Pe mica straduta cu case vechi, impodobite cu stucaturi complicate si strajuite de porti batrane din fier forjat domneste o liniste provinciala. E miezul zilei, caldura de mijloc de iulie a amutit pana si porumbeii ce stau aliniati pe sarmele de telegraf la umbra unui tei imens. La parterul unei case o mica pravalioara raspandeste in aer un miros ametitor de cafea proaspat macinata.
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Citesc pe firma “Delicatese Florescu – traditie armeneasca din 1530”. Cafegiul, incins cu un sort verde, ma intampina de la usa zambind amabil, in ceea ce pare mai curand un sanctuar al cafelei decat o pravalie obisnuita. Peretii incaperii sunt acoperiti cu saci de cafea in chip de tablouri pe care sunt desenate boabe de cafea si inscriptii ciudate Yemen, Mocca, Jawa. Pe tejghea stau aliniati cilindrii de sticla plini cu tot soiul de boabe de cafea, mai mari, mai mici, mai brune, mai negre. In spatele tejghelei, piesa de rezistenta, masina de prajit cafea, o masinarie complicata cu site, sertarase si ceasuri.
Cunoscut bucurestenilor, si mai ales elitei anilor `70-80, ca gestionar al magazinului situat pe strada Hristo Botev, mutat mai apoi Sfintilor, unde se gasea cea mai buna cafea, domnul Gheorghe Florescu este un cafegiu veritabil, intors parca in timp din vremea cand pravaliile si negustorii impanzeau Micul Paris. Meandrele vietii sale l-au dus cu decenii in urma in lumea comertului, mai exact in contact cu lumea cafegiilor vechiului Bucuresti. Seriozitatea si devotamentul fata de cel ce avea sa-i devina mentor, armeanul Avedis Carabelaian, trebuie sa fi fost motivul pentru care acesta a consimtit sa-i conduca pasii in exclusivista lume a cafegiilor armeni unde, de regula, afacerile se faceau in familie. Clientii sai l-au asociat cu etnia armenilor si, in scurt timp a primit porecla Armenasu` desi, hemograma sa nu prezinta nici o picatura de sange armenesc. Armenasu`, ajuns la o varsta la care are multe de povestit, s-a hotarat sa puna intr-o carte amintirile, intamplarile, bucuriile si necazurile vietii sale, inseparabil legate de fascinanta lume a cafelei. Parcurgand cartea domniei sale, Confesiunile unui cafegiu, te lasi purtat in lumea plina de culoare a vechiului Bucuresti, cu pravalii si pravalioare, cu negustori si negustoreli, cu lucruri stiute sau mai putin stiute, cu aroma de cafea Arabica, clienti cu staif, prieteni, dusmani, cu vremelnice perioade de prosperitate si altele de restriste. La o ceasca de cafea Avedis, cafegiul nostru a inceput sa-si depene povestea:
– In primul rand, bine ati venit in templul cafelei Avedis (arm. Buna-Vestire), in locul unde puteti gasi cele mai bune sorturi de cafea din lume, preparate dupa metode foarte vechi armenesti. Acest templu este proprietatea mea care, intamplator, sunt roman, dar am avut sansa sa fiu cumva in lumea armenilor inca dinainte de a ma naste.
In aprilie 1944, mama mea era insarcinata cand au inceput bombardamentele asupra Bucurestiului. Noi aveam o casa care apatinuse bunicului meu, fusese construita in sec. XIX si avea un beci foarte mare pe care parintii mei il foloseau ca adapost antiaerian. Casele se faceau atunci cu beciuri mari pentru ca se foloseau pentru depozitarea alimentelor, vara se pastrau reci pentru ca atunci nu erau frigidere, racitoare… si, iarna, nu inghetau. Intamplarea face ca la noi venea o armeanca care era sotia unui cafegiu, era prietena cu mama mea si venea sa se adaposteasca in beciul casei noastre cand incepeau bombardamentele. Ei aveau o pravalie inchiriata unde vindeau cafea dar, nu aveau unde se adaposti cand incepeau bombardamentele, asa ca ea venea la noi. Armeanca o calma pe mama care era foarte speriata cand treceau avioanele, ii zicea “ Trece, trece, gata, gata…!”.
