Reykjavík Roasters’ new café on Brautarholt has a much edgier feel than the original shop –– a cozy little quaint place on Kárastígur, which since its launch in 2008 has been city favorite.
The new location is a neighborhood just 10 minutes up from the bustling downtown area of 101 Reykjavík, but it has a totally different vibe.
“This neighborhood is kind of raw, but it’s also kind of trendy, and up-and-coming,” says co-owner Ingibjörg (Imma) Jóna Sigurðardóttir. The café’s design matches that industrial aesthetic.
Reykjavík Roasters is a major player in Iceland’s small but mighty coffee scene. Their retail business includes in-store and online sales, and they do wholesale sales to cafés, restaurants, and a few other accounts.
The company’s extreme popularity can be attributed to a desire to be the best. The co-owners are innovative and creative championship-level baristas, who are laser focused on quality. They carefully analyze all aspects of their business. Even with 26 staff people between the two shops, Imma, Torfi Þór Torfason and Þuríður Sverrisdóttir still work the bar and Torfi serves as the main roaster.
With their roasts, they strive for sweetness and acidity and they continuously experiment to bring out different characteristics in their beans.
“We are focusing on Scandinavian roasts – so it’s a little more of a light roast with more acidity, more sweetness, and we’re the only company in Iceland that’s doing that. Others are still roasting a little bit darker, but they still have quality,” says Imma.
In-store roasting especially provides teachable moments. “A lot of people have never seen the green beans before. It’s really nice when you have the chance to talk to people about them,” says Þuríður.
Torfi agrees. “It happens pretty much every day that we roast, someone comes along with their coffee and they say, ‘Hey, are you roasting the same thing that I’m drinking?’ and we start having a dialogue about the process so they learn while drinking,” he says.
Reykjavík Roasters offers a diverse variety of coffees from Brazil, Burundi, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia and Nicaragua.
Quality is the number one priority for this group. “We’re definitely focused on getting the best coffee possible,” says Torfi, who notes that Icelanders demand a high degree of coffee quality.
“I think we’ve always had high standards with regards to the coffee being bought—even with the Icelandic chains, so the level of quality is there. It’s just different styles of roasting. I think on average, the average Icelandic coffee drinker is actually used to higher quality coffee, and if you go to the cafes around the city they’re all at a pretty high standard. Of course, you have everything within the scale but generally you get a decent cup of coffee,” says Torfi.
As roasters, they choose the partners with care. They want accounts that care about quality and taste. Dialogue and training helps them to make sure they are on the same page with their partners.
“We’re not just going to hand them some coffee and say, ‘Go figure it out.’ We’re going to train them; we’re going to help them find the right recipes,” says Torfi. “I would say, the people that we don’t want to work with are the people that don’t want to have quality coffee. Not everybody is searching for that. Not everybody is ready to commit to actually doing it properly, says Torfi.
Through regular workshops, they teach their partners how to brew and present their
coffee in the best way possible. They also host classes to help customers brew better coffee at home.
Reykjavík Roasters will soon be a favorite in their new neighborhood because they understand what’s expected of them. “We, Scandinavians, travel a lot and people have high salaries. We have the means to really buy the good stuff. So, we’re probably a little bit spoiled in that sense. In this neighborhood, people would really not settle for something that wasn’t really top quality.”
Soon they will have built the kind of following the original shop enjoys, where customers
come in to escape the moody weather, listen to records and chat. Many of the customers have become friends and supporters, says Torfi.
“I love the Icelandic customer base,” says Torfi. “We’ve never advertised throughout the history of the company and the regulars have gone through something to keep it as their regular place and they know us all well. We have good friends who started off as regulars. It’s like extended family almost.”
Imma says the coziness is good for building community. “The other place [on Kárastígur] is so packed and there are so few seats and big tables you have to sit with a stranger at community tables. So, it’s really fun,” says Imma.
To learn more about Reykjavík’s coffee scene, read my feature article in the February 2016 issue of Fresh Cup magazine.