When you think about coffee and alcohol, you probably think about Martin Hudák too. Martin is the 2017 Coffee In Good Spirits World Champion, former senior bartender at American Bar at Hotel Savoy in London, barista and bartender, and most likely a superhuman that doesn’t run out of energy – ever. But above all, he is a good friend of ours and we can’t be more excited that he agreed to help us and point us in the right direction when we decided to fully dive into the world of coffee cocktails.
How long do you know the guys from Happy Baristas and why saying yes to this collaboration?
One of the owners, Marian, I know personally for over 7 years now, since our barista competition times in Slovakia. Even though we never competed against each other, I considered him as one of the top Slovak baristas. Of course, our professional relationship later transformed into friendship and after getting to know Roland and the rest of the HB team, all of this logically lead us to this cooperation.
HB made signature drinks and coffee cocktails before, but mostly for special occasions. What were your first reactions and thoughts when we approached you with an idea to make a cocktail menu for a coffee shop that would be based exclusively on coffee cocktails?
As you say, most of the coffee shops experiment with alcohol on a basic level and mainly for special events.
I’ve been watching your creations and I really liked the style, so the offer was interesting for me. Honestly, I was a bit worried as I don’t know the German market, neither I know the German guests.
Do you know about any other places in the world where they focus on coffee cocktails on such a scale?
Certainly not! This concept is unique and please, correct me if I’m wrong. In last year and a half, I have traveled through more than 35 countries and 50 cities and I haven’t found a coffee shop with a coffee cocktail menu of such scale.
We chose rum as a base for our drinks. Was this a big challenge for you?
For sure. Rum is not my strongest point, even though I succeeded in the global rum finale in Cuba back in 2014 and placed on a beautiful 4th place from 50 world finalists.
But honestly, rum is one of the best ingredients for mixing coffee drinks.
How did you come up with an idea to build a menu on variations on tiki and Caribbean drinks? What do you like about this type of drinks?
If you mention a rum drink to an ‘ordinary’ guest, they often think of Pina Colada, Mai Tai, Zombie or other classics like Cuba Libre, Daiquiri or throughout Europe very popular Mojito.
The choice was absolutely clear! Instead of coming up with some new crazy creations I’ve built the menu on well-known classics. I wanted it to be interesting and fun for the guests and the whole HB team. Of course with the addition of coffee in many different forms but also with an interesting service, fresh ingredients and ‘zero waste’ approach.
At HB we try to go the eco-friendly way. To minimize the waste as much as possible, to use recyclable and compostable materials, to have a closed loop between the kitchen and the bar. Your world champion winning presentation was also based on similar ideas. Tell us how did this influence Happy Baristas cocktail menu?
This world movement is no longer only visible in other industries, but we finally start seeing it in the whole gastro industry as well. Zero waste or sustainable way is a) responsible and respectable towards our planet and b) is also an economic asset for the business.
I’ve decided not to use plastic straws or paper napkins, instead, we use metal straws and all-purpose sandstone coasters. The costs are definitely higher, but in time they will return, and most of all they are better for the environment.
In terms of ingredients, we decided to use the citrus peels and their insides to make house-made cordials and garnishes – I recommend the drink Coffee Libre. For example, from the waste left from making your homemade almond milk, we cooked almond syrup for Espresso Mar-Tiki.
Happy Baristas and you share a similar approach and philosophy when it comes to hospitality, work behind the bar and overall customer service. I’ve noticed that until recently, the bar scene was in a state, where the bartender, the drink and it’s preparation was the most important thing and only afterward there was a guest. Similarities with the coffee world are noticeable.
In the last couple of years things started changing, the bar scene goes through a transformation that could be an example for the coffee world and baristas. Is there a certain thing that bothers you in each of the industries and on the contrary, what do you like the most in the bar and the coffee world?
For me, a drink (coffee) is only a percentage of the overall service. Personally, I care more about the whole experience of my visit, from the arrival to leave. I focus more on details like a smile, willingness, and overall hospitality. If I feel welcome and wanted. Not very often I have this feeling in coffee shops. It is better in bars. The latest trend is not about the ingredients but more about focusing on hospitality and making the guest leave overall satisfied.
Baristas should retrench a bit from their ‘geekiness’ and start using the head more for a smile, eye contact or greeting the guests. Vice versa, bartenders could draw some inspiration for baristas and go deeper in researching origin, quality of ingredients or precise measuring.
Only recently you have decided on a big change in your life and left London and American Bar. Why?
I think I’ve reached the limit in London. Yes, there is a space for improvement and advancement but I felt I was missing a challenge. Also, after 3 years London wasn’t the right place for personal happiness and life balance anymore. In those years the American Bar got more awards than ever before.
What are your plans for the future? Will you compete again?
Haha, no. My girlfriend forbid me! 😀
Thanks, Martin, and all the best!