Emanuelis Ryklys / Digging into the Secret of a Coffee Bean
I definitely belong to the generation of coffee lovers. Do you remember those kids sitting around the table with a single cup of caramel macchiato and thinking that I am fifteen and I know everything about coffee, right? I have to admit being one of them. But time passed, I grew up and now I like to enjoy specialty coffee.
Coffee guru Emanuelis Ryklys and his coffee store Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories (CNACS) brought some new coffee beans into the Lithuanian market with a unique idea of coffee making, which made me remember that coffee is not only a drink but a slow ritual to be enjoyed and appreciated as well.
by GRETA KAVECKYTE
photographer DARIUS MARKUNAS
Tell us about the concept of your coffee house. Coffee there is made by using different techniques, was it part of the vision when creating CNACS?
Yes, our coffee bar both in terms with its dynamics and menu is different from many other coffee places in Vilnius. I have been working with coffee for seven years, but it actually took about four years until we came up with an idea of what kind of coffee we would like to deliver to our clients. We decided to open a coffee place that would, in the first place, be interesting and enjoyable for ourselves, and we wanted to own a place that we had not seen anywhere - a place for slow coffee where we would be using hand-made coffee-making equipment. This was the vision we had from the very beginning, although, we had a lot of criticism towards it. Many people working in the world of coffee ironized that in half a year we will simply get an espresso machine. However, quietly rebelling, we finally opened what we were worried about and we hope that now it is an example showing that coffee can acquire many different forms and not just those that are commonplace and everywhere. This is not an attempt to offend other colleagues working with coffee and choosing the more traditional way. Each of them has their own way. And we believe in ours. The growing circle of our visitors and partners, as well as a growing number of coffee enthusiasts from all over the world, only prove that such a place may be needed not only in Lithuania.
How did your acquaintance with coffee begin?
While I was in my mother's womb, I started demanding more coffee, hah. That's true because my mother really started drinking more black/ dark drinks while she was pregnant with me. I remember myself when being a few years old and smelling freshly made ground coffee at home. But only eight years ago I decided to officially dive into the cup of coffee by creating CNACS products and rituals. Since then, I officially roast beans, prepare coffee, travel to different countries, educate people, produce products, advise and play other delicious games related to coffee. The team of the CNACS consists of a few other great and enthusiastic people. My wife Inga is also very helpful, but our four-month-old daughter still seems to be more interested in milk than coffee.
What are the coffee trends in Lithuania? What kind of people is visiting your café?
Over the past few years, people in Lithuania have become very interested in the whole thing of gastronomy, including coffee, of course. This is a good signal for anyone who is working or planning to work with quality specialty coffee. I am also pleased that more and more people are happy to prepare high-quality coffee at home, purchase basic tools, bee-hearted ones. We also receive quite a lot of requests regarding our organized coffee tastings. Our visitors are always curious and open-minded. The age group is so different that you will be surprised. During the last tasting, there were two senior friends of a very respectable age, a few solid couples, and school students, who just started to make their first steps into the coffee world. We also enjoy such a variety of people in the coffee bar during the office hours.
What are your favorite coffee flavours?
I am glad that coffee has an innumerable number of flavours. The coffee itself is so surprising to me and especially because it is hard to define. Coffee is not a laboratory product. The taste of coffee changes for each crop and depends on where geographically it grows and another context inherent in there - weather conditions, soil, moisture, the sun and, of course, the farmer himself. So, in brief, I do not have my favourite flavours and I would be really scared of the day when I could find them out. I am open to various tastes and trying to stay that way. For the last few years, I have been paying a lot of attention to the search for high-quality Asian coffee beans, but I'm not saying that I'm not excited about the tastes of coffee originating from the other countries and regions.
Your book “Let's Make Coffee” is about to embrace the daylight. Who will it be for?
I want to believe that the book "Let's Make Coffee" will be interesting for everyone who drinks at least one cup of coffee per day. The book is written in quite an understandable, rather than technical language. It will present you with a brief history of this magical drink, but not the way encyclopedia does. From the history to taste, from grinding to recommendations for popular coffee tools, from botanical knowledge to straightforward experiments. For people who do not have a deep connection with coffee this book, published by Dvi Tylos, will help to get acquainted with some basic knowledge, and for those who are already living in the coffee world the book will help, I believe, to structure the knowledge and apply it in practice. And those that do not like reading will be able to learn from many photos. Photographer Darius Petrulaitis wanted to surprise himself and I think he really succeeded. Tadas Karpavicius and illustrator Martynas Vilimavicius also helped to improve the creative part of the book.
