In all my years upon the planet, I probably drank fewer than ten cups of coffee. I love the smell of fresh-ground coffee, but it always tasted horrible to me. Those feelings about coffee began to change last summer when I met Matt Trow from Rickshaw Roasters Coffee Co. Matt set me up with three samples of different blends of coffee that he brewed and asked me to describe each one without any coaching from him. To my pleasant surprise, I could easily distinguish the differences between each one; the citrus high-notes, for example. Still, it didn’t compel me to reach for a cup of coffee rather than a good Long Jing or Earl Grey tea. Like so much in my life, things changed when our twins were born in August and after six months of insufficient sleep, I found myself at a meeting in Flat White Cafe in 798 (Rickshaw is attached to this location). After scanning the menu, I felt compelled to sample the house blend. Not only was the presentation stunning, the brew kept me alert right through the hardest part of my evening. That was all it took to make me a coffee believer and a more alert Baba.
As fate would have it, Rickshaw Roasters is likely Beijing’s finest purveyor of freshly roasted coffee beans. With over ten years of personal experience roasting beans, I asked Matt to weigh in on the coffee scene in Beijing, how he got started, and where parents can take their kids to get a good meal and still get a great cup of coffee.
What inspired you to leave New Zealand and set up shop in Beijing?
Matt: I was actually invited to China by Mr. Michael Hong Fu Shen, the owner of the Cafe Flat White stores in Beijing. He had been purchasing coffee I was roasting in NZ from a company called Havana Coffee Works and having it flown up to Beijing weekly, but as his success and Cafe Flat White’s grew, it became more viable to open a coffee roasters. And thus Rickshaw Roasters Coffee Co was born.
What has been the biggest challenge with running the business in China?
Matt: There are many, many, many challenges with running a business in China. The reality is that just when you’ve felt like you’ve faced the biggest challenge another one pops up. So the biggest challenge is facing the many challenges on a daily basis and keeping on with keeping on.
Starbucks has big plans for China and increasing its store count. How does a major player in the coffee space impact your business in Beijing?
Matt: China is not really known for is coffee drinking culture (Yet…) So as for a company like Starbucks in particular they absolutely have their place in the coffee/cafe business in China. They are well known all over the globe, which means when they open stores in China people are already aware of the brand, which in turn makes non-coffee drinkers (especially Chinese) comfortable with entering the store and tasting coffee. This in turn has a good effect on our business because as people develop a liking for coffee/cafe culture they seek out us and never look back. Other coffee consumers who already have a taste for excellent coffee will bypass big chain stores and go straight for us. So far Starbucks has been good.
Do you plan to expand beyond Beijing?
Matt: We are and will be expanding beyond Beijing.
Many of our readers often need to go out somewhere with the family. What places in the city serve your brand and are kid friendly?
Matt: Any of the Cafe Flat Whites are great places to take kids too. The staff are friendly (kid friendly too), the food is great and the coffee is SUPER!!! I would also recommend The Rug Cafe. The food and coffee are organic and they have a kids play area too. Be warned though, they are packed on the weekends.
Where is the best place for parents to go and enjoy a cup without the kids?
Matt: Anywhere sporting the Rickshaw Roasters Brand! Check the website www.rickshawroasters.com for a list of cafes we supply.