To coffee connoisseurs, the word ‘Tarrazu’ would undoubtedly evoke images of Costa Rica’s interior high plains, regarded as one of the world’s finest coffee-growing region in the world.
These beans – renowned for their fine acidity and rounded body – command high prices because as delicious as a cup of single-blend Tarrazu may be, it is just as elusive to find a reliable supplier that has enough stock to meet the world’s demand.
However, to coffee-conscious Phnom Penhers, Tarrazu is the name of a well-hidden roaster that’s tucked away on a quiet street near the hustle and bustle of Boeung Keng Kang market.
“When my husband and I decided to open this cafe in 2014, I decided to name it Tarrazu because it is my favourite type of single-blend to drink,” explained Kim Dong Hee, or Mrs Kim, or Madam – depending on who is asking.
Initially Kim began to delve into the art of coffee-making as a way to fill her time. “My husband does missionary work, so I had a lot of free time on my hands,” she explained.
“In fact, I didn’t really like coffee to begin with – it’s my husband’s favourite beverage.”
After one year of solid training, Kim finally opened Tarrazu’s door to the public in 2014. Upon first glance, the place is rather unassuming. The signposting is minimal, and this minimalistic theme continues into the seating area. However, in setting foot inside, it’s without a doubt attention turns towards the pride and joy of Tarrazu – the impressive Probaton 5 bean roaster, proudly displayed at the storefront. And rightly so, as this is the beating heart that keeps Tarrazu alive.
“It wasn’t easy at all to get this machine shipped to Cambodia,” said Kim as she reminisces of the logistical nightmare at the very beginning of the venture.
“We had to order it from Germany, after which it had to be shipped to South Korea before we could ship it here to Phnom Penh.”
But all the hassle has paid off handsomely for Kim. By roasting their beans in-house, she can keep prices low, and the quality of their beans consistent.
“Coffee beans are very delicate, and we have to keep close eye on it,” she explained.
“Some beans are ready after 15 minutes of roasting, while others can take longer, albeit by a few minutes.”
Considering that Tarrazu’s main draw is its wide-range of single-origin coffee beans that come from the mountains of Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala, the high plains of Kenya and Ethiopia, down to the fertile ranges of Sumatra, this attention to detail is very important. Leave it for too long and the beans will begin to burn, which will ruin the fruity bouquet of the Sumatran Mandheling, as well as the delicate acidity of the Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. Without a doubt, this is requires a lot of trial and error.
The good thing is Kim’s staff seem to have mastered this delicate craft of coffee roasting. Their manual-drip Colombia Huila Supremo – a variety known for its light flavour that makes it a perfect breakfast accompaniment – tasted as it should, without the unpleasant bitterness that masks the bean’s characteristic toffee aftertaste that is tinged with a slight hint of peach.
However, despite the range of single-origin beans on offer, locally-grown beans from Mondulkiri are noticeably absent from Tarrazu’s shelves. But for Kim, this is a matter of sticking to the spirit of her cafe.
“The problem with beans from Mondulkiri is that they are still mainly produced by local farmers with limited resources, which limits their ability to meet the growing demand for the beans,” she said. “Sadly, many producers have resorted to mixing beans from other regions – such as Vietnam – to be passed off as Mondulkiri-grown beans.”
Despite having a solid operation that has managed to stay afloat for almost four years in an industry with a very high turnover rate, it doesn’t mean Kim has nothing to worry about. Competition is on the rise as Cambodia continues to open up, and large franchises such as Starbucks and the likes continue to strengthen their grip on the market.
“Large franchises operate on a strictly business principle, and as such they whip up drinks that appeal to local consumers,” she lamented.
“Most Cambodians like their coffee iced and sweetened, to them coffee is coffee – black and bitter and nothing else.”
“That said, the demand for our beans is quite healthy, so perhaps once Cambodians are more accustomed to the subtle nuances between different beans, things will begin to look up.”