We chat with the co-founder of Buraca Roasters in Portugal about growing up in a coffee family and establishing a specialty café.
BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Daniel Riou
Note: This interview has been condensed.
Daniel Riou is a Portuguese coffee roaster and the co-founder of Buraca Roasters, which has a foot in the world of commercial coffee and another in specialty. We talked with him about what the two worlds have in common, being a Jiu-Jitsu fighter, his childhood in Cabo Verde, and much more.
Tanya Nanetti: Let’s start from the beginning: You’re a third-generation roaster, but you didn’t spend all your life in Portugal. As a kid, you grew up in Cabo Verde near Africa: what brought you and your family there? How was it?
Daniel Riou: When I was 9 or 10 years old, my parents divorced, and together with my mother and stepfather, we moved to Praia on the island of Santiago in Cabo Verde. My stepfather, who worked all his life with coffee, was starting a new project in Cabo Verde to build a bakery called Sosabi, that with time became the biggest employer on the whole island. It was a great time, and I adapted very well.
And then at a certain point you moved back to Portugal. How was coming back?
My brothers didn’t fit in very well, and since my father was in Lisbon, after two years we came back. When we moved back, around ’97, I remember everything looked very different. Or maybe I was different, I don’t know. Living in Africa where I had so much freedom and where people were happy with so little, and then coming back and adapting to a totally different world, was a bit awkward.
But in the end, it was also OK. When you are a kid you just adapt so easily …
So at that time, your family was already in the coffee roasting business. What were your first steps in this world?
When we came back, my stepfather and my mother had to start all over again, literally from scratch because they sold the business and never got paid for that. It was a big mess at the time. My stepfather had worked with coffee all his life, like his father before him, but before he could invest in a new roastery we had to start a “traditional” coffee shop in the center of Carcavelos with a pastry shop and bakery. Luckily it was a very good business, and finally a couple of years later he had the opportunity to start a new roastery.
Did you fall in love with coffee roasting at first sight, was it just to stay in the family business in the beginning?
I remember when I was very young, when my mother and stepfather had to work on the weekends, I used to play with my brothers in the factory over the green coffee bags … I remember eating the roasted coffee beans and loving the aroma of fresh-roasted coffee. Coffee was part of our life, and for us it was something very natural, and we didn’t think much about it.
Later, when I started working professionally with coffee, I wanted to know more about it. I wanted to work with amazing coffees and people. This was the moment I realized that coffee was really what I cared for.
So you decided to start your own roasting company, choosing to roast only specialty coffee. Where did this idea come from? When did you start? Why?
Well, mine has always been a family business, and it still is. I didn’t do anything alone; it was always teamwork.
Basically, in 2014 my stepfather said, “Daniel this is the future, so here in Portugal we need to be ahead of everyone. You need to learn more, and push this side of the business.” But the whole truth is that we all love good coffee, and we wanted to create something special in our community: our own coffee shop and a specialty-coffee micro-roastery.
That’s why in 2019 we started Buraca Roasters, and we are very happy with what we are building. This is our little baby.
But you’re still working in the traditional family business. So, you may be the right person to explain to us how different it is to work with traditional styles of commercial coffee and with specialty coffee. What do you find are the biggest similarities and differences?
Working with private labels, we have the chance to work with all segments of the market, with different formats (beans, pods, etc.) and with all kinds of customers, from the ones that only buy specialty coffee to those who only use commercial coffee.
In my opinion, I really think we can all learn from and with each other. Sometimes I see “coffee geeks” that talk about commercial coffee as if it were something toxic, and other times I see the opposite, with people from the “traditional” industry saying sh** about the specialty world.
Personally, I like to be in the middle, and learn as much as I can by seeing the industry as one.
You have chosen to open your own roaster and coffee shop not in Lisbon, the big city, but in its outskirts. You don’t have too many competitors (as can happen in some of the trendiest barrios in Lisbon), but at the same time you miss most of the tourists and expats. Are you happy with your choice? Do you work more with locals or anyway with tourists and expats? And how are locals reacting to this “new scene” of coffee?
We decided to do everything that most people told us not to do. We opened during the pandemic and outside the city center. We wanted to have a low investment and look at this project almost like a “coffee lab,” where we could learn and evolve without the stress of having to make it profitable in the short term … but what surprisingly happened is that in just one year since the opening, we felt the need to move to a bigger place.
We were really surprised by people who are not familiar with specialty coffee, but who regardless recognize the quality, love it, and want to come back. Our customer profile is very heterogeneous.
But, I have to admit, our “locals” are the best: We have old people that come in and say stuff like, “Today I want the Colombian one,” and whole families that come for brunch on the weekends. We have a lovely terrace where you can enjoy the sun, leave your bike at the door, or bring the dog. We’ve got a very friendly, local, and family environment that makes me very proud. With all of this and an amazing team, everything is possible.
Finally, you have another great passion, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You’re a third-degree black belt, a trainer, and you have won multiple medals in various competitions around the world. Where does this love come from?
Yes, Jiu-Jitsu and competitions are a part of my life. It’s a great passion I have. There was a time when I was obsessed with Jiu-Jitsu. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be the best in my weight category and I trained very intensively every day. Today I take it easier. I’m already 37 years old, so I’m not that “hungry” anymore. Nowadays, there are other things in life that fulfill me, but Jiu-Jitsu will follow me forever.
Besides coffee and Jiu-Jitsu, how is your life? Any hobbies? Something that you love to do? Your favorite way to spend a day off?
Well, I have two kids, so … their hobbies are my hobbies now. My days off are with the family, and it couldn’t be any better.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating with her boyfriend.