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Barista Stories: Ken Braz of August 63, Berlin

Ken Braz, a 28 year old Luxembourger is a fantastic example on how coffee can start in your life as a hobby, slowly take over your heart to become a profession yet still be treated like a passion and ongoing, inspiring hobby. Ken went from an enthusiast, coffee blogger, champion, barista in one of the most acknowledged cafes in Berlin, to a roaster and owner of his own coffee business – August 63.

In a few weeks Ken will launch in Berlin his new mobile coffee bar Augusta. He founded it via a successful crowdfunding campaign. Another example but this time of how you can truly make your dreams come true and not be afraid to ask for help and support. We hope you will get truly inspired by Ken's story, we definitely are!

Barista Stories are sponsored by PUQpress. Photo by Sascha Gerritzen.

Ken, what is your first memory with coffee? 

I can’t remember my first memory with “sh*tty coffee”. But it was probably from a pod machine, full of sugar and milk. I drank it in order to stay awake and study for my exams in high school. Then my first memory with specialty coffee was a typical washed Ethiopian heirloom I brewed myself on a Chemex. I basically ordered coffee online from a startup who was a social business, roasting beans and donating 1 Euro directly in order to build water wells, schools and help the community. I loved the idea of doing something good by drinking a quality product. Not only the idea of their social business amazed me, but also the unique taste of that first cup.

You already competed in coffee competitions before working in the industry. What happened that you actually started to work in coffee?

I got into coffee out of curiosity to find all the good coffee places in Berlin and all the other cities I went to on holidays. When I started my first coffee blog in 2016, I went on the hunt for the best coffee shops & roasters in town. While doing that, I found out that there are so many interesting and amazing people in the coffee scene having different backgrounds and stories but with the passion for the same product. The more time passed by, the better I got at brewing coffee at home, experimenting with water and different brewing devices – that’s why I started to compete at those fun coffee competitions around Berlin. In my first attempt I immediately became 2nd at the Chemex Cup and that was an amazing feeling! On that same day, I met Łukasz – this amazing guy working now for ECT and I am so happy to see where all our paths led to over the years.

Tell us a bit more about your journey from a home brewer, to barista, to roaster and now business owner 🙂

It all started with my coffee blog on Instagram in 2016 – called Kaffeegang (coffee gang in German). I it one day during my internship at a communication agency when I was bored and didn’t have much to do. The goal was to document all the “specialty coffee spots” around Berlin and to tell my community how good / bad the coffee shops were. With that starting, I found out that the coffee scene was quite a “community thing” where all the baristas, founders, roasters, imports knew each other – I liked that a lot. 

So I went to more and more events, cuppings, competitions and was at one point also part of that community. With some time passing, my passion grew more and more and after I finished my studies and worked in an agency for another 6-7 months, I knew I had to quit my job which I didn’t really like and start my journey in coffee (I always knew that I wanted to start something on my own, but I knew I first had to learn the craft of pulling proper espresso shots, get into workflow and learn about how coffee shops work). 

So I basically started at the basics at my first coffee shop (Milchhalle) in 2018, learning espresso, learning latte art and everything you have to learn about coffee – a bit later, Nicole from (back then) Röststätte asked me if I wanted to join their team. That’s when I started working at Röststätte, improving and learning more and more. 

Then the pandemic happened and in 2020 I bought myself a 1kg roaster and basically self-taught myself and of course with the help of educated roasters the roasting of coffee. That’s when the first baby steps of August 63 were made – I started roasting at my living room, sold my coffee to friends and family and got a lot of feedback and learnt a lot. The more time had passed, the more confident I got and knew I was onto something. 

Ken with his first 1kg Aillio Bullet roaster. Photo by Carla Blaumann.

A year after that, when the pandemic was still full on, I decided to go all in with August 63 and start a proper business – everything started with the launch of a crowdfunding campaign in order to build myself a mobile coffee truck. In 1 ½ months we gathered more than 12’000 euro and I could start my business. After 7 months, I have to say, it was the best decision in my life and I could not be happier. Augusta, the mobile coffee truck is almost ready. I sell my beans at different coffee shops around Berlin and also in other cities around Europe. I am regularly at local markets and can talk about my passion and excite people to try my coffees. 

How was the crowdfunding campaign like? Are you satisfied with how it went?

It was scary, exciting, tiring but totally worth it! I was not only able to collect enough money to start with my coffee business – probably the most important part was, that I was able to share my story, to share what I intended to do with August 63 and that there were so many people sharing and liking and contributing to it. I saw what the coffee community was able to do – together! To help me fulfill my dreams – that was the best.

Do you have any recommendations for coffee people who would like to start a crowdfunding campaign?

Starting a crowdfunding campaign sounds always like a good idea, but you also have to know that it is a lot of work and effort you have to put into it. You have to come up with a story you want to tell, you have to be transparent and honest and you have to put your character into it – I think, unless you are doing a crazy innovative product, a crowdfunding campaign is something super personal and you have to be willing to expose yourself, show your face, tell your story. If you are planning on doing an honest business, go for it! It’s intense, but it can be really rewarding. 

But, you have to know that planning is key! You have to come up with a communication strategy, find different distribution channels such as – your own social media channels, press, influencers, but also your analog channels – your friends, your family, your former cafés where you work aso. But be yourself, most people believe more in you, than in the actual idea – some don’t even care what you actually want to do, they care more about the fact that they want to see you succeed with your project! 

What do you enjoy the most in your current role?

The flexibility of being my own boss and the fact that my business is growing in directions I initially didn’t think of in the beginning! I really enjoy working with the people I love to work with, getting the feedback and to try to channel it into something meaningful. 

Do you plan to come back to competing in coffee championships?

I do actually – but first I want to still focus as much as I can in developing August 63 and get it a bit settled and then I will be definitely back – I guess I see myself more at the Filter Coffee side such as the brewers cup for example, but I aim 2023 for that! 

Tell us a bit more about Augusta and where will we be able to spot her in the next few months?

Augusta is about to be ready at the end of June and I plan to be at farmers markets, to do corporate and private events with it. Mostly in Berlin, but people from everywhere in Germany are able to book me for their events. Everyone who enjoys a good cup of coffee served with a big smile – is welcome at my stand.

Quick Fire Questions for Ken Braz:

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

Of course – everyone can drink their coffee how they like it. But, I will always suggest my customers to first try it without.  

Do you ever take sugar with your coffee?

Nope 🙂

Espresso or Filter coffee?

I am up for both. It really depends on my mood, but in the roastery, it’s mostly espresso, at home mostly filter.

Do you aim for Sweetness, Acidity, or Body?

Sweetness and acidity ftw! But always aiming for a well balanced espresso.

Milky or Black?

Mostly black, but sometimes a nice flat white with oat milk is great too!

Slurp or Spit?

Spit.

Sit in or Take Away?

Sit in.

Cake or Pastry with your coffee?

Pastry – Danish ones!

Favourite piece of barista equipment?

A scale I guess!