Pe aceasta armeanca am cunoscut-o si eu mai tarziu, era sotia unui cafegiu, care avea pravalia Dudesti nr. 91, in casa nasului meu de botez, familia Georgescu, o familie instarita care detinea multe pravalii la strada, cum era atunci. Cele mai bune pravalii erau cele la strada. Nasul meu, Georgescu, avusese inainte de nationalizare o fabrica de mezeluri si avea si un magazin de prezentare. Cand a fost nationalizarea, i-au luat fabrica si magazinul … l-au facut frizerie. Ii mai ramasesera doar cateva pravalii mici, iar una dintre acestea era inchiriata unor cafegii armeani. La acesti armeni venea in vizita Baruir Nersessian , erau rude, nu mai retin cum se numea cafegiul, eram prea mic, aveam doar 8 ani.
Tatal meu a fost detinut politic si era trimis la Canal, iar mama era toata ziua la munca si m-a rugat sa nu joc mingea cu ceilalti copii pentru ca am sa-mi rup incaltamintea si nu va mai putea sa-mi cumpere alta. Asa ca, decat sa pierd timpul pe strada, veneam la aceasta cafenea si ma uitam cum se prajesc boabele de cafea, incepusem sa descopar aroma cafelei. Cafeneaua avea o curte care era mai tot timpul plina de copii, ne jucam acolo, si armeni, si romani… dintre toti, doar eu eram fascinat de cafea. Armeanul ma observa, eu luam cate o boaba mai prajita, mai amara si o rontaiam si el imi zicea:
– Gicuta, ia cu zahar nene, ia cu zahar ca e amara… !
Mai tarziu cafeneaua s-a desfiintat si ei au plecat, probabil in America. Acesta a fost primul meu contact cu lumea armeana. Erau multi armeni pe Dudesti si pe Vacaresti, cafegii buni, renumiti…
Cand am ajuns la liceu l-am cunoscut pe armeanul Horen Nazarian, cunoscut sub numele de DaiDai (arm. Unchiul), care avea magazin de cafea pe strada Batistei nr. 1, magazin foarte bun, pe colt, avea o perete si pe Bulevardul Nicolae Balcescu dar, mai apoi, l-au mutat pe Batistei nr.7. Pe aceeasi strada la nr. 9 era un var de-al meu din partea mamei care era aprozarist si fusese coleg pe Calea Victoriei nr.14 cu un anume Sarkiz, un armean care avea porecla de “Aprozar”, toata lumea il cunoastea drept “Sarkiz Aprozar”. In aceasta locatie a functionat un renumit Aprozar cu cea mai buna marfa din Bucuresti pentru elita care locuia in acesta zona exclusivista. Sarkis a plecat la un moment dat in America, unde si-a transformat porecla in nume, s-a trecut in acte Sarkiz Aprozar, ca sa stie lumea cine e, si-a facut si un restaurant la New York. Multi dintre armenii care au plecat s-au stabilit la Los Angeles, New York si chiar Montreal unde au deschis magazine de cafea impreuna cu familiile lor.
Varul meu era aici sef de Aprozar, prin el il cunoscusem pe DaiDai si, prin DaiDai l-am cunoscut pe domnul Carabelaian care avea sa fie mentorul meu si pe care il mai vazusem in pasajul Kretulescu cand eram copil. Imi placea mult magazinul lui care se numea “Cafea Martinica”, era foarte frumos, avea multe vase de arama si din cristal in care expunea cafea iar rafturile pe care erau expuse marfurile erau din lemn de cires. Furniza cafea pentru elita Bucurestiului de atunci si chiar pentru Casa Regala. Din ce mi-a povestit fiul sau, Anton Carabelaian, care traieste in America, domnul Avedis avea atunci multe sorturi de cafea dintre cele mai bune vremii.
Tatal domnului Carabelaian, Garabet, fusese un mare negustor de covoare, blanuri si coloniale, avea magazin la Istanbul. In 1915 cand a fost varful Genocidului armenilor, intrega familie Carabelaian a fost macelarita, doi membri au scapat, domnul Garabet Carabelaian si fiul sau Avedis. Au scapat aruncandu-se intr-o apa cand erau urmariti de armata turca, pe mama lui au taiat-o cu sabiile la cativa metri de el. Mama lui l-a rugat sa se salveze, sa o lase pe ea, si ei s-au aruncat in apa, ea a ramas pe mal si turcii n-au crutat-o, asa a fost atunci. Ei au venit in Romania, s-au asezat aici si s-au apucat de comertul cu cafea si coloniale, naut, rahat, ciocolaterie, condimente si altele.
Garabet Carabelaian era un om foarte bine vazut in comunitatea armenilor, ajunsese epitrop al Bisericii Armenesti, era un om cu greutate iar, in ziua cand rusii au intrat in Bucuresti, i-a strans pe toti apropiatii familiei si le-a spus:
– “Veti vedea ca va fi mai rau decat a fost cand ne-au prigonit turcii sa ne omoare… !
