Ilse Geyskens serves authentic Colombian coffee in Medellín and Brussels. Discover the story behind Café Velvet.
Who? Ilse Geyskens, founder of Café Velvet.
What? Café Velvet is a Colombian-Belgian start-up with branches in Medellín and Brussels, where only authentic Colombian coffee is served.
Why? Because investing in the producer country is important and Colombia has a lot to offer in terms of professionalism and quality.
A coffee country without a coffee culture
I studied law and worked for many years in the legal and private sector. A few years ago our family moved to Miami. Once there, I signed up to a 4-month NGO project in Medellín. When I arrived, I noticed that Colombia - which is one of the world's largest coffee producers - had no coffee culture itself. Coffee farmers exported their entire harvest to the rest of the world, while they drank soluble coffee themselves. It's as if we would only drink lager in Belgium, while shipping all our traditional beers to the rest of the world.
Colombia underwent an economic boom around 2012, and the middle classes also grew as a result. The so-called "third wave", the interest in the complete process of the origin of coffee - from bean to cup - had already been a hype in many major cities around the world for several years. It seemed logical then that a broad section of the population in Colombia would also be interested in high quality coffee from their own backyard.
Coffee farmers exported their entire harvest to the rest of the world, while they drank soluble coffee themselves. It's as if we would only drink lager in Belgium, while shipping all our traditional beers to the rest of the world.
Café con acento belga
In 2014, I opened the first Café Velvet in a modern new building in Medellín, with the slogan: 'café con acento belga'. We try to combine the best of Belgium and Colombia in our coffees and light dishes. A Colombian architect designed the interior. It feels like a large living room, with a portrait of Tintin and lots of tropical greenery. We source our unroasted "green" coffee directly from various coffee farmers in the neighbourhood, from small coffee farmers who still work on an artisan scale, to more professionally organised entrepreneurs who produce larger quantities of coffee. We are always looking for new blends, and selection is done in our coffee laboratory in Itagüí, close to Medellín. We also only select coffee which meets strict quality requirements, and which is also referred to as specialty coffee.
Quid pro quo
Colombian coffee farmers and local entrepreneurs regularly pay visits to Café Velvet. As such, it is a pleasure to see the coffee farmers in our coffee bar consume their own product, something they themselves are very proud of. In addition, during our annual excursion, we will visit a plantation, with whom we regularly collaborate, with the entire Colombian team. Some of the coffee farmers have since become good friends.
After selecting the green coffee, it is then roasted. Six months after the launch of Café Velvet we opened our own coffee roasting plant. As such, we can determine the roasting profile of the coffees we offer. These are generally lighter or medium roasts which accentuate the aromas of the high-quality beans. The shelf life of roasted coffee is rather limited, it should ideally be consumed within three weeks to fully enjoy the complexity of all the aromas and flavours.
The final stage is in the hands of our baristas, who prepare the coffee in Café Velvet. All baristas must be thoroughly trained before operating the espresso machines and other equipment. In addition, everyone in our team must have extensive knowledge of the coffee process and blends we serve in order to work with us.
The neighbourhood in Brussels is quite similar to that of Medellín: trendy, lively, international and with a lot of digital nomads, starters and creative types.
From Colombia to Belgium
In July 2016, I opened a second Café Velvet, this time in Brussels, which was kitted out by the same Colombian architect as in Medellín. Here we chose a listed 16th century building as the location, on the Place Sainte Catherine. The neighbourhood in Brussels is quite similar to that of Medellín: trendy, lively, international and with a lot of digital nomads, starters and creative types. We serve the same blends in this coffee bar as the one in Colombia, but they are roasted at our roasting plant in Anderlecht.
And the future?
For the time being I am mostly in Brussels. I coordinate the activities of both my Belgian and Colombian team from here, but I regularly return to Colombia. Hopefully I will soon be able to expand, both in Belgium and Colombia, but also with international exports. My team also organises coffee workshops on a regular basis and our coffee is also sold to companies which prefer to serve a cup of quality coffee.