[E]ven the babies drink coffee in Guatemala.”
Sara Parish reflects on her early years in Guatemala, sitting in the Seville café she co-owns with her sister Victoria.
“People are shocked when I tell them that where I come from, tiny kids drink warm milk with coffee in it,” Sara says casually. “Pregnant women do too, it’s completely normal.”
Sara and Victoria Parish grew up twenty miles from Antigua in the central highlands of Guatemala. They’re half-American, half-Guatemalan, and coffee is in their blood. “Drive pretty much anywhere in the country and you’ll go past acres and acres of coffee farms,” Sara says.
The sisters recently announced themselves on the Spanish specialty scene with their coffee shop, Torch. The space is sleek and airy, with high ceilings and clean lines. A spiral staircase climbs to a lofted area on the café’s back wall. A world map covers a wall near the shop’s entrance, a colorful backdrop to the line of stools stretching across a low bar beneath (and a popular visual for Instagrammers).
Still only in their twenties, Sara and Victoria are already seasoned travelers. After moving to the US to study and work, they traveled to Greenhouse Coffee in China to learn the basics of roasting beans and making drinks, under the instruction of coffee entrepreneur Samuel Gurel. Then came the move to Seville. With investment from family and friends and guidance from Gurel, they made the leap into small business ownership, opening their first shop in 2015 in the heart of the city.
A long line of copper light fixtures dangles over Torch’s wood-paneled bar. A sapphire two-group La Marzocco GB5 rests on the L-shaped counter, flanked by a Mahlkönig Peak and an array of steaming pitchers. Shelves held together with copper piping hang overhead, stocked with jars of coffee, manual brewing equipment, and drinkware.
“We loved Spain and were set on opening a café here,” Sara says. “This was despite there being virtually no specialty coffee scene. I can only remember hearing about one place and that was in Madrid. Specialty coffee hadn’t really arrived.”
That was 2013. Apart from some notable exceptions in Barcelona, Madrid, and Granada, even now it’s uncommon to find a third-wave emporium in Spain. That’s perhaps not surprising when you consider that the standard drink is extra hot and extra dark.
“Coffee here is normally really high-roasted and made with scalding milk. You can hear the screech of the machines when you walk by the shops,” Sara says.
She takes out a handful of Spanish-style beans. They’re black, shiny, and speckled with tiny crystals.
“They’re roasted with sugar,” she says, shrugging incredulously. “Generally they’re robusta and it’s pretty much like drinking charcoal.”
Ever the optimists, Sara and Victoria are on a mission to shake things up.
“People here are very traditional; they have a hard time trying something new. It feels like if you do something different you’re wrong or weird,” Sara says. But when customers venture out and order something less traditional, like a latte or cortado, they get hooked.
“The trick is to get them to take the risk in the first place,” Sara says. “That’s what we’re focusing on.”
Victoria concedes that Torch is moving forward with baby steps. She points in the direction of her compact one-kilogram Cafemino roaster; the cautious approach includes not doing anything outrageous with the beans.
“I use medium-high roast for espresso and medium-low for filter,” Victoria says. “I’m trying to slowly wean the locals off the style they’re used to, but I don’t want to scare them off completely.”
Sara says the same thought process goes for sugar.
“Most people automatically drink sugar with their coffee and they’re blown away at the thought of having an unsweetened latte,” she says. “We don’t ban sugar but we do have a sign which says, ‘I’m sweet enough already,’ and this helps us to introduce customers to the concept.”
Torch’s clientele is a mixture of Sevillians and tourists—allowing for a bit of creativity.
“We get a range of customers, from weekend visitors, to office workers, to business people,” Sara says. “Some who are well-traveled and have been to places like London or Tokyo are willing to try new things. We introduced cold-brew this summer and weren’t sure whether it would sell. Cold coffee is not a thing here, despite the weather. If you order an iced coffee you’ll get a cup of boiling café con leche with a glass of ice on the side. But we decided to go for it and we ended up selling out.”
With specialty coffee at such an early stage in its development in Seville, finding qualified staff can be challenging. Sara says her team of baristas is a pretty eclectic bunch.
“One of our staff members is from Puerto Rico, she took SCAE qualifications and really knows her game,” she says. “Another of our baristas is from Uruguay and has worked in London, which is where he refined his skills. We’ve also trained a few local people, so at the moment it’s a good mixture.”
Torch is steadily growing its customer base and Sara has high hopes for the future.
“I think the coffee revolution is starting in Spain and I’m happy that we’ve got in at the beginning,” she says. “We’d like to open more outlets and we’re also planning to get a bigger roaster so we can sell beans to other shops and restaurants. Somewhere down the line, a school could be on the cards.”
It’s a brave new world for the sisters; when asked if they see themselves as pioneers, Sara thinks about it for a few seconds, then answers with conviction.
“Yes, I think we are. If you compare us to coffee shops in London or Australia, we’re not there yet and still have a lot to learn. But within Spain it feels like we’re changing the accepted standards.”
—Elizabeth Hotson is London-based journalist.