Interview with Johan Carlström Co-founder of Solde Kaffebar and Roastery.
Having recently celebrated their 10th anniversary, Solde Kaffebar is the closest thing to iconic when it comes to coffee in Malmö. Starting off as a local coffee haunt they soon opened up their own roastery as their experimentation with coffee left them demanding a better cup. We caught up with co-founder Johan to find out more about their story.
What’s the story behind Solde Kaffebar?
Back in the 90’s, co-founder Jonas and I worked together at a bar in Jönköping called Solde Bar & Bistro. It had cheap beer and was the perfect afterwork place, and the name ‘Solde’, which means ‘sale’ in Latin, originates from there. We had an idea to open something together, but Jonas moved back to Skåne and I moved to Växjö to study. It was there I had my first real encounter with coffee, when the restaurant where I was working part-time decided to open up a coffee bar. It was a great learning experience for me and when I later moved to Malmö, I got a job at Café Nesta, a predecessor to the coffee chains. It was there we decided that we wanted to start something different, a place where you skip the queue and instead hang around the bar. So we opened this place ‘on a dull February day in 2006’, as it says on our website. We got an offer to open at Regementsgatan, which is slightly secluded but it felt good and we decided to run with it.
How many owners are there today and how did you get to know each other?
Jonas and I own the coffee bar and down at the roastery we have a third owner, a ‘dalmas’ called Dan. He is a real coffee geek who used to hang out at the bar at the previous place I was working. He knew a lot about coffee and was even running a coffee blog, so when we opened up Solde, we asked if he wanted to work for us. In the beginning, Jonas and I worked six days a week, so it was good when Dan came on board to give us a bit of a break.
And in December 2010 you opened the roastery?
Exactly. We wanted to extend our arm and come as close to the coffee as possible. When we opened the coffee bar in 2006, we had a new coffee every month from different suppliers, but figured we could keep the same variation by roasting our own coffee.
Did you sell speciality coffee before that?
In the beginning, we had a lot of Italian blends, which almost makes you laugh looking back. The development has been enormous in terms of the quality of coffee. There wasn’t much ‘speciality’ back then...rather robusta blends that tasted like wood.
It’s been ten years since you opened up. Has the coffee culture in Malmö changed much during this time?
In one way it has, but to be honest it has always been strong here in Skåne. It probably has to do with Aldo Castiglione (owner of Da Aldo in Skanör), who is like a godfather when it comes to coffee in the region and who competed in coffee contests early on. But even though the interest level has been high, a lot of things have changed when it comes to traceability and origin, as well as the actual roasting. Right now light roasted, fruity coffees are very popular, and as you know, Scandinavians always go ‘all in’.
Looking at your media material and work uniforms, it’s clear that you have a very distinct style here at Solde. Who comes up with all these creative ideas?
Jonas is the most creative one of us when it comes to our marketing, which is an important thing while building a company. We have never paid for advertising, we are self-promoting, mostly through social media.
What’s the thought behind the green coats?
First of all they’re very practical. But they look nice as well, they’re like old workshop coats…
You usually have art exhibitions on the walls. Who do you collaborate with?
We have exhibitions every month in the coffee bar. Mostly the work of regulars, or people who contact us. It has become a very fun element of what we do, and we don’t take fees. Galleries nowadays have such high demands, but we think it’s a great use of our walls and all the money goes directly to the artists. Right now we’re booked all the way until August 2017.
How many places in town sell Solde coffee? Any other collaborations?
I’d say around 20 places. A couple of offices, some other coffee bars and restaurants, and we also sell a fair amount to private customers. In the coffee bar we serve bread from Saltimporten Canteen. They are great friends and kind of our ‘allies’, we have the roastery near them and eat lunch there often. We try to support locals as much as possible.
What signifies the Solde coffee?
We want Solde coffee bar to be a meeting place, and coffee is naturally an important part in that, since that’s what we do best. The place is built around a bar, which means that people don’t build up barriers that tend to exist when you have lots of tables. Here you can hear each other’s conversations, and pitch in when suitable. People say that Swedish people are unsocial, but in reality we don’t have many forums where people can meet and socialise with strangers, so it’s important for us to provide this.
When it comes to coffee, we always want to develop, but still remain close to people. It’s easy to run away with speciality coffee and follow the trends in light-roasting and fruity flavours, but we also want to do what regular people like. We want to do both extreme coffees as well as something people will drink at home on an ordinary Saturday morning. Of course, you can do this with extreme coffees as well, but everyone should find something they like with us in one way or another.
So, you have four different house blends?
Yes, and these are our four characters. ‘Brors’ and ‘Bodils’ are our filter coffees, one a bit more fruity and one more robust. Then ‘Mästers’ is more of a fruity espresso and ‘Veras’ a robust espresso.
How did you come up with these names?
The actual characters are from a photo album that we bought at a flea market in Berlin. We don’t know who they are and how they are related, or if they’re related at all. But we have a whole album with them. Then Daniel Andersson, an artist who also runs Musette coffee and bike shop, made drawings of these characters, which we used on our previous logos. Three years ago, we got in touch with an American artist who re-painted Daniel’s old sketches into the logos you’ll find on the coffee bags today.
Does this mean your characters are German?
We don’t know. We came up with names we thought suited them. The whole thing is definitely a little bit ‘Turkish Yoghurt’. Maybe one day someone will come and claim them... if they’re still alive. With us they’re definitely alive and well!
Back to the coffee, as the product in your bags. Do you run direct trade with coffee farms?
We’re actually going to Kenya in March to meet some farmers, so we try to work with them as closely as possible. Most of the time we use ‘traders’, like Nordic Approach in Norway and Trabocca in Holland, as they’re down there all the time. We can go there as tourists, but we don’t have 100% control, so it feels safer to work with traders. There are so many good coffees to work with and we receive samples all the time. We test and pick coffees according to taste and price, which almost always go in tandem. Good tasting coffee always grows under good conditions, it’s as simple as that. And naturally, we wouldn’t want to do business on someone else’s expense.
Rumour has it that some famous people that have fallen in love with your coffee. Can you tell us the story about Depeche Mode?
That was a fun Monday. It was about a year ago when Depeche Mode’s manager came in here after visiting the swimming hall, like he does in all cities he goes to. Swimming, good coffee and good food - those are the things he does everywhere. So we started talking and he asked if we wanted to come to the concert later that evening, and naturally we said yes. They used to be great idols of mine, and I had posters of them on my wall as a kid. Once we arrived, we received VIP-treatment and were invited down to the ‘catacombs’ of Malmö Arena after the gig together with the people from Noma, where they band had been eating earlier. Later that evening, I got talking to Martin Gore, one of the band members, who turned out to be a real coffee geek. After our conversation, he decided to order our coffee to have on their bus for the rest of the tour.
So, this is an ordinary Monday at Solde?
A little less ordinary than usual. It’s hard to beat that one.
‘On a dull February day’ and ‘on an ordinary Monday’...
We like the everyday life. We didn’t open to work ourselves to death. We want to have a good time without the stress of looming deadlines. The everyday life can be a wonderful thing. We have time to pick up our kids from daycare and we’ve all been an paternity leave over the past five years, one after the other. It’s an important part of life.
To wrap this up, which place in Malmö would you like to recommend?
I really like Kv. Åkern, near Möllan. It’s a fantastic venue with a wonderful atmosphere. Ivan, the owner, is a really nice guy and expert in the kitchen. It’s a veg friendly place, that uses quality ingredients, and is a wonderful meeting place.
Regementsgatan 2, 211 42 Malmö
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