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The ‘Belgian Union of Coffee Roasters’ was set up in Brussels on 25 May 1943 by a number of leading Belgian family-run coffee-roasting businesses. Which means the association is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. We sat down for a chat with Petty De Sloovere, the secretary general of Koffiecafé, the Belgian Union of Coffee Roasters, over … a lovely cup of coffee. Among other things, we found out how the “new coffee wave” made its entry.

What is the link between our country and coffee?

Belgium is renowned for its huge diversity in coffee. Hardly surprising considering that Antwerp is the world’s largest storage hub for green (unroasted) coffee. Not many people will be aware of this, but the Port of Antwerp is the storage site for over 250,000 tonnes of coffee, representing a staggering 27 billion cups of coffee. As it is, our country is situated on the intersection of the two major European coffee cultures: here you will find the stronger coffees traditionally encountered around the Mediterranean as well as the less strong variants which are better liked in the northern part of Europe.

Which developments are you seeing in the way coffee is made?

Over the years, we have seen the arrival of new coffee-making methods. We have been familiar with the individual coffee filter since the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, which allowed coffee drinkers to prepare their filter coffee right there and then with the perfect amount of ground coffee. To date, Belgium remains one of only a handful of countries that has actually embraced this coffee-making method. Nearly half a century down the line, in 2001 a new way to make coffee was put on the market in the Senseo system, which made preparing yourself a quick individual cup of coffee much easier. You no longer needed to make an entire thermos flask of coffee if all you wanted was just a cup for yourself. Then came Nespresso, with a different coffee-making system based around ground coffee contained in small aluminium capsules, which keep for a very long time. Today, we are witnessing a new development whereby coffee drinkers are increasingly turning to the fully automated espresso coffee machines, enabling them to process their favourite coffee beans into a delicious espresso.

How do you see the further development of coffee?

The arrival of large coffee chains and coffee bars has made coffee totally trendy, including among younger people. In a very short space of time, the larger Belgian towns and cities have seen a lot of coffee cafés popping up, which often have their own small-scale coffee roasters or micro roasters. Moreover, these coffee cafés serve coffee in lots of different ways: slow coffee, espresso, cold brew, latté, cappuccino, etc. It is safe to say this “new coffee wave” is opening up new prospects for the future of the industry!

Coffee roasters have become increasingly aware in recent years that each action in the process from coffee bean to coffee cup has an impact the resulting taste of the coffee, which has shifted the focus even more on the traditional craft of coffee roasting. Nowadays it is all about the ideal flavour profile for which coffee roasters seek out purpose-selected high quality coffee beans, which they then go on to roast to near perfection.

When it comes to people’s home coffee drinking habits, consumers are unreservedly opting for one-cup coffee-making methods. The way in which coffee is packaged has moved away from the conventional 250 gram pack of ground coffee towards individual coffee pads, coffee cups and coffee pods. On the other hand, ‘bean’ coffee is staging a comeback. Consumers are prepared to pay a higher price for convenience, quality and authenticity. All of which sees coffee evolving from a traditional basic product to a typical high-quality speciality product. Coffee is modern, hip, trendy and hot again!

To find out more about the Belgian coffee industry,
please contact Petty De Sloovere, Koffiecafé secretary general.