Jordan Dabov reminiscents about the long road he had to walk in the first 10 years of his labor of love, DABOV Specialty Coffee.
Jordan Dabov is someone who always has a broad smile on his face and radiates friendly energy. Why, then, he is so surprisingly serious and uncompromising when it comes to the coffee he offers to his clients? It is because he believes that handling the most special coffees in the world requires focus, dedication, and clear thought. He is proud that DABOV Specialty Coffee is a coffee company in all senses of the word – they not only begin and end their day with the idea of acquiring better coffee but also plan ahead, harvest after harvest. 10 years after they offered their first specialty coffee on the Bulgarian market, he and his team continue with the philosophy that the only compromise they can afford is not to compromise with any detail on the overall appearance (flavor, flavor, flavor) and image of their products. What was your idea for a business when you entered the Bulgarian market 10 years ago? Why have you chosen to sell Specialty Coffees when coffees with affordable prices could have brought you quicker and continuous profit? Jordan Dabov: We do not sell coffee because we are interested in faster or bigger sells and profits. I like a cup of good coffee as much as I would like to have one at hand whenever I feel like drinking one. Over the years, I have realized that many of my customers crave the same. I believe that my clients shouldn’t spend much time thinking about their coffee, and I keep on telling them this. However, someone must think about their coffee. And me, I think about coffee all the time! So, let me do that on behalf of my clients! Over the years we have realized that this involves great responsibility– when we entered deep into the world of coffee farms, coffee buyers, and even the company that is built the way we believe it should be build and we roast coffees the way we want them to be roasted. Responsibilities grow though, and when we approach them with responsibility, they will bring profits. For us, profits mean more coffee! We turn every profit into one more acquired coffee. The bigger the profits, the more opportunities to invest in the farmers we would like to be partners with – partners for life. Some coffees which unfortunately are rare, have very specific flavor. Today I call this ‘coffee flavor’ but it is totally different from what the industry calls ‘coffee flavor’, and after the industry, the coffee drinkers as well. Let me explain what I mean. Let’s just say that you like ordering espresso in a certain café where they have an espresso machine. When they serve it to you, you stir it, sometimes you add a little sugar. Although you expect a slightly bitter taste that will assure you that your espresso is of good quality and strong, sometimes you are caught by surprise by a stronger flavor. In the flavor I have in mind, there is a balance between sweetness and acidity, and there is no acute bitterness. Brewing emulsion. It runs down heavily on your palate and seals itself under your temple – forever. Have you adopted some specific rules for a successful business in these 10 years? Jordan Dabov: No 🙂 First and foremost, respect your supplier!!!!! Our suppliers are not the coffee buyers, coffee brokers or someone else in the chain. Our suppliers are the farmers who grow some of the world’s best coffees. These people are very important to us because we buy our coffee from them – they sell it to us (but in this process, a lot of emotions and other specific things are involved). Textbooks usually teach us to follow the opposite road – but this is wrong and simply doesn’t work. Our suppliers sell us with the coffee that we need. If we do not respect them, if we don’t understand their problems, if we do not cooperate with them and motivate them, everything that we do will be short lived. I don’t say that it wouldn’t work – but to us with Vesela (my wife who is also the CEO of our company), as people, this type of approach is unthinkable. We try to work in a similar way with our espresso machines suppliers. What is the most important thing that you have learned from the Bulgarian market and Bulgarian consumer? Jordan Dabov: When we returned to Bulgaria in the distant 2008, and we started ‘preaching the word of coffee’, the market was completely unprepared for this. There wasn’t Specialty Coffee on it, nor understanding of the nature of it, nor modern technologies to prepare it, nor milieu where to enjoy it. There have been probably few people who were able to buy some specialty coffee and enjoy a cup or two at home in the mornings, or in the evenings, just like my wife and I were doing. In 2009, I became friends with the now ex-executive of a distributor of hi-tech espresso machines. He invited me to their showroom because he had a client for their expensive machine, but he had