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Barista Stories: Ammar Smadi of Empress Coffee, Vienna

Ammar Smadi is a passionate and dedicated coffee professional based in Vienna. Born in Jordan, he moved to Austria when he was just around 8 years old. At the age of 25, he has already 8 years of experience in the industry.

Ammar currently rocks the position of the Head Barista/Manager at the trend-setting Empress Coffee in Vienna. In 2021 Ammar placed 3rd during the Austrian Brewers Cup but we are sure that this is just the first competition success and there are way more to come!

Barista Stories are sponsored by PUQpress.

Ammar, what is your first memory with coffee? 

Coming from an Arabic country, coffee has always been a big part of my life. My first memory with it was when I was around 5, when my mom let me try a sip of Jordanian coffee, which is comparable to Ibrik. Back then it was disgusting to me, I would say a lot has changed since. 

Could you describe the moment or situation that made you decide to become a barista?

There was no actual moment, it was rather a long process. When I started working in coffee when I was 17 years old because I moved out of my parents' house. I had not even finished school when I started working, so I would work on the weekends in order to pay my bills. While being still very young, I did not really care about what I was doing as long as it kept me financially alive. 

It was years later, that I realised that coffee and especially working in coffee made me happy. The people that I have met and the feeling of making someone‘s day gave me a kind of fulfilment that I could not find anywhere else. 

What is the funniest thing that you have experienced behind the bar? Can you recall any embarrassing moments?

I worked at a coffee shop that was very packed. It got so incredibly busy that I really thought I was working on the assembly line. The coffee shop was so big that, at the end of the day, it would take ages to tell all the customers that we were closing, so my colleague would turn the music off to announce it through the speakers like a pilot. It is very hard to convey how funny that was in words, I guess you‘d have to be there. 

“What we do on a daily basis matter and affects people‘s lives around us. You can‘t imagine what your passion and a smile can do for the person on the other side of the counter”.

Ammar Smadi

If a career in coffee was not an option, what job would you be doing? 

If a career in coffee was not an option, I would definitely stay in hospitality. Making people happy with something I create makes my life more beautiful. That‘s why I would open something like a food truck. I love cooking and I love even more how it connects people. 

There is a saying in German that goes like „Liebe geht durch den Magen.“ („Love goes through the stomach.“)

Do you have an unusual habit or hobby that you love?

As mentioned before, I really love cooking and trying out new things. 

There is nothing super unusual about me. If I could think of something, I would say that I am an old soul trapped in a young man‘s body, at least that is what all my close friends tell me. 

Are there any bad recommendations you hear often in your profession? What is your piece of advice for anybody starting a career as a barista?

There is only one thing in our profession that I think is bad. It is the fact that working in hospitality is not taken seriously enough or rather not acknowledged enough. Especially in Vienna, people assume that working in “gastro” is something that you could do to earn money while studying or until you have a „proper“ job. That is truly condescending, especially for people like me, who see their life in it. 

So, my advice is, to see your worth! What we do on a daily basis matter and affects people‘s lives around us. You can‘t imagine what your passion and a smile can do for the person on the other side of the counter.

Definitely consider reading the story of Empress Coffee that is managed by Ammar. You can find our article about it here.

How did it feel to compete in the Austrian Brewers Cup? Do you plan to also take part in the next editions?

After so many years in coffee, it was hard for me to find new things that keep my passion alive, until I started competing. It is extraordinary how much you learn and also find out about yourself while preparing for a competition. I can‘t really describe how it felt because sometimes I would feel every emotion at once. It is a beautiful thing though. 

Last year was my first time competing in the Brewers Cup and I am so happy about my 3rd place. I have to admit that it sparked a new side of me. Now, I am eager to win and I am definitely going to continue this journey! 

At the end of the day however, you feel like a champion no matter what happens!

What’s the one coffee recipe/cocktail that everybody should try? Why?

At Empress, we serve a non-alcoholic version of an Espresso Negroni. Since the actual Negroni is my all-time favourite, I had to make a coffee version out of it. I think the reason why everybody should try it is that it is the perfect balance between flavours. You have beautiful sweetness accompanied by a smooth bitterness that is rounded out by elegant tartness. 

The Negroni I serve at the Cafe consists of non-alcoholic Vermouth, pink grapefruit lemonade combined with a full-bodied and round natural coffee from Brazil. It gives it the distinct body that Negronis have. I made it non-alcoholic in order to make it more approachable for my customers.

What has been the best experience you have had in the speciality coffee industry so far?

I wouldn‘t say that there is a particular experience that stands out and also there are too many. What I am definitely grateful for is how the industry helped me to find out who I really was and that it led me to the people that I count as a family today. 

What coffee challenges are you looking forward to? Any new projects or collaborations?

I am looking forward to competing again in November! I am working with my favourite people, shout out to my friends at DAK Coffee Roasters, and I am excited to present the beautiful and dedicated work of Cata Export and my comp coffees producer, whom I shall mention in November.

Quick Fire Questions for Ammar Smadi:

Would you serve filter coffee with milk if asked for it?

Yes.

Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?

No.

Espresso or Filter coffee?

First filter, then Espresso. 

Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?

Sweetness.

Milky or Black?

Black.

Slurp or Spit?

Always slurp.

Sit in or Take Away?

Sit in.

Cake or Pastry with your coffee?

Cake.

Favourite piece of barista equipment? 

My beautiful Comandante Grinder.