It is safe to say that Ted Marcus, founder of the European Coffee Society, loves coffee. He has traveled all over Europe in search of the best the continent has to offer, and has found three very different, but complementary, roasters in Paris, Vienna, and Pisa. These are the kinds of roasters who supply Michelin star restaurants with their impeccably high-quality brews, who develop espressos that make people sigh, “Oh, you just can’t get coffee like that over here,” upon returning from a trip to Europe.
But now, thanks to Marcus, you can. The Society started as many passion projects do: a few people were very interested in trying the coffees he raved about having in Europe. But now he’s expanding the European Coffee Society to a small client base of coffee lovers who can sign up for a subscription service here in the States. The project is rooted in hands-on, quality work, and Marcus says that he has no intention of changing that. “I don’t want to become Starbucks,” he said.
We caught up with Marcus and asked him to tell us a little more about how this European-American connection came to be.
Did you have a passion for coffee when you lived in the United States, or did this arise after spending time in Europe?
I’ve had a passion for it for decades, really. I was living in Japan at one point and searching for the perfect coffee mug — it was something as small as that — which took me to some far-off peninsula. I knew I wanted to try different things in regard to coffee. Then I began discovering espresso. Of course, I had always heard of the coffees of Milan and Vienna, but I thought, “Why stop there? I might as well find the best coffee there is.”
What is it about the European method of roasting coffee that particularly enticed you?
Oliver Goetz, who is the best coffee roaster in Vienna, really changed my perspective on coffee. Before exploring coffee in detail, I was a real dilettante. He introduced me to real espresso: no sugar, no cream, just the pure coffee. And at first I thought, I’m supposed to drink that?
It was really strong, but incredibly flavorful — it wasn’t bitter; it was a completely different experience for me.
So Goetz is now one of the European Coffee Society roasters. How does he source and develop his product — what attracted you to it?
Oliver offered to take me around and show me the finest, most modern beans, grown completely organically. He has the highest level of organic certification, and he works with the finest products there are. His raw material is absolutely cutting-edge in terms of the world today. It’s more of a traditional Viennese roast but it doesn’t taste burnt.
What about the French coffee you import?
Oliver introduced me to Hippolyte Courty who is more like a third-wave coffee guy. He is a trained sommelier and is interested in only the most exquisite products. He wouldn’t serve you a cheap house wine; his nose is very developed and he seeks qualities from his coffees in the same way he does a fine wine. The specific farm that his coffee beans come from in Brazil has a biodynamic approach to coffee.
Andrea Trinci is a roaster in Pisa, Italy, and I import two wonderful coffees from him. The slow-food movement started in Italy, and there is a more natural quality regarding their respect for the quality of what you’re growing. Andrea was also a slow-food coffee advisor in Guatemala. Some of the coffees that have come from there have been selected as the world’s finest coffees in the past couple of years. I can’t say he necessarily had a direct impact on that, but he was certainly there doing his great work, and it’s quite conceivable he did.
What was the process of forming this partnership with these roasters like?
At first, I suspect they thought, “Who’s this American guy who wants to sell coffee on the Internet?” But the project behind the European Coffee Society is a lot more than that —it took me a while to show them, but the truth is that I think their coffee is amazing. It’s not available at all in the United States and it should be. To me, the reason I invested the effort in creating this is that it’s not just for the flavor, but the world this coffee comes from. When you’re in downtown Vienna, the coffee is more than just coffee: partly it’s the flavor, but it’s the stories and atmosphere of the coffee culture there. I started developing this passion over a period of a couple of years, really stocking up when I came home: TSA had a field day.
“There’s nothing in your carry-on except for coffee,” they’d say.
Such is the way when you're truly in the throes of true coffee passion, of course: you might forsake everything for an extra pound of the stuff. You can find out more about the service— and sign up for a subscription, if you're interested — at the European Coffee Society.