Nik Orosi is a three-time Croatian barista champion and the owner of Eli’s Caffè in Zagreb. He is also Croatia's first speciality coffee-bean roaster and his products are served at top venues across the city.
Eli's coffee is not only served at Eli's Caffè. Why do you take your beans away from certain other venues if they don’t serve coffee correctly? Surely it's all business anyway?
There is a correct way to prepare a cup of coffee and if the café isn’t cleaning things properly or using the right methods, then they are cheating the customer. I won’t cheat people because then I am cheating myself. Customers have an expectation with my coffee.
Why did you want to make your own coffee? Is it worth the extra time and expense when most are happy with standard brews?
Let’s say I wasn’t very happy with what you would call 'standard brews'. The world of coffee is full of variety. I wanted to bring that to my customers – contrary to other coffees across Croatia.
Can you compare development of the coffee industry in Croatia with its gastronomy?
I believe a brand is a man or woman – a small-time manufacturer, actually. Italy is known for pizzas, Ferrari, espresso and Armani. Switzerland is known for cheese and watches. France is known for perfumes. But these things aren’t made by the country itself but by manufacturers that became, in time, brands. They then became linked to the nation as a whole. Why shouldn’t Croatia be known one day for fabulous coffee, for instance. I can see the potential. For me, my name is me and my work.
How is Croatian gastronomy evolving?
We are making big steps forward when you talk about wine, olive oil and the culinary arts. As for coffee, we seem lost... but there also have been steps forward. You must travel a lot to share knowledge with others, and see new techniques – the methods of each and every part of coffee-making, from bean to cup.
How is your coffee-roasting part of Croatia’s gastronomic evolution?
As far as I know, we have many roasters in Croatia, but if we talk about speciality coffee, I’m sad to say that I’m the first. It’s kind of strange for that to be said in the 21st century. We have beans of all kinds of quality but I only use high-quality ones. I don't say this to show off or because of the price I pay for the beans – for me, it’s about the flavours that I can deliver to my customers with these kinds of beans. In time, you can see this evolution... actually more of a revolution in terms of expectations from your customers. They keep asking for more and more and better and better. That’s why I like to be different.
What was the state of coffee in Croatia before Eli's?
Some say we are blessed because Italy is our neighbour. I say we are doomed because of this! This craziness about Italian coffee culture in Croatia ignores what coffee should be. I’m not speaking how good Italians package their coffees. I’m talking about the flavours they deliver and those aren’t the ones that I’m looking for. I’m a fan of Arabica beans. And in Croatia, you’ll only find two such coffee brands. So it’s hard for me to change culture through my coffee all at once or preach the opposite of traditional coffee preparation. With all due respect, I’m searching for what’s in the cup and not thinking too much about tradition.
How have you helped to change Croatia’s idea of coffee quality?
By working hard, preaching every day – about coffee quality, of course. This does, though, bring a lot of misunderstandings… especially between big coffee firms and little me. Who am I to move mountains? Croatia is a café culture, for sure, but we do seem to take coffee for granted. For the typical customer, he doesn't seem to need to know more about what it is he's drinking every day. This lack of appreciation hurts me. It's a personal thing.
How can it become more sophisticated?
To be honest, for me there’s only one answer: to care less about money and more about quality. With quality, money will find its own way.
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