In aceeasi seara, de suparare, a facut infarct si a murit.
Domnul Avedis Carabelaian a continuat negustoria si a rezistat cat a putut ca om de afaceri particular dar, in momentul cand statul roman a desfiintat magazinele particulare, a trecut la comertul de stat ca sef de magazin in Pasajul Kretulescu… n-a avut ce face… Apoi s-a mutat pe Calea Victoriei nr. 33, langa Teatrul de Revista si, in final pe Hristo Botev nr.10, unde, incepind din 1966, am intrat in relatii de afaceri cu el. Eu eram sef de sectie la Agentia de import, ii dadeam marfa, cafea, dulciuri fine, delicatese, asa am avut timp sa ne cunoastem si ne-am inteles foarte bine.
– Exista cafea buna atunci ?
– Ca intotdeauna, exista si buna, exista si rea. Domnul Carabelaian facea tot posibilul sa ia o cafea buna, atat cat se putea… mergea pana intracolo incat dadea ciubuc, un ciubuc mare, ca sa poata lua o marfa mai buna, asa erau vremurile atunci. Domnul Carabelaian nu a vandut cafea proasta niciodata, a preferat poate sa nu vanda deloc. Avea o clientela foarte selecta pe care nu voia s-o dezamageasca, aceasta clientela am preluat-o eu mai tarziu.
In momentul cand eu am preluat magazinul pe 1 martie 1971, Bucurestiul era inca plin de cafegii armeni care aveau magazine de cafea, la stat desigur, nu se mai putea altfel. Pot sa spun ca in anii `68-`70 erau in jur de 40 de cafegii armeni in Bucuresti si, pe langa ei, erau si romani. Multi cafegii armeni plecasera si ramasesera magazinele goale, atunci au pus romani. Romanii nu cunosteau aceasta meserie de mare finete si cu multe secrete, in consecinta o faceau prost. Se intreaba multi de ce n-au transmis armenii mai departe cunostintele lor !? Unii au transmis, altii n-au avut cui, majoritatea romanilor care au preluat magazinele de la ei nu au vrut sa-i asculte, nu le-au dat atentie, nu au fost interesati sa invete, aveau impresia ca ei stiu tot, mergeau dupa ureche. Le era gandul numai la afaceri mari, castiguri peste noapte si nu erau interesati sa invete. Ce sa le faca armenii…?! I-au lasat in pace, multi s-au retras la pensie, altii au plecat in America. S-au pierdut multi oameni de valoare…
– De unde maiestria armenilor in acest domeniu al cafelei ?
– Era meseria lor, erau foarte buni. Sa va explic ceva, se vorbeste mult despre secretul armenesc, acest secret il dezvalui eu acum tuturor, este format din buna-cuviinta, respectul fata de client, priceperea in aprovizionarea cu marfa de buna calitate, vanzarea in conditii deosebit de clare si fara preturi exagerate, asta e tot ! De exemplu, armenii nu luau ciubuc, bacsis. Niciodata un cafegiu armean nu a luat ciubuc, de dat, au dat ca n-aveau ce face… sau sa insele la cantar…niciodata. Erau recunoscuti in lumea comerciantilor ca fiind deosebit de corecti, chiar daca nu castigau prea mult, preferau sa fie corecti. Nu era concurenta intre ei desi, cum v-am spus, erau in jur de 40 de cafegii, fiecare avea clientela lui. Intre armeni nu era concurenta, nu exista asa ceva, mai venea cate un client si zicea ca alt armean are nu stiu ce cafea sau alta marfa… armeanul nu raspundea, nu-l lua in seama. Nu e bine sa barfesti concurenta, sa vorbesti despre ce are, ce n-are… nu e bine in comert sa faci asa ceva. Si inca un lucru pe care l-am invatat de la domnul Carabelaian:
„Niciodata sa nu trimiti clientul in alta parte ! Cauta sa-l servesti, ii explici ce ai, ce n-ai, cum ai…”
– Ce inseamna ca nu luau ciubuc in contextul de care vorbim ?
– Adica nu primeau bani in plus, peste pretul marfii vandute. Armenii aveau un stil special de a servi clientul, se purtau foarte frumos, stiau sa vorbeasca si cu oamenii de rand si cu persoane din inalta societate, erau recunoscuti pentru asta. Unii clienti incantati de servire mai lasau ceva bani peste pretul marfii cumparate, dar armenii nu acceptau niciodata, ei luau doar banii pe marfa, nimic mai mult, nu-i interesa acest bacsis…oricum “bacsis” e un cuvant turcesc… (rade !)
– Cum a evoluat lumea cafelei ?
