Hotels and Great Coffee, YES It Can Be Done!

#EatWell #TravelOften #london #coffee #greatcooffee #travel #WhereInLondon #WhereCoffee #coffeeblog

From over two decades of travel I realized one thing – you are really hard pressed when it comes to trying to find a decent cup of coffee at hotels. From a 1 star (and believe me I’ve been to a couple of one stars) all the way to the super pooper 5 & 6 star hotels (haven’t been to a 7 star hotel… yet) the coffee is almost always awful. And when I say awful I mean awful, full-on robusta espresso blends with that musty/woody robusta cutting through the liters of milk. You try to cover it up with 3-4 packs of sugar and it’s still awful… Did I say there was robusta in those espresso blends? Anyway, it’s one of those things that just bugs the snot out of me every time I travel. Then it happened! I saw it… the future of hotel coffee and I was in awe. I literally have goose bumps on my forearms as I’m writing this.

Let me tell you how it all started before I tell you what I saw. My great friends at La Marzocco Lorenzo and Andrea invited us out to see their La Marzocco UK office in the East End of London. I asked a simple question from my wonderful Italian travelers and that is do you have any recommendations about a nearby hotel I should stay at? They said, “Ace Hotel Shoreditch”, so that’s where I stayed. For those who don’t know Ace Hotel (like me before I stayed there only 4 months ago) they simply ROCK! I mean I had a turntable with David Bowie’s Let’s Dance vinyl album in my room, yes you heard right. If that wasn’t enough to blow your mind totally away here’s the coup de grâce… wait for it… I had a flippin’ Martin Guitar in my room. Unbelievable! I’m in heaven, the coolness just was pouring out of collaged walls.

So, my first morning, I woke up at 4:00 am (jet lagging, of course) immediately picking up that wonderful 6 stringed instrument provided by the glorious Ace Hotel, and did my best to remember “Wish You Were Here” by… well you know who it’s by. I then went on to say my prayers, read my morning readings, and answered all my emails waiting for 6:00 am when the espresso bar in the lobby opened up. And that was where it all happened… that’s where I saw the future of hotel coffee.

It may not look like much but this is James Hoffman’s Bulldog Edition espresso bar at the new Ace Hotel in London’s Shoreditch. It was perfection. These baristas knew their stuff. They served me beautiful coffee day after day starting out with a wonderful pour over of Ethiopia Karachi region and then hitting me with either a double ristretto or an Americano depending on my mood crafted with the amazingly smooth Red Brick espresso blend. I then finished whatever work I had getting ready for the day as I talked with the baristas about various roast profiles, different grinder features, how they liked their La Marzocco Strada, and, of course, what’s it like to live in Siberia.

This was such a quintessential coffee experience. Most of the time when I travel I bring my own French press and a supply of various Traveler’s Coffee single origins. This was one of those rare times that I didn’t use my Traveler’s Coffee supply on the road. I was so deeply affected by this experience. I hope that one day Traveler’s Coffee will be able to open up in an Ace Hotel.

While I have your attention I’d like to show a couple more pictures of this wonderful coffee bar and the Ace Hotel as well. Also, the Ace Hotel in New York with the equally amazing Stumptown Coffee espresso bar there… enjoy!

Eat Well, Travel Often


There’s a New COO in Town…

What’s come to my attention recently is that many people don’t really know where Traveler’s Coffee is right now… I was talking to someone from a wonderful city and the tone of the conversation was kind of funny, as the person assumed that Traveler’s Coffee was in his city and maybe some other city. He was shocked to know that there were 75 coffeehouses, in over 40 cities and 5 countries. When I went on to tell him that this year we were opening our first coffeehouses in China and Morocco a look of total stunned disbelief came over his face.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to act cool or anything here and talk about these “big” impressive numbers (they are actually still quite small compared to many of my colleagues in other respectively large coffeehouse chains), but what I am getting at is how far we’ve come. Most people in the markets we are participating in were drinking such bad quality coffee or no coffee only a decade ago. Most people didn’t know a Red Velvet cake from a Tiramisu or a banana pudding from a hole in the ground. Once again I’m not saying that we are cool, but I’m saying look how far we’ve come as a whole, the specialty coffee movement and the healthy and gourmet food movement is part of a larger movement of unity, of becoming one, of becoming closer together through shared experiences, of being concerned about our health and our effect that we have on the planet and ultimately becoming part of one human race and making the good things in life available to all it’s inhabitants and becoming truly globally prosperous. It’s just so rewarding to be part of this great process.

