Single Estate, based in the Netherlands, runs a direct trade of green coffee, which was established in 2007. The company started roasting its own coffee in 2009 to provide a continuous and stable supply of delicious coffee. A barista who worked in the store won a world championship of AeroPress in 2019. In the same year, the company opened a coffee bar to directly communicate the appeal of coffee to consumers. We interviewed Mr. Bass Burghoorn, the founder of the company, who says, “Coffee also can be a good business.”
Making specialty coffee more accessible.
Single Estate operates a coffee bar as well as wholesales its own roasted coffee beans to over 100 customers at restaurants and bars. Bas, who founded the company in 2007 at the age of 27, has been leading and growing the company as the manager by running direct trade, which makes him ahead of the trend.
Bas states, “Don’t get me wrong but it’s not impossible to make good coffee. If you buy expensive coffee from good farms and roast it carefully, you can make good coffee, but that doesn’t lead to business. The definition of good coffee differs from person to person, so you have to match your product with customers’ preferences or vice versa.”
This is also the reason why he opened a coffee bar in 2019 that “anyone can easily enter.” With the idea of not wanting the bar to be just an ordinary coffee place, the baristas provide a place where they can directly tell customers about the stories of the farms, specialty coffees, and brewing methods.
“The store is a showroom, so to speak, to show our efforts, concepts, and philosophy. The idea behind the store is that baristas should not be working behind the scenes but should be good hosts who elegantly entertain customers and share their knowledge of coffee with customers. The reason why we hire skilled pâtissiers to make delicious sweets is that we want to be both “a charming coffee bar” and “a charming restaurant.”
The coffee business has great potential.
It was almost like a destiny for Bas, the founder of Single Estate, to encounter specialty coffee. He happened to visit a coffee farm in Sao Paulo, Brazil through a friend’s connection while traveling with his father and that is where he was exposed to the diversity of coffee for the first time.
“I learned at the cupping table that there are several ways to process coffee and natural and washed coffee taste differently. I was also impressed that they were pursuing better ways to harvest and better ways to process coffee beans and I had never realized that the world of coffee was this profound.”
“On one hand, I visited several farms and local nurseries surrounded by beautiful nature during my stay and learned that many of the coffee farmers live in poor neighborhoods. I felt that if I was going to be involved in the coffee business, I had responsibilities and the possibility to change this situation.”
The producer with whom he would later collaborate built a school on the farm and provided schooling for all the children of the people who worked on the farm. They were also using IT to help neighboring farms obtain Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certification. The work to make a dynamic difference in society was a breath of fresh air to a 27-year-old Bas, who was a corporate employee at an IT company.
He states, “It’s not that I want to save the planet, but I thought that “I want to do something good for people and the planet,” I was making enough money at the software company, but since it was a commercial company that made a profit by selling software, I felt that something was missing because it didn’t create sustainable satisfactions in me.”
“On the other hand, the coffee business is challenging and has the potential to bring necessary innovations to society and the environment. I was attracted to the work that could not be captured within the framework of business.”
Expanding business steadily
He had no idea what coffee was before he left the Netherlands but after he returned to the Netherlands, his mind was full of coffee. He immediately started looking for ‘a coffee professional’ who could be a team member and met a person who would become the key person. He was a former chef who had served as a judge at the barista championship in the Netherlands.
In addition to the ex-chef, who was ‘very familiar with the aroma of coffee and was attracted to the endless world of coffee,’ Bas brought in several other professional staff to join the team and founded Single Estate in 2007. He started an import business that he purchased green coffees from origins and sold them to roasters.
The volume of coffee beans handled in the trade was only about six containers per year and although they were able to purchase high-quality coffee beans, once the coffees were sold out within two weeks of its harvest, there was no work for them. This was why they decided to change their business to roasting that directly connects producers and consumers, ‘to add more values and truly deliver the stories of the farms to the customers.’
Since its establishment, Single Estate has visited coffee origins mainly in Central and South America every year to explore farms. The company currently procures coffees not only from Brazil but also from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, and 85% of the coffees are traded through direct trade. The roasting machines, which have changed from Giesen’s 2kg to Giesen’s traditional 50kg and Loring’s innovative 15kg, are a testament to the growth of Single Estate over the past decade.
“To preserve quality, we always invested in roasteries before expanding our business because we knew that if we expanded our business too quickly, we would lose consistency in quality.”
This steadfastness is an important factor in making coffee sustainable.
“We’re not just dreamers. We’ve met a lot of people who have big dreams and are doing great things in the world of coffee, but their businesses don’t grow out of the start-up phase. If they like it and enjoy it, that’s fine, of course, but if they want to update or expand the businesses, they need more strategy.”
Specialty coffee holds the key to sustainability.
“Donations are not the best solution for sustainability in the coffee industry. I’ve been to many places where we discuss coffee sustainability, and the discussion moves to money at the end of the day. When the coffee supply chain is fragmented at some point, producers are always at a disadvantage and do not receive their fair share and that’s how it’s been.”
“Specialty coffee is the only and best way to improve this situation in my opinion. If we can manage our farms well, build good relationships with our customers, and improve the quality of our coffee, we can increase both of our profits.”
“If we can invest the money in the right places, we will be closer to solving the problems in the coffee supply chain. I think it is our responsibility as a coffee chain to ensure that the project of building nurseries and schools for the children of workers on the farms does not come to a financial standstill.”
Although Single Estate has been involved with direct trade from early on, it has some bitter memories as well.
It was probably three years or so that rust disease occurred after they started trading with a family-owned farm in Guatemala that produce coffee with traditional farming methods and 50% of their harvest was damaged, and there were many overripe and immature coffees. They chose to mix them with good quality coffees, process them together, and ship them out, for them to live.
“We understood their feelings, but we couldn’t betray our customers by providing them coffee of inadequate quality at a high price. We felt that they were no longer a reliable partner for us, so we made a difficult decision to change suppliers.”
Since the inception of the company, the members of Single Estate have never missed “origin trip” to visit farms in Brazil and Central and South America every year. While selecting coffee to buy, they have talked with the producers about the current situations and their prospects in the future. Because he has built up a relationship based on trust with the farmers, he does not survey the number of pesticides used in the farms.
Bas states, “After I return home, I always wait anxiously to see when the coffee I selected in the farms will be delivered to us. The cupping session after roasting is the best moment for me as it brings back memories of my origin trips.”
Originally written in Japanese by Tatsuya Nakamichi.
There is nothing better than the moment when you roast fresh coffees delivered from producers in Guatemala, Brazil, and other countries and confirm that they are still delicious indeed. It makes me happy and proud to be able to share the deliciousness with my customers. I have visited the producers in person and waited impatiently for the coffees to arrive. This makes the moment even more special.