– In 9 februarie 1979 statul roman a interzis livrarea de cafea verde catre unitatile de cafea si, din acel moment, meseria a cam disparut, cafegii nu mai aveau ce praji. Se livra doar cafea deja prajita. De prajirea ei se ocupa un personaj mai colorat care nu avea nimic in comun cu prajirea cafelei, trasese niste sfori sa primeasca slujba asta. O prajea prost, turna apa peste ea, o ineca in apa… gresit, foarte gresit, nu stia meserie. Cred ca singurul care a mai continuat activitatea de cafegiu este domnul Keskerian, prietenul meu, care e de la 6 ani in fata masinii de prajit cafea. Altfel, a urmat o intrupere pana dupa `89…
– Cum trebuie sa fie o cafea prajita bine ?
– Sa prajesti o cafea nu e mare lucru daca te pricepi, depinde cata meserie stii. Armenii au fost in zona de influenta a Constantinopolului si au adus cu ei o metoda de a praji cafeaua pana cand devenea cafenie, nu mai mult.
– Am vazut si cafea foarte prajita, aproape neagra…
– Da, exista, dar nu e armeneasca. Domnul Carabelaian avea si astfel de cafea, se numeste Schwartz, o prajea pentru clientii care preferau asa. De la Budapesta, Viena incolo se bea foarte mult acest tip de cafea neagra. Am si eu azi, pentru cei care beau astfel de cafea.
– Cafeaua pe care o vindeti se numeste Avedis (arm. Bunavestire)
– Da, in memoria mentorului meu, domnul Avedis Carabelaian, de la care am invatat mestesugul cafelei. Urmasii familiei Carabelaian m-au vizitat aici in Romania, am permisiunea dansilor de a folosi numele domnului Carabelaian pentru cafeaua pe care o vand.
– Ce parere aveti despre comertul de dupa `89 ?
– Foarte prost, s-au apucat de comert cei care au avut ceva bani dar nu invatasera sa faca asta de la nimeni. Sunt un fel de lautari, fac comert “dupa ureche”, nu se poate asa, sunt persoane puse pe jecmaneala, urmaresc sa se imbogateasca rapid, de-asta multi si dau faliment.
– Ce calitati trebuie sa aiba un comerciant?
– Sa nu fie lacom, sa fie muncitor si sa nu se lase pe mana, cum zicem noi, romanii, a “oamenilor de incredere”. Personalul trebuie supravegheat clipa de clipa. Tu, trebuie sa tii pravalia in mana, nu altul, “omul tau de incredere” !
– E adevarat ca toti cafegii armeni lucrau numai in familie ?
– Da, e adevarat ! Din cauza aceasta nimeni nu putea afla secretele lor, datorita acestui aspect au si fost cei mai buni, lucrand in familie nimeni nu avea cum sa stie ce se intampla in afacerea lui. O afacere poate mica dar, sigura…Unii nici macar din familie nu aveau ajutoare, erau doar ei insisi… La mine a fost un caz mai special, eu am preluat de la domnul Carabelaian afacerea desi eram la stat, dar dansul a ramas alaturi de mine trei ani, venea in fiecare zi, discutam, ma sfatuia… pana in 13 octombrie `73, cand a plecat din Romania la Beirut si de acolo in America.
– S-a rupt greu de Romania ?
– Da, domnul Carabelaian a iubit foarte mult Romania, a stat 60 de ani aici si s-a simtit foarte bine… un mare negustor… mentorul meu, in amintirea caruia eu fac ceea ce fac azi.
– Aveti o reteta de cafea pe care sa o impartasiti cititorilor nostri ?
– Da, am sa va dau reteta care era preferata de Soleiman Magnificul, al zecelea sultan al Imperiului Otoman. Acesta, din pozitia pe care o ocupa, avea acces la toate delicatesele Imperiului si era un mare iubitor de cafea. Mai mult, a dat un decret prin care nici un musulman nu avea permisiunea sa se casatoreasca daca nu avea posibilitatea sa-i asigure viitoarei sotii cantitatea zilnica de cafea. Se spune ca o sclava din haremul sultanului, pe nume Roxelana, de origine slava, l-ar fi asteptat intr-o noapte cu o cafea si, din acel moment, sultanul ar fi ajuns sa indrageasca cafeaua iar, Roxelana a devenit cea mai influenta persoana din haremul sultanului. Eu am un sortiment de cafea care l-am numit chiar Roxelana, si chiar folosesc acelasi tip de cafea pe care il bea Soleiman Magnificul, o varietate deosebita de cafea Yemen.
