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‘Coffee is sort of like wine’: Christian Meier Q&A

Peter Stuart
5 Nov 2020

How Canadian ex-pro Christian Meier built his own coffee empire in Girona

Cyclist: Girona has become a hub for pro cyclists. Was this part of Spain popular with pros when you first arrived here?

Christian Meier: No, when I first came I was with Garmin-Slipstream as a stagiaire [amateur on a pro team] in 2008. Back then the pros here were mostly Garmin riders as they had the service course here, plus a few other guys like George Hincapie and Michael Barry. We were a dozen riders during the season, but in the winter we were three.

In winter it was a really sleepy town. The cyclotourism hadn’t picked up yet, but then more Anglo-Saxons joined WorldTour teams and they came to Girona because they knew people here.

There was a small community of Americans in Lucca, there were a few people in Nice and Monaco, but eventually Girona blossomed into the place with the most pro riders.

Cyc: You opened businesses in Girona while still being an active pro. How did you mix the business with sport?

CM: We opened La Fabrica cafe in 2015, Espresso Mafia [cafe and roastery] in spring of 2016 and the Service Course bike rental business in the winter of 2016, all while I was still racing.

It was actually great for my riding. The year we opened Fabrica was one of the best years of my career. It just distracted me from bike riding. Professonal athletes are chronic over-analysers – ‘How do I feel today?’, ‘What efforts do I need to do?’ – so I thought about the numbers while I was on the bike, but then I had the cafes to keep my mind occupied for the rest of the day.

The other thing I learned was that advice like ‘don’t stand when you can sit’ was all just a hoax. I would train all day then be on my feet all afternoon in the cafe and it was fine.

Cyc: There seems to be a big overlap in coffee culture and cycling culture – what do you put that down to?

CM: I think there are a few reasons. Part of it is historical – espresso being from Italy. Then another reason is definitely that getting going in the morning is easier with coffee.

Then I’d say it’s something you can become a little obsessed about. When you take an interest in coffee it’s endless what you can learn. Coffee is sort of like wine, but the pro lifestyle isn’t really suited to being interested in wine in the same way.

Coffee is also an important part of the pro training routine – a lot of our riding is actually social. I stopped on almost every ride and had a coffee.

I think companies have got wise to the link too. You can see what Rocket [coffee machines] have done in pro cycling. Basically anyone who wins a bike race will end up with a Rocket machine at home.

Cyc: Where did your fascination with coffee begin?

CM: It probably started when I was 21. I was on a Continental team in Canada and we were racing in Portland near Stumptown Coffee. It’s now a massive business, but back then it was just the one shop.

They had a small roaster in the cafe. The cappuccinos were so sweet, they just tasted chocolatey and the milk was super-dense and the foam had such great texture. I didn’t know coffee could be that good. I was just so blown away. That kind of started it and I got hooked.

In 2012 I bought my first Rocket and it escalated rapidly. I started roasting from home. Then I started roasting for pros living in Girona, because there was nowhere in Girona to buy speciality coffee. Then we opened La Fabrica.

Cyc: You’ve made a name for yourself from roasting coffee beans. What’s special about your process?

CM: This may take a few hours to explain! First we select quality ingredients – you cannot, through roasting, make a poor-quality coffee taste great. Then we roast with a lot of data. To me it’s sort of like training. You can train on feel alone and get pretty strong, but if you want to win the Tour de France you have to use data.

In coffee roasting, you have the old school – the idea that it is an art. I’m a bit more of the belief that coffee roasting is a mix of art and science. We have four temperature probes, so we can map out in real time exactly what’s happening with the roast. That gives us information you wouldn’t have from the colour or the smell of the coffee alone.

The other thing is consistency. If you have a coffee that tastes great, you want to be able to roast that again. So we’ve got all the data from every roast we’ve ever done, so we are able to get the same result each time.

Cyc: Does this attention to detail reflect the approach you had to training?

CM: Generally I looked at my power and my training numbers. I wouldn’t say I was as obsessive as some, but I was pretty into my data. There were a few guys who weighed everything they ate, but give them two months and there would be a big blow out.

I realised it was about balance. My theory was that I prefer to be good all year round, to be consistent and stable in my life and not be a grumpy bastard all the time.

Cyc: What changes did you see in the peloton from when you started to when you finished in pro cycling?

CM: The stress level has really been building. There’s pressure from teams to get results, and this nervous energy snowballs. The teams start riding early – they don’t ride easy for 100km at the start of sprint stages anymore.

You’re also missing those older guys. Guys like Robbie Hunter, who would pull you by the scruff of your neck if you did something stupid in the pack. There’s a little bit less respect now.

When I started the talented young guys still did a couple of years of working before becoming leaders. It gave you the time to understand racing, and made you a more seasoned leader. Now there are a lot more young guys leading teams. At Orica, Caleb Ewan was competing as a world-class sprinter at 21, and you have the Yates brothers who were team leaders at 22. It just brings a different dynamic to the sport.

Cyc: What’s the next step for you?

CM: The big motivator is the challenge. I think one big reason I decided to stop racing was the lack of growth ahead of me. I’d done everything I set out to do, and I could see clearly the next five years ahead of me if I remained a pro, and it was nothing different.

Now I’m aiming to expand the business to more locations, like Italy and France. It’s the same sort of feeling as when I started as a pro. I want to see where we can take it. I’m very motivated to see where the Service Course takes us.

There are people who do travel, people who do custom bikes, and there are people who do clothing, but I don’t think anyone yet has the complete package done really well. I think we can do it. It’s that challenge that keeps me going.

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