The success of East Crema: the specialty coffee chain that has a turnover of millions and spreads throughout Spain

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East Crema was born with ambition. Its creator, Alberto Velarde (46 years old, Madrid), wanted from the beginning that the specialty coffee shop would not be just one, but a chain that would extend throughout Spain, so that customers could drink their favorite coffee in Madrid or any other city ​​in which the brand is located. The first location opened in October 2020 and today there are 12 located throughout Spain and 4 about to open. In December they plan to reach “at least” 26. “We are looking for a mix between growth and profitability. A business that is sustainable,” explains Velarde, who assures that in 2024 they expect to have a turnover between four and five million euros, as well as reaching 15 million in 2027. Velarde discovered specialty coffee in Japan, on a trip in which He was left without companions and decided to go alone. There he came across the culture of this drink, which is especially revered in kissaten, cafes and tea rooms. “In Spain there were some signature coffee shops like Toma Café, but the concept of the establishment was different from what I had seen,” he recalls, pointing out the minimalism that prevails in the Asian country and from which he has conceived his own establishments. In them, the hallmark is electric blue, the brand's corporate color, and coffee predominates in the total absence of decoration. “There are no billboards, there are no posters, there is no kombucha, there are no other products advertised. It had to be a very customer-focused experience,” he explains, sitting in the cafeteria on Diego de León Street, in the Salamanca neighborhood of Madrid. Above the bar, just a display case with some pastries from the local bakery Madreamiga.'Latte art' in a café con leche, the establishment's best seller. JUAN BARBOSAVelarde, who defines himself as an entrepreneur, took several years to finalize and design the concept and when the covid pandemic broke out he had to postpone the opening of the first location until October, in the exclusive Justicia neighborhood. They told him he was “crazy,” but the experience was positive. “I had an optician on that street and I knew it very well. It is a neighborhood where, if you start a business and it does well, you can export it almost anywhere. “It is a very demanding, special audience that knows specialty coffee.” In 2021, the second establishment arrived, on Hermosilla Street. A small place, designed more for take away, and whose pull, Velarde defines, “is crazy.” “Everyone asked us to open in the Salamanca neighborhood. There were even those who sent us advertisements for places. We were one of the first to open as a specialty coffee shop here,” says the creator of the brand, which in addition to small stores, has spaces that exceed 100 square meters. More informationThe first city in which they opened after taking off in Madrid It was Valencia, where they already have three locations, to which Bilbao and Seville were later also added. The pace of openings has been constant since last year, but always taking into account demanding criteria such as those that govern the search for premises. “We don't open just to open,” says Velarde, who confesses that he still resists, for example, opening in Barcelona. When evaluating a possible location, he and his team take into account everything from the street and the meters of façade, to the existence of offices and the per capita income. “In Preciados, for example, we had to change it. We did not take into account the awnings of the neighboring establishments or the distance at which people passed by and we were completely wrong,” he says. Throughout the month of May, predictably, they will also arrive in San Sebastián and Zaragoza.Alberto Velarde began coming up with East Crema after a trip to Japan. Alberto Velarde began coming up with East Crema after a trip to Japan. JUAN BARBOSAAlthough in the beginning they roasted their coffee in the Hola Coffee roaster, since November 2023 they have taken charge of the entire process. “The numbers told us that it was time to have our own roaster to have absolute control of the roasting and quality. Also to be able to experiment,” says the person in charge. Currently, the menu of coffees available ranges from Brazil – “sweeter, chocolatey” – to varieties such as a geisha from Panama and other less common origins such as Myanmar. “The majority are democratic cafes, for everyone. Coffees that will make people want to try a superior one within a certain time,” he says. The geisha from Panama was priced at 20 euros for a 250-gram package and was sold in three weeks. “The client becomes educated,” he reflects. The best-selling product, without a doubt, is the latte, which is sold for 2.95 euros and is made with fresh Priégola milk and in which there is no additional charge for using a vegetable drink. The espresso – which is actually double – costs 2.50 euros.Minimalism is one of the hallmarks of the chain's stores. Minimalism is one of the hallmarks of the chain's stores. JUAN BARBOSAIn addition to physical stores, all coffees are available on the website, although Velarde confesses that online commerce in the case of East Crema is “residual.” In this modality, they offer loose packages ranging from 13.50 euros, 250 grams of Blue House—the “house” coffee, originating in Brazil— to a Nicaragua at 21 euros. In total, they have three coffee collections: the House Collection —chosen by “the house” for espresso or filter—, the Barista Collection —chosen by the baristas— and the Roaster Collection —selected by the roaster. In their effort to spread the culture of this drink, they also offer tasting, latte art, filter or introduction to specialty coffee workshops. But always with a maxim against dogmatism: “the best coffee is the one you drink, not the one you are forced to drink.” “We recommend that you try coffee without sugar, but we have panela and sweeteners,” he exemplifies. The formula seems to work. 70% of customers, according to their data, repeat. You can follow EL PAÍS Gastro on Instagram and x.