Soleiman a adus cafeaua din Etiopia in Yemen unde a fost cultivata in zonele submontane, la mare altitudine, unde soarele, umiditatea si solul au fost propice plantei de cafea si, din portul Mocca (Al Mokha), aceasta a fost trimisa in toata lumea. Din acel moment ceilalti imparati si regi au raspandit cultura cafelei de-a lungul si de-a latul lumii. Englezii au dus-o in Jamaica, Rhodesia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, francezii in Guyana franceza si asa mai departe.
Un stramos al domnului Carabelaian a deschis la Damasc in 1530 o pravalie de cafea, iar dupa un timp s-a angajat la Poarta Otomana in functia de cafegiu al sultanului. De la el a fost transmisa din tata in fiu reteta de cafea preferata de Soleiman Magnificul iar, de acum, o pot savura si cititorii revistei Ararat:
– se ia ibricul de cafea si se masoara apa cu ceasca cu care se va bea cafeaua, daca se bea cu zahar, se pune o ligurita rasa de zahar pentru fiecare ceasca si se pune la foc. Cand apa devine calduta, calaie, se pune cafeaua, 2 lingurite de cafea pentru fiecare ceasca. Se amesteca pana cafeaua devine mai vartoasa, atunci se mai presara ca o ploaie un varf de lingurita de cafea. Se va forma un caimac, care se va pune in cesti, iar restul se va lasa sa fiarba pana la sfarsit, dupa care se va turna peste caimac. Va iesi o cafea extraordinara, multi o cunosc sub denumirea de “cafea turceasca”, dar e “cafea armeneasca”.
– In magazinul dumneavoastra am vazut si sorturi de cafea foarte scumpe !
– Da, am cele mai scumpe si cele mai bune cafele din lume in momentul de fata.
– Care este cea mai scumpa cafea ?
– Kopi Luwak la 1500 RON/kg, dupa care vine Gheisha Boquete din Panama la 1240 RON/kg, urmeaza Sfanta Elena la 870 RON/kg si altele. Sunt primele trei sortimente de cafea din lume, o clasificare facuta de catre marii degustatorii de cafea, recunoscuti de intreaga lume. La ora actuala, am cea mai buna cafea din Romania si am curaj sa o vand oricui, oricand… am facut o treaba buna, zic eu…
– Stiu ca lucrati la o noua carte, cand va aparea ?
– Va aparea cand voi reusi sa o termin, se va numi “Juramantul unui cafegiu”, e o chestiune de timp, particip la multe targuri, prezentari si nu am timp sa ma ocup de finalizarea ei. Dar sper sa reusesc cat de curand.
– Considerati ca aceasta meserie de cafegiu va mai exista si in viitor ?
– Da, sunt sigur. Eu voi lasa familia mea sa continue meseria cand nu voi mai putea eu, fiica mea, ginerele meu vor continua…
Intr-un oras sufocat de caldura si praf, aglomerat de reclame agresive, fastfooduri saormerii si cappuccino 3 in 1, un om cu tenacitate demna de un samurai, se incapataneaza sa vanda cea mai buna cafea din lume, asa cum a invatat cu decenii in urma de la… mentorul sau. Cati oameni mai au in ziua de azi un mentor, un om la care sa se raporteze ca la un zeu ?! Cati oameni ar mai putea sa faca din meseria lor un mod de viata ?! Greu de spus…! Gheorghe Florescu scrie un paragraf in pagina de istorie a Bucurestiului, vegheat probabil de acolo de sus de mentorul sau, a carui cafea ii poarta numele, Cafea Avedis.