It’s become even more apparent to me as we dedicate ourselves to growth, that this very growth is not only geographical, with corporate and franchise coffeehouses popping up all throughout Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, China and Morocco, but it’s also a growth in our professionalism in our administration and management of the company. Companies that grow organically can be likened to a tree where it’s roots grow proportionately to it’s branches. As the branches reach to the sky, the root dig into the ground to keep the tree solid so it can expand even further. This is how our management and infrastructure should be in the company, well grounded, rooted… solid.

To get the management team that will provide the type of service we all demand as guests of Traveler’s Coffee, we’ve opened administrative offices in Moscow, Novosibirsk, and now in Ningbo, China. These offices have been blooming and flourishing over the last 6 months as we promote our coffee veterans from within the company to new capacities in our quest for better management and quality. At the same time we are diligently searching over the past several years for new human resources that will be, as we say in the business world, “game changers,” those who will catapult the company to a new paradigm and much more improved corporate culture. These are the people who have “been there and done that” and will bring experience so that Traveler’s Coffee can roll-out its coffeehouses more effectively.

In this process of developing our top management team we decided that the first improvement was to totally re-create our Operations Department. So, with great joy I’m happy to announce that our Operations Department has hired Andrey Matviyuk, a very seasoned food service veteran as our new Director of Ops for Russia and CIS. And to lead our entire Ops Department we have brought on Dean Torrenga as our COO. He will be managing our global operations and improving, streamlining, optimizing our coffeehouses units throughout the whole chain. With Dean’s over 30 years of retail and food service experience working for such great serious companies as Starbucks and Caribou Coffee and opening and managing hundreds upon hundreds of coffeehouses, we are sure to see a much more professional and service oriented company, that will outshine the Traveler’s Coffee we’ve come to know and love.

With our new COO and Director of Operations I’m actually feeling myself in the presence of food industry giants that will take our company solidly into the 21st Century. In fact I am humbled with the life that God has given me working in these wonderful countries as they come fully “online” and become major players in the world community. I feel great pride working with these wonderful men and women from so many different cultures and backgrounds all truly trying to become Traveler’s Coffee People (the phrase we use for people in the company trying to give real service to our guests, which is not always easy and somewhat elusive, but we are really trying).

With constant gratitude I thank all of you for this opportunity! It is my blessing to work and serve you all!

China, China, Chinaward…

So, it happened about a month ago that we broke ground on our 1st coffeehouse in China. A year and a half of planning, a year after putting together start-up management team, ten months after the business plan was finished, and eight months after the final Traveler’s Coffee Board of Directors decision, we are now officially under construction.

Traveler's Coffee first coffeehouse in China under construction

There are such interesting responses to this news from our fans and friends when they find out, “That’s cool!” or “Wow, China, that amazing!” But even more surprising to me has been the response I get from my business colleagues, which is something like, “Smart, we have a factory there,” or “Yeah we are opening there in 2014.” It’s like everyone is going to China. It is as that great Persian mind ‘Abdu’l-Baha put it a century years ago when He said, “China is the country of the future,” and I think we can all truly now embrace that sentiment as we see the huge role that China has played from our vantage point well into the 21st Century.

