established direct trade with growers around the world, and has an especially significant history with La Palma y El Tucán; for the 2015 harvest, they collaborated on an unusual extremely trSidra offering, which became exclusive to Taf.
As we discovered, Taf also has a well-decorated staff (including three national Brewer’s Cup champions, a national Barista’s Cup Champion, one world Brewer’s Cup Champion) and Yiannis himself has been awarded two SCAE awards (for Innovation in 2011 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014). He has the single-minded passion and largesse you would expect from someone utterly devoted to coffee – when asked about his hobbies and interests outside of coffee, he responded, “I don’t do much outside of coffee. Just coffee, coffee, coffee!”
Yiannis: There was a moment in my life when I realized I didn’t want to have mainstream, mediocre coffee. A lot of specialty coffee I had just wasn’t all that “special.” So I wanted to make something more unique and I was sure there were people who were going to appreciate our coffees. And it happened – they found us and we found them.
We want a sweet acidity and balance and we achieve this through searching for the perfect profile for the particular coffee. With each coffee we look for the profile that makes the taste balanced, which means all of the flavors are very high, very intense in aroma, body, and acidity. These coffees that are intense and balanced – we [the Ninety Plus team] call them “bombs,” like explosions of flavor.
Some of our coffees are admittedly a little difficult to approach for the average customer. But not all coffees are for everyone, and we actually like to keep it like this. As for the rest, the customers seem to remember our coffee because they’re very distinctive.
It’s been three years since we stopped calling ourselves “specialty” here because we don’t want to show that we’re fancy, we just want to show that we’re doing a good job. We want the coffee itself and not the language to demonstrate quality.
For us, it’s not just “direct trade” – it’s a long, cultivated relationship. With most of the farms our relationships have been going on for years and they already know what Taf needs and we know what they can do. 70% percent of the farms we work with are the same farms we have been working with since the beginning, and the remaining 30% are new farms that I discover. In addition, I visit each farm every year or two.
Our Legendary Series project with La Palma y El Tucán started about three years ago [an exceptionally rare Sidra coffee exclusive to Taf, which retails for 186€ for 250g]. The exciting part about this farm is that they plant different varieties from what is typical in Colombia. For instance, they don’t plant varietals common to Colombia like Caturra or Castillo. What else is very special about La Palma y El Tucán is that they process coffee in a very different and unusual way. The coffee that you received, Ana Lucia, was actually chosen by La Palma to undergo a special processing. If La Palma hadn’t chosen Ana Lucia’s coffee, she would have processed it the traditional way and it would have tasted completely different.
The coffee culture in Greece has been, as it is now, very mainstream. People just drink coffee because they want to drink coffee, they don’t really care what’s in it. But when Taf’s café began in 2009, we began spreading a new coffee culture. People started hearing a new range of words that they hadn’t heard before: variety, tasting, cupping. Some other companies in Greece started picking this up and it became a trend. They started using words they didn’t understand and their coffee was not what they said it was. So at Taf, we actually started kicking out the word “specialty” and other fancy words. We stopped using them. It’s been three years since we stopped calling ourselves “specialty” here because we don’t want to show that we’re fancy, we just want to show that we’re doing a good job. We want the coffee itself and not the language to demonstrate quality.
I wanted to make something more unique and I was sure there were people who were going to appreciate our coffees. And it happened – they found us and we found them.
What I want to do is to take just a little bit more of the market in Greece and keep up with it and then maybe expand, with some flagship stores in foreign markets. We already have requests in Geneva, Istanbul, London, and Dubai. If we manage to pull this off, we’ll be complete and won’t be looking to expand any more. Since we’re talking about a boutique philosophy, we don’t really care too much about volume.