Meet the man behind Roast and Roots Coffee
At the age of 12, Bangok-born Varatt Vichit-Vadakan began attending school in the United States, and spent the next 12 years there. Upon returning to Thailand he began working in media, but when he opened his first coffee shop, a new career path began.
When/how did you develop such a passion for coffee?
In 2007 when I left my job in the media field and started doing freelance consulting, I spent a lot of time in coffee shops to meet my clients, and during that time I started wishing that the coffee shops would serve better quality coffee—considering the price I was paying for them. I started reading and learning about coffee just for fun, but the more I learned about it, the more intrigued I became about the whole journey of coffee, from farm to cup. So I learned about the brewing first, then later about roasting (studying both in Bangkok and abroad). Even now my education still continues, including farming and processing methods.
When did your career in the coffee business begin?
I started Roast first, in 2011, as a café that specialized in comfort food and freshly roasted coffee. We roasted right in the café, but soon found out that many of our customers didn’t appreciate the fact that we were roasting during service hours, and complained that it was too loud and smelled too much. So, in 2013 we moved out to another location and set up a roastery in Ekkamai. Also, we found that many members in the company wanted to learn and focus solely on coffee production, and that became the Roots Coffee team, who would focus on the pursuit of making great coffee from farm to cup.
Why did you want to get into roasting?
We decided to roast our own beans because back in 2011, when we started, there were not a lot of local micro-roasters specializing in specialty grade coffee. And once we started roasting our own coffee, some other restaurants, cafés, and hotels started asking us to supply to them. So we have been supporting other vendors that we feel want to serve quality coffee. Last year we opened our first coffee bar at The Commons. The feedback has been good and we will continue to open a few more places in the coming years.
How large is the roasting facility?
We are a micro-roastery, focusing only on specialty grade coffee beans, so our facility is not big. We are currently in Ekkamai, where we roast roughly around 2.5 tons a month, but have a plan to move to a bigger location.
How do you source your coffee beans?
We source coffee beans from all around the world through our trusted partners/traders in the US, UK, and one from Europe. However, during the past four years we have focused a lot more on locally grown coffee, and have since started working with farmers and processors to source more specialty grade beans. We have a few processing partners, like Khun Ray Buerger from Thai High Ventures—just to name one—who has experimented with us using different coffee processing methods. In fact, the coffee that I used which won the National Barista Championship was a local coffee from him.
Your company also supplies barista training. What makes a great barista?
We train baristas for our wholesale partners, and it’s something very important to us. You can make the best coffee—from the farm, to processing, to roasting—but if the brewer doesn’t know how to extract its potential, then all the hard work is for nothing. A great barista is someone who understands and appreciates the journey of coffee. A great barista is also someone who understands what the consumer wants and delivers that in a nice and friendly way, so as to make coffee more approachable for more people.
Other than your own, which are some of your favourite cafés in Bangkok?
There are many cafés that I like, including Ceresia Coffee on Sukhumvit Soi 33 (to name but one). Their goal is to serve freshly roasted specialty coffee and they do it really well. The place is not pretentious, or over-decorated, and you know from the first moment that they focus on delivering fresh coffee. I appreciate that. If it’s a bakery café, then I choose Brooklyn Baker. They focus on making their own bread and cakes and also serve nice coffee. Their space is simple but you know they put a lot of care into the things they make.
How did the Supanniga Eating Room x Roots Coffee restaurant idea begin?
It was a partnership that happened a little unexpectedly to be honest! But we both have always admired each other’s brands, and I guess the riverside location brought us together. We knew it should be a unique Thai experience, as a lot of the people there are foreigners, so we decided to partner up and deliver something unprecedented for both brands. It’s also a chance for Roots to showcase some of the special Thai coffee that we source as well, paired with delicious Thai desserts.
Interview by Bruce Scott