Avedis coffee – Armenian tradition since 1530
On the small street with old houses, decorated with intricate stucco and guarded by old wrought iron gates, a provincial silence reigns. It’s the middle of the day, the mid-July heat has silenced even the pigeons lined up on the telegraph wires in the shade of a huge linden tree. On the ground floor of a house, a small pravalioara spreads a heady smell of freshly ground coffee in the air. I read about the company “Delicatese Florescu – Armenian tradition from 1530”. The cafe, clad in a green robe, greeted me at the door with a friendly smile, in what seems more like a coffee sanctuary than an ordinary shop. The walls of the room are covered with coffee bags in the form of paintings on which coffee beans and strange inscriptions Yemen, Mocca, Jawa are drawn. Glass cylinders filled with all kinds of coffee beans, bigger, smaller, browner, blacker, are lined up on the counter. Behind the counter, the piece of resistance, the coffee roaster, a complicated machinery with sieves, drawers and clocks. Known to the citizens of Bucharest, and especially to the elite of the 70s and 80s, as the manager of the shop located on Hristo Botev street, later moved to Sfintilor, where the best coffee was found, Mr. Gheorghe Florescu is a genuine coffee shopper, as if back in time when thugs and merchants filled Little Paris. The meanderings of his life took him decades ago in the world of commerce, more precisely in contact with the world of the cafes of old Bucharest. The seriousness and devotion to the one who would become his mentor, the Armenian Avedis Carabelaian, must have been the reason why he agreed to lead his steps in the exclusive world of Armenian cafes where, as a rule, business was done in the family. His clients associated him with the Armenian ethnicity and, in a short time, he received the nickname Armenasu`, although his blood count does not show a single drop of Armenian blood. Armenasu’, having reached an age where he has a lot to tell, decided to put in a book the memories, events, joys and troubles of his life, inseparably linked to the fascinating world of coffee. Going through his lordship’s book, Confessions of a Cafegiu, you let yourself be carried away in the colorful world of old Bucharest, with shopkeepers and shopkeepers, with shopkeepers and shopkeepers, with things known or less known, with the aroma of Arabica coffee, clients with staif, friends , enemies, with temporary periods of prosperity and others of restriction. Over a cup of Avedis coffee, our cafe began to tell its story:
– First of all, welcome to the Avedis coffee temple (Armenian: Buna-Vestire), the place where you can find the best varieties of coffee in the world, prepared according to very old Armenian methods. This temple is my property, who, incidentally, am Romanian, but I had the chance to somehow be in the world of Armenians even before I was born. In April 1944, my mother was pregnant when the bombing of Bucharest began. We had a house that belonged to my grandfather, it had been built in the century. XIX and had a very large cellar that my parents used as an anti-aircraft shelter. At that time, the houses were built with large cellars because they were used to store food, they were kept cold in the summer because there were no refrigerators, coolers… and, in the winter, they did not freeze. Coincidentally, an Armenian woman came to us who was the wife of a cafe owner, she was a friend of my mother and she came to shelter in the cellar of our house when the bombings started. They had a rented shop where they sold coffee, but they had nowhere to shelter when the bombings started, so she came to us. The Armenian calmed down the mother who was very scared when the planes passed, she told her “Pass, pass, ready, ready…!”. I also met this Armenian woman later, she was the wife of a coffee shop owner, who had the Dudesti pravalia no. 91, in the house of my godfather, the Georgescu family, a wealthy family that owned a lot of loot on the street, as it was then. The best brawls were the ones on the street. My grandfather, Georgescu, had owned a sausage factory before nationalization and also had a showroom. When it was nationalized, they took the factory and the shop… they turned it into a barber shop. He had only a few small shops left, and one of them was rented to some Armenian cafe owners. Baruir Nersessian used to visit these Armenians, they were relatives, I don’t remember the name of the cafegi, I was too young, I was only 8 years old.
My father was a political prisoner and was sent to the Canal, and my mother was at work all day and asked me not to play ball with the other children because I would break my shoe and she wouldn’t be able to buy me another one. So, instead of wasting time on the street, I used to come to this cafe and watch how the coffee beans are roasted, I started to discover the aroma of coffee. The cafe had a courtyard that was always full of children, we played there, both Armenians and Romanians… of all, only I was fascinated by coffee. The Armenian noticed me, I was taking a more roasted, more bitter grain and gnawing it and he said to me: – Gicuta, take it with sugar nene, take it with sugar because it’s bitter…! Later the cafe was closed and they left, probably to America. This was my first contact with the Armenian world. There were many Armenians in Dudesti and Vacaresti, good, famous cafes… When I got to high school, I met the Armenian Horen Nazarian, known as DaiDai (Armenian: Uncle), who had a coffee shop on Batistei street no. 1, very good store, on the corner, it also had a wall on Nicolae Balcescu Boulevard but, later, they moved it to Batistei no. 7. On the same street at no. 9 was a cousin of mine from my mother’s side who was an aprozarist and had been a colleague on Calea Victoriei no. 14 with a certain Sarkiz, an Armenian who had the nickname “Aprozar”, everyone knew him as “Sarkiz Aprozar”. In this location, a famous Aprozar operated with the best goods in Bucharest for the elite who lived in this exclusive area. At one point, Sarkis went to America, where he turned his nickname into a name, took the name Sarkiz Aprozar, so that the world would know who he was, and opened a restaurant in New York. Many of the Armenians who left settled in Los Angeles, New York and even Montreal where they opened coffee shops with their families.
