As one of the world’s largest tea drinking nations, Russia is inevitably seen as a tough nut to crack for coffee suppliers. But the tide is undoubtedly turning.
The coffee consuming community is growing more rapidly than ever before and The Russian Federation joined the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) in April 2015.
The Moscow Coffee and Tea Expo is held annually on the outskirts of Russia’s capital in autumn, this year from October 5-8, supported by the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE). Our traders Will Hobby and Mantvydas Trainavicius (MT) attended this year to get the lowdown on a huge yet still emerging market.
From Russia with…
“The Russian coffee market is growing,” Will explains. “Although it’s still considered fairly new, it has substantially increased over the last decade.” Indeed, CoffeeTalk estimates that the number of regular coffee drinkers has risen from 68 million in 2000 to 94 million people last year. The latter figure translates to around 60% of its population. These percentages are still small in comparison to the USA (83% coffee drinkers) or the Netherlands (who drink enough to constitute 3.2 cups per person per day), but for context, 60% of the population translates as 124,000 tonnes of coffee sold in 2014. The market is huge, and the potential even bigger.
As in the UK, the market remains dominated by instant coffee, which represents approximately 75% of all volume”, Will tells us. But the interest in specialty beans is climbing. In his 2013 article for CoffeeTalk, Vladislav Vorotnikov suggests that “the share of the highest price segment in the Russian coffee market grew from 7% of the total market in 2005 to 16% in 2012. Gradually, Russians are moving to the consumption of roast and ground coffee.”
Accounting for taste
This is where DRWakefield comes in. Will hosted a cupping session on the second day of the Expo, allowing delegates, traders and attendees to taste a selection of our coffees and to meet face to face with the importers. “People are interested in the stories behind the coffees,” Will says. “Tracing the coffee and hearing about it. They tend to go for the natural and unwashed coffees.” One explanation for this is that unwashed coffees – the fruity and natural tasting coffees, such as those from Ethiopia, Mexico and so on – are least like the instant soluble coffee in their character. It seems the discerning Russian palate is developing fast.
A new phrasebook
This is not to say that expansion into Russia will be an easy job. The language barrier is a big hurdle, Will concedes. “Even in business, English-speaking is not common,” he explains. “And even going through our partners in Lithuania – where both English and Russian are more commonly spoken – the problem still exists.” He continues: “We don’t have any ground staff in either Russia or Lithuania yet, so we can’t be ‘hands on’ in the expansion of the coffee market.”
DRWakefield is allowing the interest to grow organically whilst facilitating and engaging with the market and importers. “We’re working alongside another importer for more synergy,” Will explains. The coffee is all sold through London of course, yet Russia has become the newest addition to a list that comprises some 40 countries with whom DRWakefield enjoys a fruitful relationship of providing quality and specialist coffees. Not as an isolated island, but a new member of a growing network of coffee importers and drinkers.
And what of the rest of the trip? Will had an opportunity to check out some of the coffee culture around Moscow, the cafes and the scene. “The coffee shop experience is no different to that of London, New York or Paris – fashionable 3rd wave places, full of enthusiastic youngsters pilfering the free WiFi! And the people behind them are well informed, and really enthused about the coffee they serve.”
References – Russia joins International Coffee Federation