Coffee culture in small regions. Can you distinguish outstanding places that fascinate you and have a history?
I haven’t visited many small regions or countries with having a more detailed look at their specifics, but wherever I travel, I am looking for authentic and unique places. Usually, there are small local cafés, restaurants, specialty stores, etc. In most cases, such places are kept by families, which had been into the respective business for many years. As a country full of such places, I would like to mention Japan. For example, before my trip there I had been reading a lot about old Japanese cafés, also called kissaten. Some of them are almost 100 years old and in some of them, you can meet their “centennial” founders. Drinking coffee in such a place is an indescribable feeling and it's also interesting that they all are very different. I think that being small in the coffee world usually means a way deeper understanding of things. Big ones are just trying to copy-paste or adapt.
Coffee dictionary. What do you need to know as a new coffee enthusiast?
My short coffee lesson would sound like this: coffee is a social drink, not a laboratory product. The freshness of coffee is as important, same as for all the food on your table. The most important tool for coffee making is a grinder. Usually, coffee is not steamed or boiled but is prepared with hot water. Coffee taste is influenced not only by its origin, roasting or preparation method but also your mood. The best coffee expert in the room is always your nose; you just need to learn how to trust it.
What challenges do you face when being from a small region?
Perhaps the greatest challenge is confidence in yourself, as well as your ideas and work. It also requires huge amounts of patience and determination. Today many things are copied, imitated and tend to seem identical, boring, artificial. With the help of social media, it is no longer possible to say whether you are in Vilnius, London, Sydney, or Berlin. The same tools are being utilized, cafés have the same menus, the same decorations, the same interiors, and so on. There are little authenticity and local spice left in today’s world.
When we opened our coffee bar we knew it would also have some peculiar Lithuanian accents. We created original Lithuanian coffee cups from clay, into the menu and tasting we included Lithuanian bread, cheese, and lastly, we also created a Lithuanian coffee maker BRO from local materials, such as wood and linen. These things appeal to both locals and visitors from all over the world. And today, the BRO is not only among several international award-winning finalists but also used in the courses delivered by different world coffee coaches. The Lithuanian coffee maker also has more than twenty partners in Lithuania and the world today. It gives us a lot of joy and motivation, and we want to show that even when we are from a small country like Lithuania, we can surprise the world. Being from a small region creates not only challenges but also makes us unique.
If you could create Lithuanian coffee, what kind of smell would it taste like?
Perhaps, this was what I was trying to do with the BRO device. First of all, I wanted a slow coffee ritual. After all, we enjoy coffee for a long time, so why preparing it in a fast manner? Also, in coffee I want calmness, depth and natural heat. In the preparation of hand-made coffeemakers, the coffee in the cup immediately cools to a pleasant heat - it can be immediately drunk. The linen filter softens the coffee, and the warm wood does not resemble anything else while sitting in the forest or in the farmstead next to a natural fire. In order to make such coffee, you need to feel the saturation. The coffee prepared by the BRO produces significantly more oil; the coffee "body" becomes more solid than the paper filter. What should be Lithuanian taste? I want to feel the aroma of the black bread, honey, dried apples, spicy flavours and tastes. With some coffee, it really succeeds.
Are you a niche brand in Lithuania? Do you enjoy this status or rather would like to become “big”? Why?
We are enjoying being small. It gives a lot of freedom. And it really does not prevent from “conquering” the world. I am delighted that small-specialized brands are already being valued in Lithuania. We have done several co-operation, consultation projects and events together with big brands that need our professional knowledge and original cuisine. It took time and patience, but today I feel like doing nothing more than just pleasing, but also something that helps others to enjoy little real things. As I mentioned, the whole gastronomic culture in the country is growing and it is exciting how new and unique food and drinking places are coming to town. Such places, even if small, can start very meaningful changes; discover new paths to the stomach and, of course, the heart. All our partners are just as small and niche. It is a big pleasure to work together and to support each other. On a big scale, I do not see the problem too, because I try to do everything that does not contradict my ethical standards. On the other hand, while staying young, it takes much more time to cherish everything. And believe me, this slow-moving energy comes back and sometimes unexpectedly quickly.