Meeting Georg Branny was an experience on its own. Starting our coffee tour in Vienna at his café – CaffèCouture – couldn't be a better kick off. His passion for coffee could keep the conversation going for hours and as George is one of the pioneers of the speciality coffee in Austria he has a lot to share.
He is multiple times Austrian Barista Champion (in various categories) and successful competitor on the world level (lately 4th Place World Cup Tasting Championships 2012) who runs two cafés and roasts his own coffee at the moment.
In this interview we discussed his early beginnings with coffee, reasons for his success in barista competitions, importance of a good health, Vienna's coffee culture and fast moving culture of the speciality coffee. Meet Georg!
What is your coffee story? How did it all start?
In January 2006, during a two day trip to Prague, I watched the Czech Barista Championship where the famous Luigi Lupi showed his latte art skills during the break. That was my magical moment.
Back in Vienna I immediately started to work on my new hobby and two months later when I heard about the Austrian Barista Championship I signed in and competed for the first time. Without any special training I finished on the sixth place. In my first 15 minutes of competition I made all the possible mistakes you can imagine (including overtime). It was fun though!
I was very disappointed about that 6th place but Alf Kramer, the head judge from Norway, told me to come next year again. Alf even wrote on the top of my score sheet „highest potential“ and he told me during our meeting after the competition that he is sure I can win everything when I start practicing … so I did.
I have to also thank to my partner Veronika and my father for all the support I received over the last years. All the trainings and preparations for so many competitions were only possible with the perfect team pushing you forward!
You were very successful in barista competitions, what was your motivation back then?
To be honest, competing is a part of my life – it's in me! I love it. Competing is like a drug for me. You have to know that I used to play handball professionally for many years and I was a part of the national team of Austria. I experienced winning national Championships and international tournaments in my sport career.
I'm not that kind of guy who dreams about winning the competition – I do it! I work for it. I have a plan, I train when the other competitors train and I train when the other competitors sleep. Day by day for weeks before the competition. I'm ready to participate in many different competitions at the same championships. The preparation and the training is always really hard.
Do you motive your baristas to take part in competitions? What is the role of competitions in the barista development?
I would never motivate my baristas to take part. The first step of saying “Let's go for a competition” has to come from themselves!
I know in each competition there are baristas with a different kind of motivation. Some just wants to gain an experience of being a competitor, other ones consider it as a good step for his professional career and others expect the respect and recognition from their clients. However, I respect all the people taking part in a championship, I think that a motivation of a real competitors comes from a different sources. It comes from the heart and only those people are the real winners. They will be always one step in the front of the others because they enjoy the competition itself.
In a daily business it's a totally different game. First, your clients have to like you as a person so they are happy to see your face every day. The usual daily operation is far from a barista competition. The real competition there is to satisfy the demands of the coffee from people who spent their money in your shops and every time think of something special and unexpected for them. They want to enjoy a really nice cup of coffee and a unique atmosphere that you as a barista create.
One excellent skill the comes from competitions though is the ability to interact with a customer and prepare coffee at the same time with ease.
During our visit, we were not only in both of your cafés but also in your training centre (both coffee and body) – is it your philosophy – strong mind and strong body?
Your mind and your body are working together directly! If you are in a good physical shape you not only look healthy, but more importantly, your brain and your body are able to handle stress better and to regenerate faster!
Imagine all the moves repeated hundreds of times a day in a shop. Our generation of baristas will feel the results of this job in the next years! You have to train your body to be on top of it. Think about your back, neck, shoulders, wrist, etc… We also drink a lot of coffee every day – your health is a result of your nutrition. You have to bring everything in a good balance.
And don't forget about the business perspective – a healthy person saves you a lot of money.
What were the early days like, before and after the opening of your café?
These days were not very busy (haha). People didn't have a clue what it is as it was so different from all the cafés they knew before. We had to explain them the concept and do it again and again. It was hard but it was fun, especially the positive reactions of people after tasting their cup of coffee was very motivating. We worked really hard to attract every customer in order to transfer our passion on him so that eventually resulted in him bringing his friends the other day.
You are also roasting your coffee at the moment, when did you started and what made you to go beyond being a barista and café owner?
Everything started with a passion for coffee. Our motivation was not about money! Our motivation was to present something really beautiful with a lots of good taste and with the culture behind the product. Starting roasting coffee was the logical step to have everything in our hands.
We started roasting on our own at the beginning of 2014. From the very beginning, I can say, we had a big success but there was a lot of work involved before we even started the business. You have to be prepared very well. There is something really magic about creating your own product.
In 2014, speciality coffee scene in Vienna experienced the rapid growth (only during our visit there were 4 new cafés opening). What do you think about it and how does a traditional vs modern work together in Vienna?
The growth is showing a trend which is very positive and you can see the same trend for quality in other businesses too! It's not only coffee. People are starting to think more and more about what do they buy, where does it come from and what's the overall story behind the product.
The traditional coffee houses and the modern ones are not standing in a real competition. Every business has their own clients. You can never be everybody's darling. The old coffee houses have a really special unique flair as the modern ones have.
Our direct neighbor (60m only) is for example the most popular coffee house in Viennese history – the Café Central – but we have a lot of clients drinking coffee exclusively in our shop and going for extraordinary pastries into the “old Central”. I think we can profit from each others existence.
Similar question, you own the only café located in a Vienna's District 1. Why is it only one and how difficult is to bring speciality coffee there?
You have to understand that this is all about money. We live in a very expensive city with enormous rents. The centre of Vienna is very traditional and is over-floated by big brands that are willing to pay unbelievably high rent for a shop and owners know that.
We are very lucky to have the chance to be in the heart of Vienna because I and my team worked very hard to bring something special and unique to the coffee culture of Vienna. We were scouted by the right people, the same people who own the house we have our second shop at the Palais Ferstel Passage. They wanted to bring something new to the old fashioned centre of Vienna.
Don't get me wrong, we are not pushed by investors. We are a privately owned company and we have to pay the same rent like others. However, they gave us a really nice chance to bring “fresh wind” into the centre of Vienna!
You roots are in the Czech Republic and you can see also what's happening in Slovakia. Can you somehow compare coffee culture in these countries?
I thing its not important to compare countries because its the same „wind of change“ in the coffee culture all over the world. It's amazing to see the beautiful coffee culture developing by motivated creative people who bring their passion and heart into the coffee business. Moreover, for me it is still „Czechoslovakia“ – one country and one passion! The split is only a sad part of the former politics. Maybe one day our ice-hockey teams will get united and win the world championship again.
What are you plans for the coming years?
We don ‘t have plans for years – we have plans for much shorter periods. In this fast moving times many things can change in a no time so you have to be ready to react very fast in order to stay on the top! We learned how to move very fast and some ideas we are having are being implemented straight away. Still the most important thing is to have fun – every time! If you bring that feeling to your clients – you'll succeed.