The Cost of Doing Business in Romania

We’ve been planning this step into the business world for a long time now, perhaps I’ve even been dreaming about it longer. I think all of the hesitation I had in the States that came with every thought of starting something was due to the state of the industry there. I had jumped into the Specialty Coffee industry early (not much more than a subculture) but I hadn’t been in it from the very beginning; at least not like the people that I was working with. I’ve always been intimidated, no, that’s not the right word, maybe uneasy, of others’ passion for coffee, not because they had more than I did, but because it seemed to me to be more warranted. They’d struggled through the beginnings of the “third-wave”, trying to convince people to spend twenty dollars on a bag of coffee instead of ten, because it was vastly better, not just better marketed. That they’re taste in coffee was outdated (yes, I know that that’s the wrong way to educate people, but we didn’t know that).

I feel that stepping into the industry here in Romania has been a bit of a time-jump. There are many things about the interactions here remind me of the beginnings of the trek uphill in California, and of the familial closeness of “competing” roasters and cafes here. You may think, “But the model has already been set, aren’t they just following a script?” To a degree, yes, the script has been written, but only in the sense that the mistakes have been made and the knowledge is less of a fight to get to. I’d compare it more to the relationship of two siblings, years apart. The elder paving the way, the younger emulating, but with no less passion (in many ways, more).

There will be a fight. Not to sell the most grinders, or pouring kettles, or home espresso machines, because all of those things aren’t ultimately necessary to make good coffee, or even to enjoy not-good coffee. The battle will be educating people about why the coffee they’re drinking tastes the way it does; which involves letting them taste something different, either a different brand, or a different preparation method. Fighting to communicate with them from the point of view of an outsider, however knowledgeable though ultimately naïve and green in the industry. Fighting the bureaucracy of an unfamiliar system, the expectancies of a culture that is used to hand-outs if they know your first name.

…I’ll compare it to water polo, which is one of those pseudo cross-over sports that is known on both sides of the pond. You’re trying to throw the ball into the net, guarded by someone almost as big as the net, while trying to stay afloat only with your legs, while getting kicked under the surface and splashed in the face above. …All while wearing a speedo.

But we have our stamp. So there’s that…