no coffee for it. I went there with some coffee from a micro lot in Ethiopia. We drank all of it – everyone about 10 cups of espresso. The man went crazy about the coffee. Next day I went to his office with a kilo of the same coffee. We drank it with his clients. They bought the machine and started buying coffee from us. At that time, we still were not roasting our coffees, neither we negotiated with the farmers to buy directly from them. We were distributors of an American company for specialty coffee and they roasted them in Prague. Our clients were paying 90 leva for a kilo of Ethiopian coffee and they were preparing it on an extremely good espresso machine. Things started moving. Bulgaria had to walk a long road in order to reach the current situation of the specialty coffee market in the country. In my opinion, the situation is between good and very good. Of course, we can always look from a different side and lament our low consumption per capita. Perhaps, it is because of it that our sales are lower as well, but let me say that Bulgarian consumers are demanding, intelligent, sensitive and thoughtful. At least, DABOV Specialty Coffee clients are to 100%!What is the most important thing that you have thought Bulgarian consumers? Jordan Dabov: Bulgarian consumers should reply to this question. DABOV Specialty Coffee sell its products outside Bulgaria as well. How did this happen? Jordan Dabov: Our decision to sell outside Bulgaria was born not because we wanted to gain more profit but because I am extremely selfish, and I also hate everyone who hates or let us be kinder – looks condescendingly or full of doubts towards everything or everyone who comes from Bulgaria. In 2013, I started traveling to different farms to ‘learn the ropes’, and I also became a judge on Cup of Excellence (COE). Everyone I met – other fellow jurors, farmers, coffee buyers, changed the tone of their voices after they learned where I was from. ‘Oh, Bulgaria!’, The UK or German jurors would say. ‘Do you really know anything about coffee? Is there a market for it in Bulgaria?’ And coffee buyers and farmers would say, ‘That’s really nice – until today, not one Bulgarian company has ever requested an information or samples for our specialty coffee.’ I was very sad as I shared those conversations or sometimes even just attempts for conversations with my wife. I doubted that I would be classified as a juror for another championship even though I could pass the test. In other words, I was angry! Today, I have 8 COE contests behind my back as a juror and in some of them, I was the only European! But the most important thing is that it is almost impossible to come across a top farmer from Central America or Brazil who hasn’t heard our name, DABOV. We have a lot of work to do still but we have laid the foundations. Now, our goal is to show to Europe as well that Bulgaria can have company or, hopefully, companies that are synonymous to high-quality coffee products – starting from the raw material and finishing with the end product. According to you, coffee is a highly synergistic drink. Having this idea in mind, let us talk about your team. What kind of people do you like surrounding yourself with? Jordan Dabov: The core of our company hasn’t changed and is very stimulating for us. Here are the people I talk about: Jordan (10 years in the company) – coffee! Vesela (10 years in the company) – without her, there is no coffee! There is no company either. Teddy (9 years in the company) – without her, our coffee can’t reach our clients. Anita (8 years in the company) – she’s Vesela’s right hand. She does so many things! Sometimes I even don’t know exactly what. Ivo (5 years in the company) – he is Jordan’s right hand. Someone has to explain to our clients how to make their coffee. Our packaging is also more stylish thanks to him. Svetoslav (4 years in the company) – in order to have tasty coffee, our machines should work perfectly. By 2019, our team will exceed 15 people. Everybody in our team is a key team member and everybody inspires us and motivates us. Those who were different, are no longer with us. What have you accomplished in 10 years? Jordan Dabov: We have warmed up! Our job, or rather, what we do, is circular and infinite. We hunt for coffee, we find out the one that we need (and what we need is ultimately better and better coffees), we start negotiating, organizing the transportation, buying an insurance, thinking of eventual consolidation, preparing the warehouse, printing the labels for the packages, we start experimenting in order to find the appropriate roasting profile… year after year. What haven’t you accomplished in 10 years? Jordan Dabov: We still haven’t learned how to sell our coffees! We will have to work on that, find a way and build a team who will make it happen. Which one is your favorite coffee? Jordan Dabov: Probably the one I haven’t tasted yet!