The Spanish city of Madrid is famous for many things: cuisine, art, architecture, and soccer, among other draws. Yet the specialty coffee scene, which was quite non-existent years ago, is now causing a local and international stir.
Two people who have a strong foothold in the rise of Madrid specialty coffee are friends Pablo Caballero and Nolo Bontana. After meeting through work at a commercial coffee company, the two decide to team up and create their own space in the industry, starting with a cafe called Hola.
Hola Coffee was established in the historical and lively Madrid neighborhood of Lavapiés in March 2017. Since its inception, the owners and their staff have transformed from a small local cafe into an international specialty roastery. The bright smiling bags are a common sight when wandering around the city. We spoke with Pablo and Nolo about the beginnings of their business, to how they are facing the current pandemic as a company.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Who are you and what is your role at Hola Coffee?
This is Pablo Caballero and Nolo Botana, founders of Hola Coffee. Pablo is in charge of our cafes, training, and our wholesale clients. Nolo is the director of green coffee and roasting. We also share other business responsibilities but they are too boring to explain here!
Who is behind Hola coffee and how did Hola Coffee begin? Did you work in coffee before Hola?
We started Hola Coffee as a simple coffee blog in Spanish around 2015, when there was almost no information on specialty coffee and barista culture in our language. We were working together as trainers in a commercial coffee company and we were kind of bored, so it was our way to escape from it and talk about what we really loved; specialty coffee. We also began to compete and formed a team, resulting in Pablo winning the Spanish Barista Champion in 2016 and competing in Dublin for the World Barista Championships.
After that experience, we decided to turn our blog into something real and we started to roast coffee (renting other people’s facilities) and opened our own little cafe in Madrid. A year after that, in 2017 we also opened Mision Cafe with another friend, a place where we focused not only on good coffee but also on home-made food and a bakery. As we started getting some acknowledgement and clients we decided to build our own roastery, becoming completely independent by the end of 2019.
What is your favourite coffee that you have recently served and how was it prepared?
Our favorite coffee right now is a Colombian Pink Bourbon from Jose Ortiz’s Finca el Danubio. It is crazy complex and super floral, which is quite rare in washed Colombian coffees. We love to prepare it in our good old Moccamaster at the roastery, we just have to weigh 60 grams on our beautiful Acaia Pearl and add a liter of filtered water. White flowers and green apples are the lasting flavors that we are getting from it.
What do you think of the local coffee scene in Madrid as well the national coffee scene in Spain and how it has evolved over the past few years?
The specialty coffee scene in Spain is blooming, although Covid-19 is making things slower, but for the past three years we have experienced a super interesting increase in coffee shops and roasters. Right now, it is not only Madrid or Barcelona leading the scene, the biggest growth is happening in smaller cities around the country. This is still not London or Los Angeles, but we are hoping to see a mainstream growth in the next couple of years, with restaurants and other cafes changing from commercial coffee to specialty, and normalizing high quality beans in the common hospitality business.
How do you use Acaia on bar?
We use one Acaia Pearl for our manual brews at the shop (and any other stuff we need to weigh: matcha, chai, coffee for the batch brewer, ..). As we have scales built in our Strada we don’t need the Acaia Lunar for weighting the espressos, but we always have one in our bag when we go and visit our wholesale clients. We also use the Lunar for every cupping we do at the roastery or any other place.
What is your favorite aspect of Hola Coffee and what's coming up next?
What we like the most about Hola Coffee is that we are trying to focus on the people that would love specialty coffee but they don’t even know about it, or they think it is too snobbish or complex. That idea of democratizing specialty coffee is what turns us on. Good coffee is for everyone and our main goal is to make it approachable and easy. That is present in everything we do: our name, our logo, our friendly staff or having funny drinks at our shops (like a yummy pumpkin spice latte) and not only super snob Gesha pour overs.
We are looking forward to expand our brand in two ways, on one hand aiming to super high-end connoisseurs with crazy experimental microlots in which we are working together with Heleanna Georgalis in Ethiopia, and on the other hand, we are also trying to expand the specialty coffee consumption to those who are starting to know about it, with a new super easy to understand website and packaging and some new products aiming that target (we can’t say yet, stay tuned!)
How has Hola Coffee and the city around it adapted and changed with recent strict pandemic guidelines?
Covid-19 has changed everything, coffee shops are not as packed as they used to be, and a lot of them have had to close forever, sadly. For those who are still fighting, it is twice as difficult as it used to be, with all the restrictions of capacity in the cafes and people afraid of going out. But we are also feeling the love from a lot of people that decided to buy only from local stores and support small businesses. Also we soon adapted our cafe to make it more secure and efficient in order to be economically sustainable.
On the other hand, we soon figured out that we have to develop other areas of our business such as the online shop, where we had a notable growth applying our friendly service to the e-commerce customer.
Thank you for the interview, Pablo and Nolo, and we wish you and your team the best of luck in the future!
Find Hola Coffee on Instagram herePurchase coffee and merchandise from their online store here