Interview with Domas Draginis of The Block Cafe

Ahead of Barista Camp Portugal, we had a chat with Domas Draginis who is a barista and social media manager for The Block Cafe in Lisbon, Portugal. Read on to learn about the growing Portuguese specialty coffee scene and the first ever Portuguese Aeropress Championship! 

How long have you worked in coffee? What is your story?
I’ve worked in coffee for over a year now, however, I’ve been a needy customer for longer than that. I’ve studied and lived in Denmark for over 6 years and related my future mostly to IT. However as a student, I naturally had to power up on coffee. At some point during my studies I joined the student-driven cafe at my University as a volunteer, so I could start brewing my own cup of Joe. Not only did I realise how fun it is, but also I started understanding and deepening my knowledge of all the different stages of the coffee chain. Since then I’ve started exploring the specialty coffee scene in Copenhagen and upon graduation took an opportunity to move to Portugal to work with specialty coffee. 

What is the Lisbon specialty coffee scene like? Have you seen it grow in the past few years? 
Lisbon at the time of my arrival (1 year ago) was scarce of places where you could talk coffee, not only drink it. The local scene is quite conservative and one track minded towards their coffee traditions. It’s just a commodity and not an experience nor a topic of conversation. If you order coffee at any regular cafeteria, you’re most likely going to get ‘bica’, which is a bit longer than espresso and usually a lighter roast. As much as there is potential in making local coffee taste better, there seemed to be a lack of effort in most cases. 

However, in just under half a year the number of specialty cafes and roasteries almost tripled in Lisbon alone. The community of artisan coffee promoters has grown and initiatives such as Lisboa Coffee Evolution (LCE), who are trying to unite people of the industry through monthly cuppings and such are making a significant impact towards people’s approach to their cup of coffee. I’m really stoked about being part of this growth of the specialty coffee scene in Portugal and having a chance to contribute in any possible way. 

What does the future of specialty coffee in Lisbon hold? 
The future of specialty coffee in Lisbon is undoubtedly very bright and promising. I am sure that it will make a big mark in the world’s coffee history books. While the major coffee companies don’t rush moving in to Lisbon, the small coffee shops get to “stir” the market with a quiet approach. In other words, the specialty cafes that opened up recently such as Benjamin Coffee House and Olisipo Coffee Roasters are operated by 1-2 people and those people behind them are extremely knowledgeable with decades of experience. The most important thing to mention is the respect that they pay to the traditions. Their third wave coffee approach does not push it to the local customer, but rather informs, before offering. As an expat myself, I consider this to be the most appropriate way of collaboration. With Lisbon running into the issue of 'over-tourism’, third wave coffee has to be introduced with caution, patience and persistence and while these are kept in mind, the future will be really good! 

What are your ambitions?
From my own standpoint, I’m making sure to be up to date with what’s happening around the coffee culture in Portugal and while my degree is rather technical, I might as well be continuing that way. However, my biggest ambition is to remain in the centre of the specialty coffee growth in Portugal and around the world, even if I won’t be directly associated with it. I’m working in a tech savvy environment, where people more often than not are involved in blockchain related industries. Since I’m lucky enough to be getting the best knowledge out of it, I am very curious how decentralisation and transparency due to blockchain can be applied to the coffee industry as there are plenty of challenges in any given stage of the coffee supply chain. Projects of such kind is where I would like to excel the most since it would combine my passion for technology and coffee. 

You’re hosting the first Portuguese Aeropress Championships this year - tell us about that? 
AeroPress is my first (and so far my only) home brewer. My heart fell for its simplicity yet flexibility in how one can brew their coffee. While the Scandinavian coffee scene is much more advanced and developed, the innovation is somewhat slower. Therefore, right after moving here, I noticed there was no AeroPress competition (the other competitions are very vague and almost closed doors too…), so I didn’t doubt much when I met the head roaster of “7g roaster” in Vila Nova de Gaia - Porto. I went there to write an article about 7g, which is a specialty coffee roastery and bed & breakfast apartments experience. I got to know David Coelho, who has represented Portugal in the World Barista Championship a few times in the past and I proposed to him we get this gig together. 

While he has more experience in coffee and the local network, I take care of the practical stuff to plan the event. Our idea is to make the AeroPress championship a gateway and a bigger step to the specialty coffee movement in Portugal. I like ‘getting things done’ so my language barrier nor being ‘an outsider’ is going to stop me from putting it together. There’s so much interest from people, I’m confident we will have a great AeroPress fest on 7th of September! 

Why should we come to Lisbon? 
I have to warn you, if you do come to Lisbon (and Portugal in general) you will find it really hard to leave. While it’s got the best climate in Europe, definitely the highest waves for surfers, outstanding gourmet cuisine and local wines that make any sommelier update their wines collection, the coffee scene is on the take off now! Combine all these together and that’s what makes Lisbon such an attractive destination. 

What are your local recommendation to Barista Camp attendees? 
There are people who work in the coffee industry and have extensive experience while their colleagues might be behind with their skillset (and that’s the problem I’m running into at some of the bigger cafes in Portugal). Barista camp will be a few days of intense learning where baristas can up their level and stand out personally and professionally. There is nothing more charming then a specialty cafe with artisan samurais! 

Also, it can definitely be a good boot camp for the AeroPress championship, that will take place right after! 

SCA Communications