First Traveler's Coffee coffeehouse in China under construction

Now one of the two most often asked questions that I’ve got from people after they learn of this new strategic move concerning China are the following, “Why have you decide to go into China?” and “Do the Chinese drink that much coffee?” In answering the first question on the surface it is, very simple, diversification in this ever changing global economy (so all of our proverbial eggs are not just in the Russian/CIS basket). But even more so, when I wrote this spring “Vision and Strategy” and “The 5 Year Plan (2013-2017), two of our more important documents in the Traveler’s Coffee Guidance Series, outlying where we are going and how we are going to get there over the next 5-10 years for reading and training with our middle and top management, another stark reality began to unfold and that is how big is Russia’s specialty coffee and coffeehouse market and when will it hit it’s saturation point. Now for a dynamic company like Traveler’s Coffee that is literally beginning to double the amount of coffeehouse units it opens every year this is a very important point and the number for us is 500 units. That’s right over the next five or so years Traveler’s Coffee can easily open 500 units throughout all of Russia but after that I really don’t know what’s going to happen and how saturated the market will become… henceforth China. Quite simply China is a market that will keep Traveler’s Coffee busy until the end of the first quarter of the century we live in.

Traveler's Coffee team near coffeehouse under construction in Ningbo

Now the second question about Chinese coffee consumption is always so funny to me… it’s almost a glass half empty/glass half full thing. You know the world can be divided into two types of people and that is the glass is half empty and the glass is half full, or looking at the negative or the positive aspects of life. This always reminds me of an old story I heard where two shoe salesmen go to Africa (that’s how the joke was told, so for my friends in Africa think about Africa 500 years ago). The first salesman arrives and sees that nobody is wearing any shoes, he goes to one city, then the next city and it’s the same thing… no one has shoes on, just a bunch of bear footed Africans everywhere. So, he sends a message to the office and says, “Hey guys I’m coming home, there’s nothing to do here, nobody wears shoes.” At the same time the other salesman who came about the same time and has seen all the same cities, and he sends urgent message, saying, “Send as many containers as you can, you won’t believe it! This place is awesome! Nobody is wearing any shoes.” That’s what I feel like when I walk down the streets of Shanghai, Beijing and Ningbo (the small 5.5 million population city where our 1st coffeehouse is opening up), “Send as many containers of coffee as you can, you won’t believe it! This place is awesome! Nobody’s drinking any coffee.”

See you in the end of September at our coffeehouse in Ningbo!


Dear friends!

I was thinking what to write for my first blog entry at our website, and it seemed that to start a story from the beginning would be a little bit boring — I have told it many times already, how I settled in Novosibirsk, how me and my wife thought that it would be a good idea to bring great coffee to Siberia and start the movement of specialty coffee here back in the 1990s. Instead, I would like to tell you a story about the Annual Specialty Coffee Event which I have just attended in Boston, USA, with my friends and coworkers — Anvar Piriyev and our roast-master Daniel Panov.

This event is one of the largest gatherings in the specialty coffee world. Everyone comes here to meet old friends and make new friends as well, learn about what’s new in coffee, find something interesting to share and, of course, taste the best coffees from around the world. The most innovative coffee companies present here their best equipment, such as our friends from Italy — La Marzocco, the synonym of the best quality among espresso machines — who unveiled their new Linea PB coffee machine, which will definitely be available soon, it is truly a machine of the most advanced innovations at the same time being elegantly simple. The event has been organized by the Specialty Coffee Association of America for the 25th time since 1989, and it has been growing with every year in number of attendees. One of the important parts of the event was the National Barista Championship, as well as Brewers Cup and Cup Tasters Challenge competitions, which I think Daniel will be covering more than adequately in his own blog entry.

The coffee event this year was also special, because of the great 25th Anniversary party for Coffee Kids, a non-governmental organization, dedicated to make the lives of small coffee farmers in Central America better and help their families to overcome poverty, bring better education and health care to the coffee growing nations and organize sustainable socio-economical growth projects. In the near future upon approval of the Board of Directors of Traveler’s Coffee we too shall be making our contributions to this very, very noble and vital organization.

