Bartek Kozina is a serious man. You can tell by the way the co-founder of Karma Roasters moves with urgency around his café, which is typically full of thoughtfully dressed patrons chatting over atmospheric music.
The industrial-minimalist interior, vegetarian bakery menu and extensive coffee list are reminiscent of the great contemporary cafés of Seattle, London or Berlin, but this shop has become something of a coffee landmark in Kraków, Poland. Kraków has experienced a remarkably rapid ascent as a European and global coffee destination unto itself, thanks in large part to the entrepreneurial spirit of Kozina and his girlfriend and business partner Marta Hausner.
The first Polish gourmet coffee purveyor outside of Warsaw, Karma was locally alone in the quality and ingenuity of its offerings when it opened in 2010. At the time, Kraków was mostly a desert in the way of real-deal coffee, and the inspiration to start a third-wave café in Poland’s cultural mecca came from an unlikely place, thousands of miles away.
Originally a high school teacher, Kozina found himself waiting tables in a tiny Wisconsin town one winter. He got up before dawn, pouring machine-brewed rocket fuel for people heading to work. “I loved it,” Kozina said. “That’s where I caught the vibration that a coffee shop can have.”
He and Hausner did their research, and imported to Poland a Synesso Cyncra — a significant investment for a fledgling enterprise in an untested market. Persuaded by Kozina’s persistence and attention to detail, London’s Union Hand Roasted agreed to send Karma its first batch of beans: Bright Note espresso, a Latin American blend with light, fruity notes and a mellow milk chocolate finish.
Starting out with a simple menu and a skeleton crew of two employees, Kozina quickly went about expanding his offerings, taking care to perfect one thing at a time. This meant mastering a constant stream of new challenges. In addition to the significant task of dialing in espresso, Kozina and his team slowly added brews of Aeropress, Hario V60, Chemex and the Kalita Wave to the growing menu.
By 2013, the independent coffee scene in Kraków was gaining momentum, with independent shops all over the city following Karma’s lead. Karma’s consumer base was evolving, too. “People became our regulars because we were doing something different,” Kozina says. “We were focused on doing things better, and we were learning along with them.”
With the increase in demand, Kozina felt a growing need for a local roaster in Kraków. And after gaining three years of experience under his belt, he was ready for another challenge. Yet again, he found himself at the beginning of a massive learning curve. True to his pattern of prioritizing quality, his sights were set on the energy-efficient Loring A15 Merlin. Kozina said people called him crazy for considering such an impressive — and not inexpensive — machine for a nascent roasting operation, but he took out a loan anyway.
Karma now roasts half a ton of coffee per month, supplying more than a dozen cafés in and around Kraków. Currently sourcing greens from European importers Nordic Approach and Trabocca, Kozina hopes to soon begin working directly with the farms he’s forged personal relationships with in his own recent trips to Africa.
In spite of his success, Kozina hasn’t abandoned the sense of community that drove him to open Karma in the first place. He hosts cuppings for other shop owners, hoping to foster a camaraderie he has observed among industry experts in other cities. Karma’s off-site roastery is open to the public as a secondary place to gather, learn about and enjoy hand-crafted coffee.
Kozina’s plan for the future naturally involves continued evolution, expansion, and exploration of new ways to pair his beautiful coffee with other interesting consumables. At the moment, he is exploring ideas that range from pairings with natural wines to Japanese udon.
“What’s nice about coffee is that it’s changing all the time,” he said. “There is always something we can learn.”