The National Barista Championship, an esteemed competition that brings together the best baristas from across the country to showcase their skills and passion for coffee, was held in Delhi on August 28. It is a platform to celebrate the art and science of coffee making, while promoting excellence and innovation in the industry. The winner of the NBC competition will get the opportunity to represent India at the 2024 World Barista Championship at World of Coffee Busan, Korea.
We spoke to Vikram Khurana, CEO, KAAPI Solutions India OPC Private Limited about notable trends in the coffee industry and sustainability.
How is technology playing a role in transforming the coffee experience for both consumers and businesses? Are there any technology-driven initiatives that your company has embraced?
We use a lot of science and physics in our business. Most of our machines are high quality and have something like an ice cream on top. You can visualize the entire process of making coffee for 30 seconds right in front of you. Just like when an espresso comes out, it lasts 30 seconds and it’s more of an experience seeing it through an open kitchen. Our machines are fully automatic and equipped with IoT and AI. Most work via your touch, where you enter your adjustment and with the click of a button the ready coffee comes out. Our high-end machines are equipped with useful technology that allows you to accurately identify your coffee needs.
How have you seen café culture evolve in recent years, and how is your company supporting café owners in adapting to these changes?
Café culture is the new normal. With Gen-Z championing this change, this trend is here to stay. With 350 million people currently in the upper middle class, expected to grow to nearly 600 million by 2032, this is the market that will define the next generation of coffee drinkers. As we get richer, we need better watches, better shoes and also better coffee. Coffee becomes a standard part of our lives.
Nowadays, cafes are no longer just reserved for people who come in groups. Many people prefer to work in these areas for a few hours. For those who work, it is never one coffee cup, but a number of coffee cups that repeat themselves at the same time.
These are the reasons why cafes are springing up across the country and more and more real estate is going to coffee shops.
With the rise of e-commerce and direct-to-consumer sales, how does Kaapi Solutions leverage online platforms to connect with customers and deliver coffee products directly to their homes?
We grow by God’s grace. As the sector grows, we grow with it. We come up with new initiatives. We are launching many new technologies in coffee. We currently represent 18 brands in India with offices across the country utilizing a strong service network. We believe that when you invest in good technology, you want to be confident that your business will grow. We train our customers, open cafes and support the machines and technology on the backend.
Specialty coffee continues to gain popularity. What challenges do you see emerging in this niche market?
The biggest challenge remains the availability of specialty coffee. It’s easier said than done that I drink a specialty coffee. The question remains whether your coffee is really a specialty coffee or, more importantly, whether your audience is willing to pay the specialty coffee price. We still drink a lot of milk coffee, which keeps our specialty coffee audience to a minimum. Our next challenge is to do justice to the coffee specialties and offer our end customers a juicy, acidic coffee.
How do you contribute to coffee education and increasing consumer awareness about the nuances of coffee sourcing, brewing techniques and flavor profiles?
My journey in the industry started in 2002. I started as a barista. When you start your own journey as an entrepreneur as a barista, you understand how important training is in this business and also in your end consumer. That is why we work closely with the Coffee Board of India in implementing many programs. We also sponsor many championships whose winners ultimately represent the country in international competitions. To guarantee participation from different coffee shops, we organize a competition once a year. Indirectly, the learning goes back to their cafes through the baristas who come to participate. Our goal is to take the coffee cup to the highest level and give recognition to baristas who are the face of our industry.
What notable trends are currently shaping the coffee industry in 2023, and how is your company positioned to respond to these trends?
The coffee dynamics in the country have completely changed compared to the previous decade. The expectations of coffee shops have been strategically increased. Now customers are demanding not just a regular cappuccino, but a completely different coffee profile. Now opening a coffee shop is simply not enough. You need high-quality espresso machines and a professional barista to not only serve a coffee cup but also provide the customer with a coffee drinking experience. Although the idea of being able to personalize your coffee with flavors and extras is not entirely new, interest in it is growing. It is expected that people will want to experiment and make their own coffee drinks this year. Using local coffee roasters is another trend expected to take off this year. This will help baristas create distinctive specialty drinks and market locals’ bean varieties and brewing techniques. We will be called coffee drinkers instead of tea lovers in the near future.
With an increasing focus on sustainability, how does Kaapi Solutions address issues such as ethical sourcing, eco-friendly packaging and reducing the carbon footprint in the coffee supply chain?
As a brand we are certified in green coffee. We have ties to the Rainforest Alliance. We also have organic coffee. Moreover, environmentally friendly packaging plays a role during roasting. We consciously choose grilles that use sustainable packaging. As a brand, we ensure that we reduce our ecological footprint as much as possible.
How important are sustainability certifications, such as Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance, in building consumer trust and supporting coffee farmers?
Sustainability certifications, such as Fair Trade & Rainforest Alliance, play an important role in building consumer confidence and supporting farmers.
- Transparency and Accountability – These certifications provide consumers with a level of transparency regarding the sourcing and production practices of the coffee they purchase.
- Ethical Considerations – Many consumers are concerned about the ethical aspects of purchasing. These certifications assure them that the coffee they purchase meets these standards.
- Fair pay – Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers receive fair pay for their labor and products.
- Investing in Sustainability – Many certification programs also invest in long-term environmental and community sustainability initiatives
Looking ahead, what do you see as the key challenges and opportunities for the coffee industry in the coming years?
Some of the main challenges are:
- Climate Change – The coffee industry is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, temperature rise and increasing incidence of pests and diseases, which can reduce coffee yields and quality.
- Sustainability – The need for sustainable coffee production is paramount. It is important to guarantee fair wages for coffee farmers and to adopt environmentally friendly agricultural practices for them too.
- Supply chain issues – The overall coffee supply chain is complex and several issues, such as supply disruptions, transportation and labor shortages, can disrupt the flow of coffee from farms to consumers.
- Premium Coffee Market – The growing demand for high-quality coffee provides coffee manufacturers with a great opportunity to command premium prices and differentiate their products.
- Technology- Advances in technology such as blockchain technology can improve crop management and increase yields.
- Consumer education – Educating consumers about the challenges coffee producers face and the benefits of sustainable and ethical products can drive demand for responsibly produced coffee.