From Nerd to Pro: A Coffee Journey is an autobiography by roaster, café operator, and coffee competitor Patrik Rolf sharing his coffee journey.
BY TANYA NANETTI
SENIOR ONLINE CORRESPONDENT
Featured photo by Tanya Nanetti
I’ve read plenty of books on coffee over the years: manuals on how to brew great coffee at home, books on the history of coffee, scientific volumes on terroir, and tomes on the physics of coffee, to name a few. I haven’t read a lot of autobiographies penned by coffee pros, though, which is why my interest was piqued recently when I came across From Nerd to Pro: A Coffee Journey, written a couple of years ago by Patrik Rolf (and funded by a Kickstarter campaign). Originally from Sweden, Patrik is a champion coffee brewer, two-time World Barista Championship finalist, and founder of Copenhagen, Denmark’s April Coffee Roasters.
”Be brave,” Patrik begins, teasing in the book’s introduction that what follows is an honest and unfiltered version of the lessons and challenges he learned during his first decade in the coffee industry. That decade took him from knowing nothing to becoming a seasoned coffee professional.
As a starting point, Patrik chooses to begin his book with a brief summary of what took him from the classic ”Swedish dream” of a college degree, home, and family, to becoming CEO of a consulting firm, and finally to his sudden love of coffee and desire to compete in this unfamiliar world.
Falling in Love with Coffee
After the introduction, the first part, ”Falling in Love with Coffee,” digs deep into what happened to Patrik in those early years, following an unexpected turn during weeks spent in San Francisco attending a series of business meetings. It was here that Patrik began to learn more about coffee, surprisingly discovering that there were coffee competitions all over the world.
And it was also here that Patrik, who has been interested in competitions since he played soccer as a teenager, first thought, ”What will it take for me to compete?”
Once back home in Gothenburg, it was time to find out. He started training (from scratch) for the next Swedish coffee competition, thanks to his friend Matts from Da Matteo who gave him the space to do so.
After long days of practicing every day before work, it was finally time for the competition, which, though it didn’t end with a win, left him with a profound realization: This world was so different from the startup world he came from … more down-to-earth, ”less about money and more about a shared purpose.”
Patrik liked that.
He had enjoyed the competition, and there was plenty of room to improve and reach a professional level. It was time to change careers and follow a new path, starting from the basics of coffee.
Becoming a Coffee Professional
The next part, ”Becoming a Coffee Professional,” traces Patrik’s first three years in the coffee industry, from Da Matteo in Gothenburg to Five Elephant in Berlin, where he roasted a lot of dark blends as he learned about coffee. And then there was taking second place at the first London Coffee Masters (which sparked a desire to keep competing more and more, becoming a leader in the competition scene), meeting Scott Rao, and embarking on a quest to up his roasting game, even starting consulting.
The last part of this pivotal chapter concerns the moment when Patrik left Berlin. After some indecision about quitting coffee (but ”my gut told me that I wasn’t finished with coffee yet”), he moved to Copenhagen to open his own roastery. The name would be April, and it would be driven by the vision of establishing ”a new bar for quality within the coffee industry.”
Starting His Own Coffee Company
The third part, ”Starting My Own Coffee Company,” is the chapter in which Patrik addresses more specifically the ”do’s” and ”don’ts” of the coffee business. Here he shares the journey that led him to start a roastery from scratch, in a foreign country, with no previous experience in setting up a company.
It was a challenge that made Patrik feel more alive than ever, even with no savings and so much to do.
He discusses designing the bags and deciding whether to own or rent a roasting machine; going from a one-man-band to hiring his first employee; roasting only super-small batches; opening his first store; and participating in the 2019 World Brewers Cup finals.
The Most Important Lessons
The last part, ”My Most Important Lessons,” summarizes useful tips on how to enter the coffee world, become a coffee professional, and start a business in the industry. This collection of tips can be useful not only in the world of coffee but also in business, and in life in general. Patrik introduces this section as a ”breakdown of the most important lessons and thoughts I have learned. Hopefully, they can help you avoid some of my mistakes.”
Written with a personal, sometimes intimate tone, with no problem sharing an opinion about a specific roastery or way of thinking, Patrik’s book can be read as a simple memoir. But it acquires much more meaning when read to learn something: how to take your first steps in the world of coffee and open a business, or how to learn to compromise and follow new paths without fear, while staying true to yourself.
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 along with her boyfriend.