Spain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and Barcelona, with its temperate Mediterranean climate and warm and welcoming atmosphere, is becoming a city that not only attracts visitors, but residents too. Before the pandemic, a new type of tourism was starting to gain ground in Barcelona: Coffee tourism.
The major destination for these coffee tourists is the roastery and coffee shop, NOMAD. Founded in 2011 as a coffee cart in London, England, NOMAD opened COFFEE LAB & SHOP in Barcelona in 2014, pioneering the third-wave specialty coffee industry in the city.
In the past nine years, Jordi’s business has grown from a one-man coffee cart in London, to a thirty strong team that sells roasts to customers in 205 cities in over 45 countries. More than 50% of NOMAD’s total sales are from international sales.
Yet, apart from the usual social media presence, NOMAD have done nothing to promote their business. Their popularity is a direct result of focusing on quality and being the shop of choice for their customers. We spoke to Jordi, NOMAD’s CEO, and Fran, Head of Coffee, to find out what lies at the heart of NOMAD’s success.
Putting the heart into decision making
The modern-day nomad may have a very different work and lifestyle to the traditional pastoral nomads of old, but when it comes to valuing the freedom to live how and where you choose, very little has changed.
For those of us who plant roots, this nomadic freedom is something we envy. But for those who choose this lifestyle, freedom is not a nice-to-have, it’s a non-negotiable. It means that, sometimes, if the timing is right, you’ll leave behind everything you have built up, to head to the next place and start anew.
Perhaps that’s why for NOMAD, the decision to close two of their four shops between 2021 and 2022 was a positive move. From a business perspective, scaling down is usually a step back, but for NOMAD, it was the opposite: concentrating their resources on where it mattered most led to recording higher sales than when they ran the four shops.
Jordi: “Once the pandemic had calmed down and tourists started coming back to Barcelona, we adapted to the situation to get the best possible result. For example at Lab & Shop, which is kind of a showroom for our coffee, we went from three to five baristas. This meant more people serving customers and it led to an increase in our hourly revenue.
Not that we did it to make more money. We didn’t have a profit-making scheme. It just came from thinking about how we want to run the business, and then working backwards from there to find the solution.”
Right now, NOMAD is in the process of setting up a coffee academy, after one of their female staff members said they wanted to deepen their knowledge of coffee. Jordi and Fran believe that the key to spreading the word about specialty coffee is increasing the number of baristas – both amateur and professional.
Jordi: “NOMAD is all about following your heart. That’s always what guides us. We never set out to grow the company. We just kept believing in ourselves, did what we had to do, and that brought us here: running NOMAD with a team of thirty.
That’s why we’ve never set a sales target or a KPI, or do a hard sell when customers come into the shop. We don’t do anything we don’t want to do, and we give everything to the things we do want to do. That’s our way of life.”
One taste and you’re hooked for life
NOMAD began as a weekend coffee cart operating in and around London. Jordi would make around ￡200 to 300 a day, averaging ￡1200 pounds a month. After deducting costs and expenses, it was not nearly enough to live on. It was his passion for coffee that supported him. Buying beans from different roasters or serving customers from his cart, Jordi was always looking for ways to nurture his passion and learn more about coffee.
A few years later, realizing that the specialty coffee wave was yet to hit Spain, Jordi sold up his cart and moved to Barcelona. While getting ready to open his shop, Jordi meets Fran, who had been waitering at a restaurant in Andalusia, southern Spain, before moving to Barcelona.
Fran had come to the city looking to specialize, and ended up in coffee. Jordi had recently opened Coffee Lab, and as he was also two-time barista champion of Spain (2012, 2013), Fran was eager to learn alongside Jordi, who had already opened COFFEE LAB – and so started their long-time partnership.
Jordi’s belief in the potential for specialty coffee was enough to convince Fran that this was where they should be headed. And once he’d had a taste of the complex world of specialty coffee, he was hooked and knew there was no going back.
Founded in 2014, NOMAD’s COFFEE LAB was the first specialty coffee shop in Barcelona. Initially, Jordi thought about hiring a salesperson to sell their roasted specialty coffee to local coffee shops. But when he realized that people working at the cafes were not familiar with specialty coffee, he decided to take a different approach. NOMAD started offering training programs as a way to improve the visibility of specialty coffee in Barcelona.
Since then, NOMAD’s training programs have grown to offer a variety of courses, from training for home baristas, to cupping workshops, to programs tailored to professionals. Training is still at the backbone of NOMAD where regular workshops are held. The content of their course for baristas is the same whether they are training people at NOMAD, or for another business.
