On behalf of the effort to remain true to traditional standards, the quest for quality became his first priority in a market that did not value quality much. "The first of what you might call revelations came to me on a business trip to Germany," he recalls. "It seemed that the coffee was always good there, and the espresso was excellent. I came back determined to bring good coffee like that to my customers in Malaga."
His first effort was a bar blend called 'Gourmet.' He is still proud of the initiative, being the first 100% Arabica bar blend on the Malaga, and possibly on the Spanish market. Its commercial success was also encouraging.
"'Gourmet' was a good beginning, but I still had much to learn. I should tell you, by the way," says Lopez with a smile, " your magazine, Tea & Coffee, has also been of great importance to me. It had been coming to the factory for years so I combed through current and old issues looking for information and ideas. I also visited the magazine's first TEA & COFFEE WORLD CUP Exhibition in Vienna, in 1984. That too was a revelation. The exhibition introduced me for the first time to the world of single origin coffees and specialty coffee service technology."
Back in Malaga he began looking for a strategy to in some way incorporate a specialty philosophy into his own market. His strongest business was in the Horeca sector, so he focused on it. Early on he decided against creating his own espresso bars, judging that he lacked the expertise and staff to develop a concept properly. Instead he chose to try promoting a new awareness of coffee qualities and bar equipment standards to coffee service professionals. This proved discouraging, however, as he found the market resistant to being pushed toward new cup delivery standards that involved expensive grinders and espresso machines and finer coffees that in fact looked just like what had always been sold.
"It was at the second TEA & COFFEE WORLD CUP Exhibition, in 1997, that I finally connected all my thinking and planning - the idea of the pod with a coffee menu. It was like seeing the Light. Menu and pod together solved the cup delivery dilemma. I found the IMA stand at TEA & COFFEE WORLD CUP and chose their pod making machine, primarily for its dosing and vacuum quality."
Five months later and he was already buying his second IMA maker. He acknowledges now that the investments in the makers were large for a company the size of Cafe Castel, and a risk. He took the gamble because he had complete faith that the pod was the future of coffee.
|Ignacio Lopez, president of Cafe Castel, has followed a bold new course for his traditional, regional roasting company that has given it a dynamic new commercial vitality.
"From the first, I knew I must do single origin pods," he explains. "They allowed me to offer the local market something completely new and refined. It was the shortest route possible to stimulating the development of a new coffee culture here."
Cafe Castel installed its original IMA maker in January of 1998. By February of that same year, after feverish testing and multiple trials making sure the pods could indeed be adapted to the range of espresso machines on the Malaga market (and yes, they could), the company was ready to launch its pods and menu concept. The chain of Paradores took immediately to the new idea and became Cafe Castel's first pod client.
In addition to the origins listed on the Paradore menu, the company's own 'Gourmet' line coffee menu extends to include Puerto Rico 'Yauco Selecto,' and Java Djambit 'Noa Noa.' The pods are available in classic seven gram doses, and in double serving sizes of 14 grams. Cafe Castel became a charter member of the ESE Consortium, to which standard its production conforms.
Introduction Not Easy
According to Lopez, introducing pods to a bar or restaurant is not necessarily easy - there is universal resistance to anything new and at first the pods look quite odd to experienced servers. He's found, however, that the product quickly sells itself to the service staff, which ultimately is a powerful key to a successful introduction. After a couple of weeks with pods, the staff becomes genuinely enthusiastic for their ease of use, and the savings that result in time and trouble. Less cleaning, a prime attribute of the pod, is apparently a quick way to any barista's heart.
Foremost, with pod in hand they have at last been able to break out of their traditional market area in Malaga, Cordoba (where a subsidiary roasting company is based) and the province of Andalusia. Cafe Castel is now fulfilling on new contracts with distributors throughout Spain. The expansion has led to opening a new branch in Madrid.
This year, Cafe Castel will be making upwards of 8 - 10 million pods, with strong growth continuing. Pods already represent about 15% of the company's coffee business turnover, and Lopez foresees this doubling in time. The pod has completely changed his company.
"We've found that pods are like the Trojan Horse, they get us in to clients that wouldn't otherwise take time for us," explains Lopez. "Then we can also present our classic range of whole bean and roast and ground blends with a far better chance of acceptance. Pods have thus served to actually stimulate our traditional business, rather than replace it. When we go in the door to make a sale we now have something very interesting and innovative to offer prospective clients. Arousing curiosity does have its benefits."
And too, the curious in Spain will now drink well.