International magazine describes success story of VDNH's Smart Coffee founder

11 june 2021

The Smart Coffee laboratory has been operating on the grounds of the country's main exhibition centre for five years now. International publication Barista Magazine took note of Smart Coffee thanks to its in-house coffee production facility, in the charisma of its founder, along with the team's constant professional development and growth.

Barista Magazine's June–July 2021 issue features an article describing the success story of Olga Melik-Karakozova, co-founder of the Smart Coffee laboratory at VDNH. In the piece, Ms Melik-Karakozova discusses her professional career, her participation in barista competitions and the way she develops her projects today.

'My colleagues and I at Smart Coffee never set out a goal of "achieving success". We just really loved what we do, and this passion of ours drives us to learn and share what we discover', notes Olga Melik-Karakozova, co-founder of Smart Coffee.

She is now regarded a coffee expert, a professional coffee roaster and the four-time champion of the Russian national barista competition. Olga stumbled into the coffee industry pretty much by happenstance, receiving her first job in a café back in 1999. She was really surprised by the fact that every day, lots of people would turn up and stand in line to get a cup of coffee. She later learned about the barista profession, then learned how to make coffee drinks, and decided to try her hand at industry competitions herself.

Professional recognition

In 2003, Olga took part in the Russian barista competition for the first time and placed third. The following year, she took part again, this time winning. Her win in the national championship allowed her to take part in the world barista competition in Trieste, Italy. Despite Olga's fairly young age at the time (she was then just 22) and the fact she didn't speak a word of English, she managed to place ninth overall.

After her debut in 2004, she went on to represent Russia at the world barista competitions in 2007, 2011 and 2012. According to Olga, the best thing about these competitions is that they fuel her passion for her job and give her a sense of belonging to a professional community. These events also give her a chance to travel and meet new people, while also learning about the latest trends in the global coffee industry so she can implement and reinterpret them in Russia.

Olga has travelled to a lot of coffee-oriented countries. She placed among the top three at the Nordic Roaster competition, attended Speciality Coffee Association exhibitions and World of Coffee events and participated in the Russian PIR shows, the Moscow Coffee Festival and other industry events.

Ms Melik-Karakozova, describing one of her trips, states that 'Every time I would come back a bit disappointed. The only solution was to start importing green coffee and roasting it here in Moscow'.

Smart Coffee at VDNH: a real gamechanger

After working for a number of famous speciality coffee companies (Coffeemania, Caffeine) and co-founding the Doubly chain (only to leave it after two years), Olga launched Smart Coffee as a new project. It combines a Smart Roaster, a coffee shop and a bicycle repair shop.

Smartroaster is a full-cycle cooperative coffee roasting shop hosting a warehouse of green coffee beans. It targets small-scale roasters who don't want to spend money on their own equipment but rent it instead. Smartroaster offers a great alternative to coffee chains, and original coffee shops can use it instead of running their own facilities.

The Smart Coffee centre is a result of many years of joint efforts between Olga Melik-Karakozova and Anna Serova, a world barista champion in the Coffee and Alcohol combination.

The centre makes so-called speciality coffee picked at small plantations and roasted using a special process. Whenever there is a new harvest of coffee somewhere in the world, Olga goes there to take a look. If she finds something special, she brings it to Moscow and selects a roasting process for it.

Winter 2021 saw Smart Coffee expand. The new venue allowed the project team to begin offering breakfast and baking their own bread. And since the coffee shop is located along VDNH's ring road and a lot of its regulars are cyclists, one Smart Coffee venue now hosts a bicycle repair shop where cyclists can get any assistance they need.

'Inclusivity, mutual help and fairness are the main reasons why I feel at home in the coffee community', Olga explains. 'For example, our company employs roughly the same number of women and men, and there's equal gender representation in management as well.'

By the way, Smart Coffee will soon acquire a fresh harvest from Brazilian farms, and it will be a great opportunity to drop by and grab a cup of freshly made coffee.

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