Third-wave coffee roasteries are not the first thing most travelers to Latvia seek on their visit, but they would be missing out. Even with only 5 such roasteries nationwide, a stellar cup of coffee is never too far away. The world has moved on from first-wave (origin obscured, instant or canned coffee) through second-wave (brought on by Peet’s Coffee and later Starbucks, highlighting countries of origin and different flavors) to where we are today, in the third-wave, with emphasis on specialty coffee, and standards that reach from the soil the coffee is grown in to the cup into which it is finally poured.
Kalve Coffee Roasters is one of specialty roasters, operating their roastery in the up-and-coming VEF Quarter of Riga and serving specialty coffee out of their tasting room at Stabu iela 38. With the LV cleverly hidden in their name, Kalve was developed based on their founding values of knowledge, work, and skill, to make a positive impact. In Latvian, “kalve” means a forge—a place for taking raw materials and making them into something new which, in essence, is exactly what the Kalve roastery does, one aromatic batch at a time.
Raimonds Zadvornovs, co-founder of the roastery along with Gatis Zemanis, began his journey on the more mechanical side of coffee production, selling coffee machines. He has since gone on to represent Latvia in the 2017 World Barista Championship in Seoul, and has been a judge in the French, Polish, Romanian and Lithuanian Barista Championships. I had a chance to enjoy a fantastic latte from the master barista himself and chat about his vision for Kalve, and how one can begin the exploration of Latvian-roasted specialty coffee.
He started by going through the process and how the green beans that the team at Kalve roasts are chosen using ethical sourcing methods, adhering to Specialty Coffee Association (SCA, the association working to ensure highest grade coffee supply chains) standards to ensure that they attain at least 82 points on the quality scale (80-100 is specialty, below 80 is commercial coffee.)
Each batch is cupped (process of tasting to discern the aromas and notes of a freshly roasted batch) to SCA standards. “It’s important to let the natural nuances come through in the coffee, as each region of coffee production lends different characteristics from the elevation, sun, and soil,” explains Raimonds.
Kalve features four categories to choose from: Light & Juicy, Sweet & Fruity, Full & Creamy and Truly Unique (often featuring seasonal beans). If you’re looking for a new bean to try, you can choose from a category similar to your favorite and explore from there.
Where to start if you’re new to specialty coffee? Kalve recommends their “gateway” coffees—ones that build a bridge between what is already familiar, and what else coffee can be. Their Chocolate Bar espresso (notes: dark chocolate, caramel, hazelnut) is good for those used to Italian roasts; but instead of a burnt bitterness, the strongest note is, true to its name, dark chocolate.
“It’s about getting people to taste sensory things that they may not be used to; we meet them where they already are and bring them into the coffee world to explore more deeply,” explains Raimonds. There is no pressure here, and Kalve strives to give people choices so they can develop their tastes naturally, earning their trust in the roaster’s quality.
“I don’t like the idea of educating the customer, [I prefer] just giving people a choice. People aren’t wrong in their tastes, just different. We adopted a more user-friendly, different approach,” continues Raimonds.
He also recommends their silver medal-winning Marmelade espresso blend (notes: dark chocolate and dried fruit, with a long, sweet finish) for those becoming acquainted with specialty coffee.
While talking about palate refinement seems rather pretentious, with specialty high-quality coffee, it is something that happens on its own as the tongue adjusts to new flavors. Over the course of getting to know more about coffee and its nuances, Raimonds found his naturally developed, a phenomenon that can be observed with a variety of foods and beverages.
“I found my palate even started accepting drier wines; I think that palates can develop in parallel,” he explains.
Despite their deep knowledge of bringing out the best flavors in a coffee roast, their philosophy and guidelines are simple—the right coffee for you is however you like it. While some roasteries will be rather strict about adding sugar or milk, Raimonds is not that picky. Starting with a high quality product is only complemented by the introduction of additional flavor.
Already familiar with specialty coffee and looking to branch out? Kalve’s newest roast is a Peaberry Cocktail (Caranavi, Bolivia: Agricafe, Rodriguez family)—with green apple, white grape, and almond notes with a floral finish. Decaf drinkers are in luck, too. Kalve has one of the highest-quality decafs around, with a Swiss Water Process (chemical-free) bean from Brazil (Chapadas de Minas, Primavera Estate) with notes of honey, citrus, and cacao.
Kalve is also notable for their zero waste principles. Their beans, whole or ground, come in a reusable metal can which can be refilled at a discount.
“When we started this idea, we thought only a few would bring them back to reuse. It ended up being about 70%,” stresses Raimonds.
They also provide their roasted coffee in refillable buckets for their wholesale customers as the packaging doubles as a means of transport. “When we deliver to someone ten minutes away, [we] have to package the coffee, only to have the packaging torn off and thrown away immediately. We thought this way was much better,” says Raimonds.
But why choose Latvia for operations? Kalve’s vision is to become one of the Top Ten roasteries in Europe, a goal not too far off for them, but they’re also interested in keeping active in the local market.
“We’re a small market and as a result, it can absorb the trends faster, which is a plus,” reports Raimonds.
What does the future look like for Kalve? Besides developing their reputation in Europe, they want to expand their Truly Unique category of coffee, notably with a Gesha varietal roast coming soon. They also want to have a tasting flight with a selection of coffees at their tasting room to turn the process into an experience and give people a chance to develop their tastes even more.