After about a year and a half of careful preparation, MAN VERSUS MACHINE COFFEE ROASTERS (MVSM) was established in Munich in 2014. The company put importance to be an independent entity and has always prioritized quality over growth, which has paid off. They have been approached by Michelin-starred restaurants and bars at top-notch hotels that shows their success in the business. We speak with the co-founder Mr. Marco Mehrwald, who adds, “My experience in kendo is still alive in me.”
The constant “struggle” between man and machine.
MAN VERSUS MACHINE. It’s a straightforward name. You may think that the co-founder who came up with the company name would be an old-fashioned person, one who rejects anything mechanical and inorganic while sticking to a thoroughly analog approach. But this is not the case at all.
Marco says, “I believe that there is a constant interaction happening between man and machine. For example, the process of a barista using a grinder and other machines all day long in the pursuit of perfect results is like “having a battle” between man and machine.”
“It’s impossible to make good coffee without using the best machines, but using the best machines does not necessarily lead to good coffee. The machine must be handled by a person who knows it well.”
“So, to make good coffee, we should not take shortcuts, like choosing inexpensive machines to save costs. We should be appreciating the people we work with, because they are the ones who use the machines to brew coffee.”
“With our company name, we wanted to emphasize that our coffee is not the same as that of an industrial roaster with pretty packaging and good marketing.”
“What we are pursuing is the best division of labor between man and machine. We do everything manually that makes sense to, but when we want to be more precise and eliminate the risk of mistakes and errors, we utilize data and machines.”
“I think machines should always be perceived as tools to improve on results. If machines can solve it, it’s best for the machines to solve it while man can focus on other manual things.”
“Like in the case of automated driving, it would be wonderful if we could focus 100% of our energy on the things we want to do, such as listening to music or reading books, instead of losing time to driving.”
“It’s the same with roasting and brewing. If we can utilize as many techniques as possible to achieve homogenization, we can leave more room for people to express their own individuality.”
Individuality and ingenuity creating excitement.
Marco encourages all the baristas in the store to create their own recipes and coffees.
“For example, if a regular customer comes to our store on Monday and Wednesday and asks for the same espresso, the aroma and taste may be different. That’s because different baristas brew the same espresso and the barista’s personality comes into play. Of course, the coffee has to be perfect, but I like it when each barista’s coffee is different.”
“Consistency in our store doesn’t mean that we serve coffee that tastes exactly the same every day. It means that the coffee is always delicious and the barista’s personality is always on display.”
“The interesting thing about brewing is the individual additions to an almost perfect recipe that makes the difference, while the roasting depends on how faithfully you follow the profile or method you decide is best for that coffee.”
“That’s why we are not only trying to meet our customers’ requests, but we also place importance on conveying the thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm of each barista. This also gives customers a chance to discover things that they have never thought of. I believe that quality is enhanced by the perfect use of tools, and excitement is created by adding individuality and ingenuity.”
If you don’t take shortcuts, you won’t fail.
Marco and his wife Mrs. Cornelia Mehrwald founded MVSM in Munich in 2014 when specialty coffee was still not that popular in Germany.
Marco says, “I was reckless and naïve, or maybe too optimistic, because I put all my money into it,” but before he started the business, he spent a year and a half cramming as much information and practical know-how about coffee as he could.
“I demanded perfection in my products, but I was thoroughly optimistic in my business. I was holding on to such thoughts because I thought, ‘I can’t be the only one who feels the great potential of good coffee roasted by a good roaster.’ I was convinced many other people are looking for good coffee.”
They have sent out information through social media, but they don’t do advertising which shows his personality well.
“Even though we had to spend a lot of money and time, if we are dedicated to something and put in a lot of effort, it will lead to great results. You won’t fail unless you look for a shortcut to make money. That’s what I strongly believed then and still do now.”
“I haven’t been satisfied with the products and services by people who take shortcuts. In business, the first thing should be the pursuit of great products, and the other things such as customers, profits, and reputation will follow. Our stance hasn’t changed since our business started.”
We are not thinking, “Is it worth it?”
“We operate our business with only our capital. We don’t accept any investment from anyone else because we want to choose a path that we don’t have to compromise on.”
“For example, even if something doesn’t seem to make any sense in terms of profitability, I can do it if I think it makes sense from the perspective of the company, the community, and my personal life. I chose the crocodile as our company’s logo just because I like it and I can do that because I’m an independent person.”
When Marco and Cornelia founded the company, one of the philosophies of the company was built on the Japanese spirit of putting importance to detail. As a former kendo practitioner, Marco was influenced by the spirit of Japanese, not cutting corners or taking shortcuts when it comes to business practices and was also influenced by his interactions with Japanese people and kendo training.
“I’ll never forget the time I bought a small cup for 4-5 Euros (500-600 Japanese yen) at a store that sold Japanese goods. It took about twenty minutes for the owner to wrap it. I was very surprised and impressed by his “inefficient” work in detail. I could feel that he wanted to give his customers the best hospitality regardless of the price of the products.”
Prior to founding MVSM, Marco had the Coffee-Dou; the way of coffee as a possible name for the company name. For Marco, who is more Japanese than the Japanese in a way, coffee may be the best discipline and guiding principle for his way of life since he is all about the Coffee-Dou.
Originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi.
“I feel happy when I drink a cup of coffee during a break from work and realize my work is related to coffee. A cup of coffee is the fruit of the efforts of many people, like the producers and many others. If it tastes wonderful, it means that everything has gone well. It makes me feel very content and humble at the same time. I feel very privileged to be able to work with the coffee which makes me happy.”