Interview with a barista: Jozo

Expat and professional barista Jozo.
Expat and professional barista Jozo. Source: Marina Barinova

After running a survey on social media to figure out expats' favorite coffee places in Tallinn, ERR News contributor Svetlana Štšur decided to deep dive into the coffee world with Jozo, an expat and professional barista from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Jozo Salmanic has 15 years of barista experience and though he no longer works as one, he is still passionate about coffee.  He runs a website dedicated to coffee culture in Estonia and one day dreams of opening his own perfect coffee place in Tallinn.

How did your relationship with coffee start? Who introduced you to coffee?

My parents did, back in the Balkans. In our culture, it is normal to start drinking coffee from a very young age.

For example, when you are a kid, like at preschool age, you get a little bit of coffee in the morning. The coffee dosage gradually increases. By the seventh or eighth grade, you casually go out for a coffee drink with your peers after school. 

What is the most popular coffee drink in the Balkans?

The most common coffee in the Balkans is Turkish coffee or espresso. Guys usually go for espresso and girls drink coffee with milk or cappuccino. Instant coffee is also very popular. When I was growing up, we mostly drank Turkish coffee at home. 

Can you remember when you became a coffee addict?

When I was living with my parents, we had coffee twice a day, a morning coffee and an evening coffee.  The number of coffee cups increased when we had guests over. In the Balkans, with each new guest comes a new coffee round (laughs). Coffee has a very important social aspect in our culture.

The summer before college, I decided to earn some extra money and started working as a waiter/barista in a bar. I remember thinking to myself: "I am not going to do this my whole life, right?" But ended up doing it for 15 years (laughs).

By the way, in Balkan bars, coffee is just as important as alcohol. So, basically if you work in a bar, you become a one man band: a bartender and a barista, cocktail master, bouncer, DJ and dishwasher, I have done it all (laughs).

What coffee equipment do you have at home to make good coffee? Is it pricey?

I have a small espresso machine at home but also two French presses. The large French press costs about €40. But there are smaller ones on the market that you can get for €5 or so.  I also have an AeroPress – it allows you to make an espresso without an espresso machine. AeroPress costs €30 on average.  A good grinder for coffee is a must, it makes an outstanding difference to your coffee and a basic model runs you around €30 as well.

Actually, some coffee lovers out there insist on getting a €30,000 euro La Marzocco espresso machine and claim it's the only way to prepare a decent espresso. I am not one of them.

To sum it all up, all you need is a good grinder and good coffee beans to make a good coffee at home.

Also, a fun tip, you can get a Vietnamese drip filter, which costs like 30 cents. You can place it on your coffee cup, pour coffee through it and voila – you get a Vietnamese morning coffee drink.

Expat and professional barista Jozo. Source: Private library

When you moved to Estonia, did you notice a difference in the coffee culture here?

Oh, it is much more sophisticated. The difference is like heaven and earth. 

In the Balkan countries, from Slovenia to Albania, the coffee culture is still stuck in the last century. Most people back there still think that a good coffee must be strong and bitter, like typical Turkish coffee, you know.

It is a different picture here in Estonia (even though it has only a little over a million people). I would go as far as to suggest that Estonian coffee culture is in some aspects even more advanced than in some Scandinavian countries.  For instance, Finns are the biggest coffee drinkers in the world. However, typical Finnish coffee is far from sophisticated, it's a dull black strong coffee drink – nothing special to it.

In Estonia, in Tallinn at least, you have many small great roasteries like Coffee People, Paper Mill, which establish personal contacts with the coffee beans suppliers of the world.

How big of a role does a barista play in the coffee making process?

A really good coffee is not possible without a really good barista.  And of course, it is always better when a barista genuinely loves what they do, like with any kind of occupation.

However, in Tallinn we have got a problem: Tallinn's baristas are good at making coffee but have a clear lack of social skills and are not capable of providing a good customer service experience. It might be due to the local culture; however, it cannot be an excuse when it comes to good customer service nowadays. 

