In 2010, Christian Forrer installed the first micro coffee roaster in his small café bar just outside Zurich. Only a couple of years later, he now runs seven ViCAFE espresso bars in Zurich and employs over 80 people. He told us what makes a good cup of coffee, how he got into the coffee business and what he likes best about Zurich.
Christian, there are often long queues in front of your ViCAFE takeaway coffee windows. How do you get people to queue up that long for a coffee?
Well, first of all it, this wasn’t our plan, but it’s a dream, of course, that people love our coffee that much. In the end, it’s pretty simple, though. It’s the overall quality, as always in gastronomy. The quality of the product, the quality of the employees and the quality of the service. What is difficult, of course, is to actually achieve this high quality.
How did you land in the coffee business?
In 2010, we brought the local cola brand Vivi Kola back to life. It had been produced in Eglisau, a small town 25km from Zurich, where I grew up. But the brand hadn’t existed for 25 years, so we opened a shop in Eglisau to sell our Vivi Kola. It was clear that we needed a second product to make that shop work and, as an enthusiastic coffee lover, I decided to start roasting our own coffee on the spot. In 2014, we were ready for the move to Zurich, but decided to go with a different concept - high quality coffee to go.
What is the most important part of a good cup of coffee?
he beans, the roasting process or the barista who prepares it? For an over-the-top coffee, these three things are equally important. But in the end, it’s probably the barista who has the biggest impact on the final result. If you don’t know how to prepare it, it’s easy to make a really sour or bitter cup of coffee from a top product. On the other hand, a good barista can also make at least mediocre coffee from bad beans.
So I guess you train your baristas?
Absolutely. Before one begins working for us as a barista, he or she has one week of training when they learn everything about our coffee beans, the roasting process and how to brew the perfect espresso. This ensures high quality but also speed, which is essential at our coffee windows.
And how do you select the coffee beans?
he selection of the beans is also key. We visit many coffee farmers and select the beans personally. We research the farmers we want to meet before a trip, get tips from traders or we check out who other roasters, that we like, work with. Then we try those coffees in a standardised process called cupping. When we decide to collaborate with a farmer, we negotiate the price and when we’re happy with the collaboration, we pay the farmers a bonus, which they don’t expect. This way, they can participate in our success, but the bonus isn’t the initial incentive for a successful collaboration.
You have become a genuine entrepreneur. Is Zurich a good place for entrepreneurs?
Yes, absolutely. Zurich is definitely a place where you can gain success with good ideas. It’s not corrupt, you don’t need to be part of a certain group or a local elite to get somewhere and the authorities are reasonable. And the customers have buying power and are open to new ideas.
Speaking of Zurich, what do you like most about it?
Zurich is a great small world city. I like the lake and the river and the fact that they’re so clean that you can swim in both. For many foreigners, swimming in a city river sounds totally crazy. I used to do sports on the lake and I never took a bottle of water with me. I just drank the lake water.
Does anything annoy you about Zurich?
Zürcher tend to overestimate themselves and their city. They tend to think that Zurich is the most innovative and hip place that exists, but that’s because they don’t leave their small pond often enough. I love Zurich, but there are other cities that are also great.
Why should someone visit Zurich?
It is a wonderful place, very organised and sourrounded by nature. For example, right in the city centre, one is able to see the Alps towering behind the lake. I think Zurich qualifies as a proper mountain city. I love living here, but for a tourist, there probably isn’t that much to explore. Well, maybe it’s not that bad for a short trip anyway.
What’s your favourite place in the city?
I love the Lindenhof, a square on a hill in the middle of the old town with picturesque views. I also like the lakeshore from Bellevue towards Zürichorn very much.
Is this where you go tune out and relax?
No, to relax I go to Eglisau where I grew up. I take all my visitors there. It’s a small city with a lovely old town not far from Zurich on the River Rhine. In summer, you can take a dip in the river, take a boat trip or have a barbecue.
What do you like about the district you live in?
I live in the Wipkingen district on the hillside. I absolutely love the great view of the city and the lake and the view towards the Alps that we have.
Are there any restaurants that you recommend?
The thing is, I love to eat at home. But for lunch, I love to go to Lily’s. They’ve done simple, good quality Asian dishes for many years now and our office is nearby.
Christian Forrer grew up in the town of Eglisau roughly 25km from Zurich. In 2010, he and his partner brought the local cola brand Vivi Kola back to life. At the same time they began roasting coffee and launched the ViCAFE brand. Currently, they run seven ViCAFE windows in Zurich and plan on expanding to other Swiss cities later this year. Try his ViCAFE for example on Bahnhofstrasse 93.