The man riding on a giraffe – a visit to Bieder & Maier
They brought the croissant to Vienna, as well as espresso coffee… The Ottomans’ second siege of the Austrian capital in 1683 had quite a positive effect on Vienna from a beverage-related perspective. The city and the coffee house have basically been synonymous ever since.
While industrial scale roasting houses could still be found around the city’s periphery 25 years ago, a third wave of coffee making has brought the city’s hot drink aficionados a number of small roasting houses focused on coffee specialties, which also pay special attention to the origin of the coffee beans used and to sustainability.
Bieder & Maier has been selling coffee for two years – the bright yellow and white packaging with a gentleman riding on a giraffe have sparked quite some interest and have already won several local and international awards for marketing and design.
Curious to find out more, I make an appointment with the two protagonists and meet them on a beautiful October day at their office on Halbgasse in Vienna’s 7th District.
Alexander Hamersky, Valentin Siglreithmaier and Elisabeth Mathy are sitting opposite me and everyone is in a good mood. Before we start, I can pick an espresso blend and I get my first glimpse of the coffee business, while the coffee grinder crushes the beans and the coffee flows through the impressively large espresso machine into the cup, filling the air with an appetizing aroma.
“Coffee has been our passion for many years,” says Alexander Hamersky, who has spent almost his entire professional career in the coffee industry and is responsible for procurement and distribution at Bieder & Maier.
It is important to know where the coffee comes from and how it is transported, I am told, and this requires reliable partners worldwide. However, it is impossible to fly around the world all the time as a small company, so you have to trust specialists working at the coffee trade hubs in Europe. Hamburg is traditionally the main center for coffee in the region and the unroasted coffee for Bieder & Maier’s six blends also comes via the German port.
“Coffee is a natural product and its flavor depends on the weather and soil conditions in the respective growing area,” I am told.
Of course, I am interested where the coffee comes from and how the blends are made. Valentin Siglreithmaier, team barista and the man responsible for the exquisite flavors, says that Bieder & Maier uses coffee Arabica and Robusta and that they mix the two types for each roasting so that the blends always have the same taste. This is not easy to achieve and roasting masters have to have good instincts for the right mixture and roasting level, in addition to experience.
The green coffee is imported mainly from Central America. Coffee Arabica grows best at altitudes of over 1,300 meters and comes from Nicaragua, Santos in Brazil and Guatemala. This type is known for its balanced caffeine content and a wide range of aromas. Robusta coffee, on the other hand, is grown predominantly in South Asia at altitudes of 300 meters and above. Unfortunately, it is often considered inferior to Arabica, although this is unfair – there are quite big differences. Robusta, as the name says, contains more caffeine and less sugar, which makes it very popular in southern countries, where coffee is usually drunk pitch black.
The office, which is reminiscent of a hip coffee bar in which visitors sometimes even sit down and order coffee without realizing where they are, is decorated with coffee bags from the various producing areas, giving the room a cosmopolitan flair. Here, I get a closer look at the different types of coffee and am told about their characteristics.
Arabica coffee beans are bigger than Robusta coffee beans and their center cut forms a slight wave. We never stop learning.
I already mentioned sustainability, but what is the attitude of the owners of Bieder & Maier towards this topic? I ask. “We try to run a sustainable business and keep coffee transportation as environmentally friendly as possible.” Additionally, the company is involved in the EFICO Foundation, which supports education and the construction of water supply systems in producing countries.
Customers from the catering industry, such as Café Diglas, Café Engländer, the legendary Café Jelinek and, recently, also Joseph Brot appreciate this business idea and have put their trust in these coffee experts. The company also creates individual blends with their own, special names for the food service industry, which makes up the majority of their clientele.
Private customers can also buy coffee from Bieder & Maier, of course. The website provides advice and customers can browse the web shop and order their own, personal favorite to be delivered to their doorstep, adds Elisabeth Mathy, who effectively runs the entire office on Halbgasse.
Marketing has been entrusted to the hands of Rudi Kobza and his agency, which has really ensured international attention, and the awards won for marketing and design have also helped the image of this still new, but already internationally recognized, brand.
At present, 80-100 tons coffee are sold every year and that amount is rising. New York has already a Bieder & Maier shop – they love Viennese delicacies – trade in the Middle East is gaining momentum, Ibiza is starting to grow and Switzerland is on the to-do list.
However, two thirds of Bieder & Maier coffee are consumed in Austria.
If you want to try the coffee, you might want to pay a visit to Macchiarte, a shop specialized in coffee and coffee machines on Weihburggasse, where you can also get comprehensive advice.
After another invigorating espresso, I say goodbye to my interview partners, knowing much more about coffee than before. The quality of Bieder & Maier coffee is definitely worth a visit to one of the coffee houses or to Macchiarte.