My cousin was the head of Aprozar here, through him I had met DaiDai and, through DaiDai, I met Mr. Carabelaian who would be my mentor and whom I had seen in the Kretulescu passage when I was a child. I really liked his shop, which was called “Cafea Martinica”, it was very beautiful, it had many copper and crystal vessels in which he displayed coffee, and the shelves on which the goods were displayed were made of cherry wood. He supplied coffee for the elite of Bucharest at that time and even for the Royal House. From what his son, Anton Carabelaian, who lives in America, told me, Mr. Avedis then had many varieties of coffee among the best of the time. Mr. Carabelaian’s father, Garabet, was a great merchant of carpets, furs and colonials, he had a store in Istanbul. In 1915, when it was the peak of the Armenian Genocide, the entire Carabelaian family was slaughtered, two members escaped, Mr. Garabet Carabelaian and his son Avedis. They escaped by throwing themselves into a water when they were being pursued by the Turkish army, they cut his mother with swords a few meters from him. His mother asked him to save himself, to leave her alone, and they threw themselves into the water, she stayed on the shore and the Turks did not spare her, that’s how it was then. They came to Romania, settled here and started trading in coffee and colonials, chickpeas, shit, chocolate, spices and others. Garabet Carabelaian was a very well-respected man in the Armenian community, he had become epitrop of the Armenian Church, he was a man of weight and, on the day when the Russians entered Bucharest, he gathered all his close family members and told them: – “You will see that it will be worse than it was when the Turks persecuted us to kill us…! That same evening, out of frustration, he had a heart attack and died.
Mr. Avedis Carabelaian continued the shop and lasted as long as he could as a private businessman but, when the Romanian state abolished private shops, he switched to state trade as a shop manager in Pasajul Kretulescu… he had nothing to do… Then it happened moved to Calea Victoriei no. 33, next to Teatrul de Revista and, finally, on Hristo Botev no. 10, where, starting in 1966, I entered into business relations with him. I was head of the department at the Import Agency, I gave him goods, coffee, fine sweets, delicacies, so we had time to get to know each other and we understood each other very well. – Is there good coffee then? – As always, there is good, there is bad. Mr. Carabelaian did his best to get a good coffee, as much as he could… he went so far as to give a piece, a big piece, so that he could get a better product, that was the way those times were. Mr. Carabelaian never sold bad coffee, perhaps he preferred not to sell at all. He had a very select clientele that he did not want to disappoint, this clientele I took over later. At the time when I took over the store on March 1, 1971, Bucharest was still full of Armenian cafes that had coffee shops, in the state of course, it could not be otherwise. I can say that in the years `68-`70 there were around 40 Armenian cafes in Bucharest and, besides them, there were also Romanians. Many Armenian coffee shops had left and the shops remained empty, then they put in Romanians. The Romanians did not know this job of great finesse and with many secrets, consequently they did it badly. Many wonder why the Armenians did not pass on their knowledge!? Some passed on, others did not, most of the Romanians who took over the shops from them did not want to listen to them, did not pay attention to them, were not interested in learning, they had the impression that they knew everything, they went behind the ear. They were only thinking about big business, overnight profits and they were not interested in learning. What should the Armenians do to them…?! They left them alone, many retired, others went to America. Many valuable people were lost…
– Where does the mastery of the Armenians in this field of coffee come from?
– It was their job, they were very good. Let me explain something to you, there is a lot of talk about the Armenian secret, this secret I am now revealing to everyone, it consists of courtesy, respect for the customer, skill in supplying good quality goods, selling in particularly clear conditions and without prices exaggerated, that’s all! For example, Armenians did not take a tip. An Armenian brownie never took a piece of paper, they gave it because they had nothing to do… or cheat on the scales… never. They were recognized in the merchant world as being particularly fair, even if they didn’t earn much, they preferred to be fair. There was no competition between them, although, as I told you, there were around 40 cafes, each with its own clientele. There was no competition between Armenians, there was no such thing, one customer would come and say that another Armenian had I don’t know what coffee or other goods… the Armenian didn’t answer, didn’t take him into account. It’s not good to gossip about the competition, to talk about what it has, what it doesn’t have… it’s not good in commerce to do something like that. And one more thing I learned from Mr. Carabelaian: “Never send the client elsewhere! Try to serve him, explain to him what you have, what you don’t have, how you have…”
– What does it mean that they did not take a stick in the context we are talking about?
– That is, they did not receive extra money, above the price of the goods sold. The Armenians had a special style of serving the customer, they behaved very nicely, they knew how to talk with ordinary people and people from high society, they were recognized for that. Some customers, delighted with the service, left some money on top of the price of the purchased goods, but the Armenians never accepted, they only took the money for the goods, nothing more, they were not interested in this tip… anyway “tip” is a Turkish word… (laughs! )
– How has the world of coffee evolved?
