Ukraine coffee in times of war

One month on from Putin’s attack on Ukraine, slowly slowly in Kyiv, life is returning to normal, if can count as normal the outskirts of the city shelled, people who fled are returning to the city, markets are open, coffee shops are open, roasteriers are functioning.

Dating from the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution and the start of Russian aggression, the Ukrainian coffee scene has been on a steady rise. Up to the coronavirus pandemic Ukraine was leading the charts in new coffee places openings, as evidenced by the Project Cafe 2020 Europe a report by the Allegra Group.

Ukraine was represented at the World Barista Championships with Slava Babych taking the Cezve-Ibrik title in 2018; and, more importantly, the local roasteries were growing in Kyiv and all over the country. 

Yellow Place one of the flagship Kyiv coffee shops still operational.

Also operational, Mad Heads, a roastery I met at the Limassol Coffee Festival, excellent coffee.

Sprudge featured Mad Heads [see Coffee Is Fueling The Resistance In Ukraine]

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Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy could use a cup of joe. He’s been the unifying force his country needed the moment Russia launched a full-scale, multiple fronts invasion of Europe’s largest country. Zelenskyy’s case is the very definition of rising to the occasion, as illustrated by the 90+ percent approval rating he enjoys in Ukraine and the global media coverage. What drives his team in these unprecedented times? Ukrainian specialty coffee by the local Kyiv roastery Mad Heads Coffee Roasters.

There’s only so much you can do to help when your country is being invaded by a foreign adversary, says Mad Heads co-founder Artem Vradii. For the coffee community, it means delivering fresh brew to the armed forces, emergency services, and hospitals. Oh, and you can also provide coffee to keep the president of your country (and the current leader of free world) energized.

Vradii says that the Ukrainian’s Office of the President (think the White House of Ukraine) asked Mad Heads to provide coffee for Zelenskyy’s team. “There’s lots of people working through the sleepless nights there. That was clear enough after we sent them most of our coffee and 1,500-1,800 drip coffee bags,” he says. The next time they reached out Mad Heads also sent all the milk and branded metal cups they had at the roastery.

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There’s no way of knowing if Zelenskyy specifically is the one to enjoy specialty coffee but Vradii certainly hopes so. “I just imagine him drinking Mad Heads coffee from our cup when I go to sleep. I never asked but that’s what makes me feel better,” he says. He had a chance to communicate with the president’s staff though: “I just asked if [Zelenskyy] feels the support he’s been getting from all over the country. And they said that he definitely does, in fact that’s what keeps him going in these trying times.”

What motivates Vradii’s team is trying to help the country in any way they can. “Admittedly for the first days of war we just froze. You just don’t know what to do when your country’s suddenly at war. But then we started to find some ways to help. These days I can go to sleep only if I feel I’ve done something helpful,” says Vradii, responsible for the coffee that helped Ukrainian Slava Babych win the 2018 World Cezve-Ibrik Championship in Dubai.

The logistics system Mad Heads has in place makes it possible to provide coffee to numerous Ukrainian army checkpoints, hospitals, and volunteer centers. And they continue to deliver coffee to the cafes still open in Kyiv that are providing free coffee to the citizens that decided to stay in the city. “We have 30 or so points of delivery in Kyiv now. It’s harder to reach out to our clients all over the country but we try to anyway,” Vradii adds.

It’s not only the president’s team that prefers Mad Heads coffee. Vradii smiles when he tells the story of one of the Territorial Defenses units that defend Kyiv now. “They said, ‘Guys we have lots of coffee here but it’s all Lavazza. That’s fine, we’re not complaining. But if you have some of your good stuff please send it to us.’” Of course Mad Heads did. There’s no way Russian occupying forces have specialty coffee delivered to them in trenches, adds Vradii cheerfully.

I had a chat with Mad Heads last week (use Telegram for security), yes, they confirmed, we are still operational and yes, we can deliver coffee outside Ukraine, the Postal service is operational.

Please place an order. Chat with your local indie specialty coffee shop. Suggest Mad Heads as a guest coffee. And if anyone using disgusting Nespresso (owned by Nestle, trading in Russia), order Mad Heads coffee capsules (I can recommend their Colombian coffee).

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