“Traveler's Coffee” with friends at SCAA Event, left to right: Anna Polienko (PIR Group), Chris Tara-Browne, Anvar Piriyev, Daniel Panov, Mark Inman (Coffee Trader at Olam Specialty Coffee, Vice Chairman of the US Roasters Guild) and Rob Stephen (Coffee Trader at InterAmerican Coffee)

“Traveler’s Coffee” with friends at SCAA Event, left to right: Anna Polienko (PIR Group), Chris Tara-Browne, Anvar Piriyev, Daniel Panov, Mark Inman (Coffee Trader at Olam Specialty Coffee, Vice Chairman of the US Roasters Guild) and Rob Stephen (Coffee Trader at InterAmerican Coffee)

What I like about SCAA Event is the massive exchange of knowledge and ideas about coffee. Through these exchanges we learn from each other, little by little, how to become better and better in our craft. These events are the place to look for better beans and get inspired about the latest trends in the world of coffee. As a result, the guests in our coffee houses enjoy consistently better coffee cups, the ultimate goal, for which we work so hard at “Traveler’s Coffee”.

I feel it most important to acknowledge that while the SCAA event was so wonderful it was tremendously overshadowed by yet another turmoil on the world scene as 2 explosions claimed the lives of 3 souls and well over one hundred injured… people innocent and even more so demonstrating the unity of all nations in a sporting event with participants from every part of the globe.

I myself was very close to this horrible catastrophe with my business partner and friend Anwar just 3 blocks from the blast at a Cheesecake Factory enjoying a wonderful dinning experience when the loudspeaker in the restaurant announced the tragedy. When we exited to the street we saw the spectacular and horrifying sight of more than 50 ambulances and various police vehicles wailing by. It was an awful experience walking back to the hotel meeting a boy that was just across the way and another girl sobbing after seeing many bloodied spectators.

All I can do is bow my head humbling before the almighty God and pray that these insane and senseless events move us to the eventual conclusion that humanity is one family and that these acts of violence will galvanize the rational and spiritual to unite humanity in one universal peace… that is my hope, my yearning and my dream. For now I have only heartfelt love and prayers for those injured yesterday and the families of those who are feeling nothing but loss today. God bless you!

How To Drink When Your Arms Are Extended

How To Drink When Your Arms Are Extended

In one of the Baha’i children’s class there is a game where the kids keep their arms straight (in this case Daniel my son has a long service spoon taped to his arm so he doesn’t bend it) and with a regular spoon they have to drink water. After a while they realize that the only way to drink water is to give water to each other. This is such an amazing way to show interdependence and total cooperation… I love this gave!

Maxim’s Manner

So, I was tutoring Ruhi 3 with one of the local Baha’is Sasha a few months ago and we decided that for part of our study circle we would observe the whole children’s class that my wife conducts and get a feel for the whole lesson structure.  So, as not to disturb the vibe in the room we sat in the living room looking on the children’s class in that is done at the kitchen table.

Even more interesting about this particular children’s class was that it was being conducted by the jr. youth because Sveta, my wife, was in Moscow at the National Spiritual Assembly meeting that weekend.  So as we watched Dasha, Maxim and Alex (my son), the jr. youth work with the children it was very different dynamic than with adults.

Anyway, there was one instance in particular that blew me away.  One of the boys in our children’s class is very ADD (I should know… so am I) and he’s always going off into another world and not including himself in the activities and it takes a lot more attention from the children’s class teacher to keep him involved and it is a very serious chore.  Anyway, Maxim, one of the jr. youth conducting this class, was sitting next to this boy.  When the boy’s attention went somewhere else Max look at him in the eye and said the boy’s name and what was supposed to be done at that time in the lesson.  This boy stopped, looked Max right back in the eye and focused back on the activity.  Amazing This repeated itself many times during the entire lesson, Max said, “Repeat the quote” – boom- eye contact and the boy repeated the quote fully.  Max said, “Sing with us” – boom- eye contact and the boy sang.  Max said, “Let’s repeat the prayer”  – boom- eye contact and the boy repeated the prayer.  So, something in Maxim’s manner, eye contact, voice worked a this boy on the children’s class was totally included in the lesson…

This confirmed for me and Sasha as we watched and discussed this situation that there are keys to every soul, we just have to be patient and find them.  This is one of the many things needed to be a teacher and to be in that constant position of learning!