Jordi: “Our motto is sharing is caring. The more we share about coffee, the more people will value coffee, and the people who are involved in it.”
Fran: “When people leave our courses, and they put into practice what they’ve learned, brewing good coffee at home, they can’t go back to making or drinking bad coffee. The more people who understand and appreciate specialty coffee, the more people will go to coffee shops. That’s how we can have an impact on the coffee culture in Barcelona.”
Balancing the local and global community
Whatever the industry, as a business grows, it needs to move away from jobs that are dependent on a particular individual, to roles that can be done by anyone in the team. At NOMAD, they consulted with internationally renowned coffee expert and author Scott Rao to standardize their quality criteria and develop and establish protocols for quality control. The protocols are designed to improve consistency and make it easier to train people who don’t have a lot of experience with roasting.
However, while training and protocols can help you develop a person’s skills, it won’t help you develop a person’s character. Which is why at NOMAD, they prioritize teamwork and cooperation when recruiting new staff. If they receive an application and don’t have an opening, they’ll still interview the applicant because there might be a chance in the future. They also scout new talent from people attending their training programs.
Fran: “NOMAD has such a great atmosphere, all the people working here are down-to-earth, authentic, and friendly. It’s hard to imagine that we have a fan following. And thanks to Jordi, the company has a culture where staff are actively encouraged to share opinions and ideas. That’s what I like about NOMAD.”
NOMAD’s reputation and influence has grown in Barcelona, Spain, and throughout the world. and it has continued to evolve by following its heart, not other roasters, or industry trends. However, there are times when what is in NOMAD’s heart is misunderstood by the outside world.
Fran: “For the last couple of years we’ve been focusing on our overseas sales and I think that put a distance between us and the local coffee community in Barcelona.”
Fran decided to go back to their roots. They began offering workshops to coffee shop owners in Barcelona, participating in local events where specialty coffee was a feature, and offering free cupping events for the general public. Through these activities, NOMAD strengthened their connection with the local community.
Jordi: “At NOMAD, we don’t have a big customer who buys up the majority of our stock. We sell only to small independent shops. Our ideal customer is not someone who buys up everything. It’s someone who connects with us, who understands what we’re about and passes that on to their customers. When we have a connection as people, then I know we can work well together in business.”
Finding a life’s work
There was once a musician who started off as a busker. The musician formed a band and together they gigged at backstreet venues, slowly building a following. That following got bigger until they were performing arena concerts in front of tens of thousands of fans.
Now, with records sold all over the world, there’s a distance between the band and the fans that wasn’t there in the early days. But the heart and soul that they pour into every song still makes its way to where it’s appreciated. Just how NOMAD’s coffee makes its way to people living thousands of kilometers away all over the world.
Jordi: “I’ve always said this is an anti-business, because it’s never been about making money. It’s about doing the thing right in front of me. One cup of coffee, one bag of beans, one after the other. Tiny, ant-sized actions which all line up to lead us to where we are today.
One thing I can say for certain is that, even when I had to stop or had a problem, I never lost the urge to keep pushing forward. NOMAD and specialty coffee are a lifestyle choice for the people working here at NOMAD, it’s a way for us to live a better life. We chose this job. It’s our life’s work, something we’ll keep working on improving as long as we can.”
Variety is the spice of life, and it’s a philosophy that holds true at NOMAD. The coffee lineup is given a complete overhaul every three months, cafes that serve food have a different menu every day, and the interiors are given a makeover every two to three years. While never forgetting their coffee cart origins, NOMAD is always looking for ways to bring something new to the business.
Fran: “I came to specialty coffee about ten years ago. The deeper I dive, the more inspired I am and the less I want to leave. Looking for great coffee, roasting great coffee, serving great coffee to customers, I love all of it.”
Jordi: “I often boast about it, but our industry is full of fantastic people. Customers, coworkers, suppliers, everyone is amazing. I think it helps that most have come here because of a passion for this industry. It’s not about earning money, it’s more like turning a hobby into a vocation. Which is why people are so generous, and the industry is such a great place to be.”
Text: Tatsuya Nakamichi
Jordi: I consider myself a coffee journeyman because I love to explore different local coffee scenes and coffee life. So I seek out famous coffee shops and cafes that offer exceptional service and products.
Fran: I always get to work first to enjoy a coffee before everyone else gets there. Planning out the day in the quiet store while drinking my coffee, that’s my favorite do sure