Just hours ago, I arrived from the United States to Moscow—my second trip to this amazing, beautiful and totally wild city. I’m here almost one year exactly from when I first visited, and for the same reason. Only, in the true style of Russia, everything is bigger, grander, and even more dramatic now.
I’m specifically talking about the annual Spasskaya Tower International Military Music Festival, and Russian coffee roaster Soyuz’s place within it. The festival itself brings together the best, most colorful and delightful military bands from all over the world, to perform each night for 8 nights in the shadow of Saint Basil’s Cathedral on historic Red Square.
In 2011 for the first time, Soyuz Coffee Roasting (founded earlier that year) found itself playing an important role in this traditional festival by introducing specialty coffee to the tens of thousands of Russians who attend the event.
Here’s the scene: you walk into Red Square (through heavy security this week!) and head toward Saint Basil’s. With Stalin’s Tomb on your right, you see a giant cappuccino cup mounted high in the air above a white circus tent with see-through walls. You’ll also see a line of coffee lovers stretching out from the entrance—honestly, it’s really half nightclub, half cafe right here, right now. The gates open for the festival at 6, but the military bands don’t begin until 8, which means the crowds of people entertain themselves watching the military horse brigades, but now, they also make a requisite stop at the Specialty Coffee Show Starring Barista Champions, under the big white cappuccino cup.
No one knew how it would go when the Coffee Show debuted in 2011 featuring National Barista Champions from around the world as well as 2011 World Barista Champion Alejandro Mendez, but there was a general agreement it would be something special. But no one could have predicted the success it would enjoy: more than three times as many people came into the pop up cafe for coffee prepared by these barista champions than organizers anticipated. It was an enormous success.
Now the Specialty Coffee Show Starring Barista Champions is back and better than ever. The tent (i.e. nightclub) is enclosed (which is especially nice considering we’ve got some clouds and a bit of rain); the three barista stations are elevated to put even more prominence on just how special it is that these champions and this coffee are coming together; the tent extends invisibly behind the stations, where all the supplies are sold, and for the first time, 12-ounce bags of coffee are available for purchase as guests exit the tent. It was a stroke of genius: on the first day of the festival (yesterday), Soyuz sold more than 50 kilos of whole bean coffee.
As I write this, the second evening of the Specialty Coffee Show Starring Barista Champions has just begun. The horses are dancing in the arena opposite our nightclub cafe, and there are some world class baristas preparing coffee for an electrified crowd of Russians. Seriously: everyone is dancing. At station one, serving Soyuz’s Mon Ami Delight espresso, is 2011 World Barista Champion Alejandro Mendez and his friend and coworker Daniel Mendez, the 2012 Barista Champion of El Salvador. At the middle station, serving Soyuz’s Barista #4 Espresso, is 2011 Italian Barista Champion Francesco Sanapo and 2012 World Barista Champion Raul Rodas of Guatemala. And at the final station, serving Soyuz’s Paretto Celesto Espresso is 2011 and 2012 Barista Champion of Slovakia, Monika Palova, along with the esteemed barista and roaster for Soyuz, the lovely Asli.
Each station is serving the signature drink created by Andrew Hetzel for last year’s Soyuz festival, aptly called the Spasskaya Tower. But this year, in honor of the fact that Russia just celebrated its 200th military anniversary, each station is also serving a special additional signature drink:
• At station one, the Mon Ami Delight espresso is blended with caramel syrup, and topped with cocoa and cinnamon sugar, and is called Borodino
• At station two, the Barista #4 Espresso is combined with vanilla syrup, with coconut and cocoa powders on top, and is called Napoleon
• At station three, the Paretto Celesto Espresso is blended with a chocolate mint, and a white chocolate syrup, and is topped with chocolate shavings.
It’s true that Russians really like things sweet, but also keep in mind that specialty coffee is relatively new to Russia — there are only a few companies doing it, and the country is still a largely tea-drinking population. While these sweet drinks are available to anyone in the crowd who wants one, all the baristas are all carefully explaining the coffees, and encouraging the consumers to try the coffee as a straight espresso first. And plenty of people are. In fact, I can tell even from the first hour of attending the festival this year that there is an incredible amount more recognition of quality coffee than there was last year—these people have stepped up their game. And they have Soyuz to thank.
So Raul, Francesco, Monika, Alejandro, and Daniel are here for the first half of the festival. On Tuesdat, the second team of baristas will arrive: Chris Loukakis, the 2011 World Latte Art Champion, who hails from Greece; Coen van Sprang, the 2012 Barista Champion of the Netherlands; Ricardo Azofeifa Mora, the 2012 Barista Champion of Costa Rica; Javier Garcia, the 2011 Barista Championof Spain; and Stefanos Domatiotis of Greece, who placed fifth in the 2012 World Barista Championship.
The two teams will have one night when everyone is together, and it should be a really special thing.
I love this festival. I love seeing how much more Russians seem to be enjoying and appreciating coffee than last year. In 2011, they were curious. Now they’re devotes. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
LAST NOTE: At the end of the evening, we were informed that the famous French singer Mireille Mathieu would be stopping by the coffee tent! So we quickly cleaned up and created the specialty drink that Soyuz developed especially for her: it’s called Mireille Mathieu Shakerato, and it combines coconut water, coconut syrup, strawberries, strawberry syrup, dark chocolate, milk ice, and a double shot of Soyuz’s Barista #4 Espresso.