IN THE eight years since Boréal Coffee opened its first outlet the business has seen many changes, but one thing remains the same: an underlying commitment to serve the best espresso-based coffee drinks in Geneva…and now in Zurich, too.
In the Spring of 2013, I met Julian Caron-Lys, co-founder and partner with Fabien Decroux of the most popular independent coffee shop in Geneva — Boréal Coffee. In the interview and blog post that followed: Cappucino gets star treatment at Geneva’s Boréal Coffee Shops, Julian explained how the quality of their coffee beans was at the root of their success.
Directly sourced from small cooperatives in Latin America, Africa and Asia to ensure their provenance and quality, the coffee beans were freshly roasted using artisanal methods at Boréal’s own micro-roasting atelier in Carouge.
Prepared with skill and no small measure of flair by Boréal’s own trained baristas, the resulting espresso-based coffee drinks (including my favorite cappuccino) were simply the tastiest in town.
Boréal flourishes on the back of a good team
Fast forward to November 2016 and I’m sitting with Fabien Decroux to catch up on the developments that the past three years have brought to Boréal. Of these perhaps the least anticipated was Julian’s departure from the business, on amicable terms.
“We discovered that we had different visions of where we wanted the business to go,” Fabien tells me. As a result, he has taken over sole management of the business and Julian is pursuing his love of sailing, at present, off the coast of South America.
Fabien has a new London-based partner who counsels him on strategic matters, but the decision making now rests on Fabien’s capable shoulders alone. It’s easier that way, he says, but admits that without the support of the “very good team” backing him up at Boréal, his job would be difficult.
Expansion both near and (a bit) further away
A more anticipated change on the development front was Boréal’s expansion. In addition to its flagship shop on Rue du Stand it added two new locales in Geneva — Boreal Chill in Place Cornavin, which shares a shady park in Chatepoulet Square, and a Boréal outlet in the Commercial Center 2000 at Rue de Jargonnant 5 in Eaux-Vives.
The Boreal chain also spread beyond the Röstigraben by opening a new branch at Talackerstrasse 41 in Zurich.
“We always wanted to open a Boréal outside of Geneva, but we didn’t know where,” Fabien tells me. When an opportunity to open an outlet in Zurich came up, even though he loved the “big city movement” there, he worried it wouldn’t work given the distance, the language difference and the fact that he had no one there to take charge and ensure Boréal’s business philosophy took hold.
However, when two of his Geneva-based employees declared their interest in moving to the city and managing the outlet, his hesitation evaporated.
Though Fabien said he prefers to have a period of consolidation following each new venture to ensure the quality of the product and service doesn’t suffer, he was pleased to share with me the news that Boréal opened a second outlet in the Zurich suburb of Oerlikon at Thurgauerstrasse 34.
The opportunity to share a space with a reputable partner, Gärtnerei — purveyors of 100% natural soups, salads and sandwiches — which shares a similar business philosophy with Boréal, was simply too good to pass up. Fabien says he now plans to concentrate on growing the business at a gentle pace in the Swiss German part of Switzerland.
Direct dealing ensures equitable pay and transparency
Meanwhile, the heart of the Boréal business — its coffee roasting project, continues to go from strength to strength. Together with other members of Roasters United, a consortium of eight European micro-roasters of which Boréal Coffee is a part, Fabien imports some 10 tons of air-dried green coffee beans per year from small organic (or those in transition to organic) coffee producers in Ethiopia, Uganda, Sumatra, Honduras, Peru and Guatemala.
By dealing directly (each member of Roasters United visits a plantation at least once a year) they ensure these small cooperatives receive an equitable price for their beans and because they buy in bulk they can also propose for cultivation coffee beans that are out of the ordinary. Fabien and his partners can also be confident in the coffee’s provenance, which is, as for a fine wine, of utmost importance.
As is the roasting of the beans. To preserve the unique qualities of each coffee harvest the beans must be roasted with care. A “slow method” that gradually raises the temperature to ensure homogenous roasting to the heart of the coffee bean achieves the desired balance between bitterness and acidity in the final cup of coffee.
Unlike other coffee importers keen to profit by selling as far and wide as possible, Boréal prefers to make its house blends available exclusively in its coffee shops or online, rather than in restaurants where its preparation cannot be controlled.
Fabien tells me that he is “very demanding” of his baristas, who are trained in the best methods of coffee preparation, and that the quality of Boréal’s product and service has improved over the past few years.
At the end of the day, he says, the ultimate goal is quite simply to offer amateur coffee lovers a brew of the very highest quality and on that point his customers seem to agree he’s on the right track. ♣