Most people do not come to cafes just to drink coffee, they can do it at home as well.  Having a cup of coffee out in a cafe is about the experience, a social ceremony, if you wish. This is why it is important, when a client enters the cafe, the barista should greet them. It doesn't have to be long, just a simple "hello" can make a huge difference for a visitor. A smile is always a plus.

I believe that Estonian baristas are underpaid and society's overall attitude towards customer service jobs here is neglectful. For example, a couple of months ago I was visiting  France and there you noticed right away a lot more appreciation for jobs like a barista, a baker or a waiter. In France, it is completely normal to see men working in restaurants as waiters in their 50s.  Being a waiter is a career for them and they take pride in what they do (as they should).

In Estonia or the Balkan countries, we have edgy young kids with tattoos and piercings, working in coffee or restaurant industries but unfortunately not able to pull out a smile.  Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against expressing your personal style even in customer service. I used to have long hair, wore Dr. Martens and all black to work, and my boss didn't mind it because I did my job well. My point is that eventually it all comes down to skills, both professional and social are highly valuable in customer service. 

How would you describe your ideal coffee drink?

I usually go for espresso with a stronger and bitter taste. 

For me personally, coffee with milk is less of a coffee. And no sugar, please (laughs). No sugar, no milk – this is how you get the true taste of coffee.

But I understand that coffee with milk is the most popular choice. If I drink coffee with milk, I prefer regular milk with a higher percentage of fat – it has more proteins and gives a nice foamy bubbly layer to your cappuccino or latte. 

With a plant-based milk it is more complicated to achieve the perfect micro foam (even though you can use plant-based milk barista editions – it does the job well). But I am still happy to see a variety of plant-based milks available in Estonia. Oat milk is my favorite and almond milk is great in coffee too.

Expat and professional barista Jozo. Source: Private library

How to make your coffee habit less expensive overall? 

Drinking good coffee is expensive.

So, drinking coffee out in Tallinn would cost you around €3,5 euros per cup.

You can save up by making coffee at home. Buy a kilo of good coffee beans from a small local coffee roastery for €35 euros, and it will last you for a month (at least it does so for me, and I am a big coffee drinker). 

If it still sounds like too much for you, buying coffee beans from big brands isn't necessarily a terrible option. For example, Lavazza is a good Italian coffee brand. Lavazza beans are good for espresso machines as well as AeroPress. A kilo of Lavazza Crema will cost you €10 euros – sounds very affordable to me.

But what is the difference between micro roasters coffee beans or big brands coffee beans?

Largely it depends on where the coffee beans come from: the quality of the soil, the climate and the use of pesticides. Ironically, the best coffee grows in the poorest countries because they do not have access to pesticides. 

So, small roasteries usually buy their beans from smaller coffee farms. The relationship with a coffee producer is personal, which makes the whole process more personal  and ethical.

Big chain coffee makers are less selective regarding the origin of their beans and their growing conditions. They need a large amount of the beans to fill the shelves in the supermarkets.

Also, to preserve the beans longer, large coffee producers tend to overbake the beans, making it a very dark roast, almost without any aroma left in it. 

So, does coffee have an expiration date?

In a way, yes. But it doesn't mean that expired coffee beans will poison you. The coffee will lose much of the aroma and taste quality though.

The beans bought from small roasteries are usually best during the first two weeks since the roasting date. The beans can last even longer if you keep them from the light, high temperatures, low temperatures and humidity. If you do not follow these precautions, the taste and aroma of the coffee will again significantly decrease. So, if you want to drink the best coffee ever, keep an eye on the roast date of  the package.

Do you have any other advice?

Eventually, everything is subjective, even what is considered to be good or bad coffee.

My parents back in the Balkans would despise the coffee from Tallinn's conceptual small coffee roasteries. For them nothing will beat a bitter strong coffee, the taste of which they cover with milk and sugar. This is  coffee heaven to them.

I also have a friend from Colombia, one of the biggest exporters of coffee beans in the world. She is used to drinking quite lousy coffee because the best beans go towards export to Western countries. So, she also believes that a good coffee is bitter and is supposed to give you stomach problems. 

After all, a good coffee is also kind of a luxury.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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