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Barcelona's pioneer in specialty coffees & teas.

If Tea & Coffee gave awards for elegant offices, Salvador Sans would likely win. His looks like something out of Architectural Digest. He might also earn a medal for 'Bravery in Action'. The latter because, beginning only five years ago, he pioneered with gourmet coffees and teas--in the strict sense of the appellation--on a market which had sadly become renowned for its indifference to a quality cup of coffee or tea. Salvador Sans has brought specialty teas and coffees to Spain.

More precisely, he brought his specialty store Cafes El Magnifico to Barcelona. For the curious, the store is easy to find--rua Argenteria and veritably in the shadow of Barcelona's Barrio Gotico. The visitor should understand first, however, that the importance of El Magnifico far outweighs its actual size--which is small. El Magnifico attains the stature of a Cause. This is Spain's temple to fine coffee and tea, and the high priest is young Salvador Sans.

The aforementioned office is one flight up from street level, directly above an art deco-style sales room and the 12-kilo batch Probat shop roaster. Salvador Sans is an avid student of coffees and teas--a study he admits that can never be finished. Here he does some of his research, surrounded by tennis trophies and shelves of reference books on coffee and tea--and framed letters of appreciation from the majordomos of the royal households of both Spain and England (when a royal visit falls to Barcelona, Cafes El Magnifico provides the coffee).

Sans has been working in this, his family's coffee business, since he was 15 years old. He has worked full time since 1984. In 1986 he launched the company's gourmet sector--the first such effort in Spain for distinguished-origin coffees. Success led to the opening of the Argenteria-street establishment in 1988, which is devoted exclusively to the gourmet coffees and teas. The family business goes back to 1919. Sans' father, Salvador Senior, manages the company from the original location on rua Grunyi. The parent company serves the Barcelona Horeca (foodservice) market.

In addition to store sales, the Argenteria-street El Magnifico shop also roasts for a small but growing group of exceptional restaurants and delis, and this is no longer limited to the Barcelona region itself. The level of success is such that the gourmet sales have revived growth for the company as a whole--due exclusively to the gourmet sector, El Magnifico has seen an increase of 17% in sales from 1988 to 1990.

The coffees had to fully deserve the 'specialty term, and to show clearly that Sans himself sees no easy or cheap route to the Spanish palate for fine things. "We stress single origin coffees to customers because we believe it is the only way to learn real coffee tasting," explains Sans. "We also have blends, and after a customer's taste is developed, we then direct them towards some blends. We even keep personal blends on hand--custom blended. But at heart, we are after single-origin customers. This is as much a school as a store--a school for fine coffee in a land that has no tradition for it. This has been the challenge. To get started, we've sought clever customers, smart coffee lovers. From there we can build a real cliental."

Sans has proceeded largely by word of mouth by innumerable tastings, by promotional mailings of his coffee menus. To some degree, he's sought to raise coffee drinking to star status, and has been featured in trendy Spanish magazines and on television. His store helps, with an excellent location. It is visually stunning enough to be fashionable, even in one of Europe's most fashionable cities, but is also carefully kept free of any pretentiousness. Cafes El Magnifico has become a crowded, no-nonsense, neighborhood landmark. Boxes piled high, sacks of coffee everywhere to the ceiling, tea chests, without embarrassment it is a single salesroom and workshop.

But store style and location are clearly of quitee secondary importance; El Magnifico is single-mindedly about coffee and tea. Both of which are outstanding. If nothing else, the class/age profile of its customers shows that a love for good coffee--and tea--knows no class or age.

"It all comes down to offering people some thing rare, and learning about it with them," says Sans. "Other stores like El Magnifico are coming to Spain now, but we think we will remain unique, not only being the first of our kind, but as the leader in range and style of offerings."

Sans is strongly opinionated and voluble about a number of things--the virtues of coffee origins, the roasting techniques for the different origins, his relationships with his clients. He admits that his style of management limits growth. His business is tailored to his opinions, he has no regrets that it might not seem aggressive enough to other businessmen. Nevertheless, the extent of his success to date pleases him very much and is obviously a point of pride.

"Five years ago, no one in Spain could have imagined selling the kind of coffees we do, and tea was something utterly foreign. We started in tea only four years ago, with five qualities. Now we have 90. That's been an amazing success, even to us. Fine bulk tea is taking off."

Sans is constantly changing his menu of coffees and teas--perhaps as much to please and challenge himself as to keep his clients enthralled. Some entries are always the same, while others come and go or are seasonal each year. The current coffee roster offers a selection of 17 coffee origins: Santos NY2, Colombia Armenia Supremo and Bucaramanga Excelso, Costa Rica Tarrazu, El Salvador Pacarama, Guatemala Volcan de Oro, Cameroun A, Ethiopia Moka Sidamo, Kenya AA, Sumatra Mandheling, Papua New Guinea Sigri A, and (top of the line origins) Guatemala Antigua Genuino Pastores and Maragogype Superior, Hawaii Kona Extra Fancy, Indonesia Kalosi Toraja, Jamaica Wallenford No 1, Puerto Rico Yauco Selecto. The next addition to the menu is to be a Zambia Elephant coffee.

Sans seems to approach his tea selection with awe, as if delighted at himself for having them on hand. He points with personal enthusiasm to the Uva Highlands BOP, Fannlngs Saint James and Kenilworth OP among the Ceylands, to the White Downy, Tit Kuan Yin, Szechwan Congou, Special Gunpower and Jazmin Chung Hao in the Chinas, to the Sencha Arlake from Japan. Among his first flush Darjeelings, he ticks off the Namring Upper (crop 91), Longvlew TGFOP (crop 90), Seeyok (crop 91) and in second flush, the Jungpana, Castleton FTGFOP1 and Tumsong TGFOP1 (crop 90); among the assams to Jontollee GFOP and Ethelwood STGFOP.

Sans works closely with his suppliers for tea and coffee, which include Halssen & Lyon, and Betjeman and Barton for the teas, Maison Jobin and Intergrano for the coffees.

Both the style and intensity of Cafes El Magnifico leave no room for doubt: specialty coffees and teas in the gourmet sense are gaining momentum at the center of Spanish culture.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Salvador Sans
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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