Today, we kick off an exciting series. One where we interview and spotlight coffee experts from around the world. You’ll meet CEOs, coffee farmers, coffee gear designers, coffee roasters/shop owners, and innovators. The movers and shakers of the coffee world.
To start off, meet Mr. Pablo Vargas, CEO of Cafe Britt.
Cafe Britt is a Costa Rican coffee company founded in 1985. It was the first gourmet coffee roaster in Costa Rica. The company pioneered organic coffee growing in Costa Rica. They have an online store and over 100 Britt Shops in 10 countries.
Can you tell our readers a little bit about what you do and your brand?
Café Britt originated in Costa Rica as the first coffee roasting company from a producing country focused on exporting the final product, i.e. roasted gourmet coffee, whole bean, and ground. The original team came from a commodities background (green coffee trading) and we wanted to see if we could add value to the green beans, sourcing only the best coffee around, and roasting and packing it using state of the art technology.
The Britt case has been studied by many universities and scholars, including Harvard’s Michael Porter. Therefore, Britt became an iconic Costa Rican brand that successfully moved up the value chain ladder, and positioned itself as the necessary link between high-quality coffee growers and quality discriminating coffee lovers around the world.
How did you get started in the coffee industry?
As a Costa Rican college student, I became involved in an international project that helped coffee farmers in the northern region of Costa Rica to get organized under a consortium of cooperatives. Later, while studying at Michigan State University under a Fulbright graduate level scholarship, I researched the international coffee market with the goal of helping growers in producing countries to use hedging models, futures, and options markets, to cope with price risks. Some of the conclusions about how to differentiate and add value to coffee became part of the philosophical foundation of Britt.
What’s your favorite type of coffee?
I have several favorites; not one. It depends on the occasion and time of day.
In the mornings I love to start my day with a freshly grounded and brewed Tarrazú and when I get to the office I usually have a cappuccino by mid-morning. Then I would have an espresso or a dark roast after lunch. While at the office many times I half fill my cup with our light roast. And if I eat dinner outside my home I would end it with an espresso.
Coffee is really like wine when you learn to appreciate the subtle differences between regions, origins, roasts and blends. The coffee experience becomes more and more interesting and you start to adventure with different coffees and some of them might become part of your favorites list. Actually, this is not very different from what happens with music and playlists.
How do you drink your coffee (with sugar, cream or black)?
I follow a simple rule, with exceptions: If it has milk, then it should have sugar too, if it doesn’t have milk, it shouldn’t have sugar either. The exception takes place with the espresso, sometimes I would add a bit of sugar to the espresso. And if it’s a Cuban espresso (it has twice the amount of coffee per ounce of water than regular espresso), then you have to use sugar for sure.
What is one coffee gear item (i.e coffee machine, grinder, etc.) you can’t live without?
A home grinder. And it has to be of good quality. A good burr coffee grinder makes all the difference!
What is the best coffee shop you have ever been to, where and why?
I’ll define best as the one I enjoy the most. And this is a small coffee shop, or coffee outlet, that we have at the San Jose Airport in Costa Rica. It’s the best because of its consistent quality. I go through airports a lot and it’s always a joy to go and receive great service and great coffee. If I am not going to the US, I would buy a large cappuccino to get it into the plane. If I am traveling to the US, I would usually sip it at the gate, and be the last to board the airplane. Sadly, they don’t allow you to board the plane with any liquids. Every airport should have one mini-coffee shop like that one!
When drinking coffee, do you have a favorite food/snack/dessert to eat, and why?
Yes, I just love the combination of coffee and dark chocolate. They go hand in hand. And our chocolate bars with or without fruit chunks, are the perfect coffee-chocolate combination.
What is your preferred everyday brewing method and why?
For breakfast, I like using my espresso machine with 5 oz of water, which makes a strong americano. A similar effect can be produced with a French Press. In both cases, you get a beverage that reminds you of the espresso taste, but it’s a larger beverage that will last for a full breakfast.
Favorite travel destination in the world and why?
I love going to Cusco, Peru, because of its coffee, history, and food! The coffee we source in Peru comes from the Cusco province, and growers use very traditional cultivation methods and coffee varieties, like arabicas and bourbons, that we don’t see in other countries. Some of our best growers there have their plantations just about 10 km away from Macchu Picchu, just on the side of the Inca Trail. The place is amazing!
What direction do you see the coffee industry going in the next 5 years? What is the next big trend in coffee?
I think coffee will continue to attract attention from people who love the culinary culture all over the world. Coffee is part of the modern culinary culture, and customers want to know more about their coffee, where it comes from, what the country/region combination has to do with the flavor, and different ways of preparing coffee based beverages.
I think all of this will continue and we will see coffee shops offer different preparation methods. And in high-end restaurants, you will get to choose the type of coffee by country, region, roast, and method, and they will prepare it for you using your desired method at your table.
To learn more about Café Britt, and to get the best coffee including organic coffee from Costa Rica, check out
Photo credit: Cafe Britt Costa Rica