– On February 9, 1979, the Romanian state banned the delivery of green coffee to the coffee shops and, from that moment, the job kind of disappeared, the coffee shops had nothing to roast. Only already roasted coffee is delivered. Its roasting was handled by a more colourful character who had nothing in common with roasting coffee, he had pulled some strings to get this job. He fried her badly, poured water over her, drowned her in water… wrong, very wrong, he didn’t know how to do it. I think that the only one who has continued the activity of a coffee maker is Mr. Keskerian, my friend, who has been in front of the coffee roasting machine since he was 6 years old. Otherwise, an incarnation followed until after `89…
– How should a well-roasted coffee be?
– Roasting a coffee is not a big deal if you know how, it depends on how much you know how to do. The Armenians were in the area of influence of Constantinople and brought with them a method of roasting the coffee until it became brown, no more. – I also saw very roasted coffee, almost black… – Yes, it exists, but it is not Armenian. Mr. Carabelaian also had this kind of coffee, called Schwartz, he roasted it for customers who preferred it that way. From Budapest, Vienna onwards, this type of black coffee is drunk a lot. I also have today, for those who drink this kind of coffee. – The coffee you sell is called Avedis (arm. Bunavestire) – Yes, in memory of my mentor, Mr. Avedis Carabelaian, from whom I learned the craft of coffee. The descendants of the Carabelaian family visited me here in Romania, I have permission from the dances to use Mr. Carabelaian’s name for the coffee they sell.
– What is your opinion about the trade after `1989?
– Very stupid, those who had some money but had not learned how to do this from anyone started trading. They are a kind of fiddlers, they trade “by ear”, it can’t be like that, they are people put on the hook, they seek to get rich quickly, that’s why many go bankrupt.
– What qualities must a trader have?
– Don’t be greedy, be hardworking and don’t rely on, as we Romanians say, “trustworthy people”. Staff must be supervised at all times. You, must hold the treasure in your hand, not someone else, “your trusted man”!
– Is it true that all Armenian coffee makers worked only in the family?
– Yes, it is true ! Because of this no one could find out their secrets, thanks to this aspect they were the best, working in a family no one had a way of knowing what was happening in their business. A small business maybe, but for sure… Some of the family didn’t even have helpers, it was just themselves… In my case it was a more special case, I took over the business from Mr. Carabelaian even though I was in the state, but the dance remained with me for three years, he came every day, we talked, he advised me… until October 13, ’73, when he left Romania for Beirut and from there to America.
– Was it difficult to break away from Romania?
– Yes, Mr. Carabelaian loved Romania very much, he stayed here for 60 years and felt very good… a great merchant… my mentor, in whose memory I do what I do today. – Do you have a coffee recipe to share with our readers? – Yes, I will give you the recipe that was preferred by Soleiman the Magnificent, the tenth sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He, from the position he occupied, had access to all the delicacies of the Empire and was a great lover of coffee. Moreover, he gave a decree by which no Muslim was allowed to marry if he could not provide his future wife with the daily amount of coffee. It is said that a slave from the sultan’s harem, named Roxelana, of Slavic origin, would have waited for him one night with a coffee and, from that moment, the sultan would have come to love coffee and Roxelana became the most influential the person in the sultan’s harem. I have an assortment of coffee that I even called Roxelana, and I actually use the same type of coffee that Soleiman the Magnificent drinks, a special variety of Yemen coffee. Soleiman brought coffee from Ethiopia to Yemen where it was cultivated in the submontane areas, at high altitude, where the sun, humidity and soil were conducive to the coffee plant and, from the port of Mocca (Al Mokha), it was sent all over the world. From that moment on, the other emperors and kings spread the coffee culture throughout the world. The English took it to Jamaica, Rhodesia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, the French to French Guiana and so on. An ancestor of Mr. Carabelaian opened a coffee shop in Damascus in 1530, and after a while he got a job at the Ottoman Gate as the sultan’s coffee shop. Soleiman the Magnificent’s favorite coffee recipe was passed down from father to son from him and, from now on, the readers of Ararat magazine can also enjoy it:
– take the coffee pot and measure the water with the cup with which the coffee will be drunk, if it is drunk with sugar, put a teaspoon of grated sugar for each cup and put it on fire. When the water becomes warm, boil it, add the coffee, 2 teaspoons of coffee for each cup. Mix until the coffee becomes stronger, then sprinkle a teaspoonful of coffee. A paste will be formed, which will be put into cups, and the rest will be left to boil until the end, after which it will be poured over the paste. You will get an extraordinary coffee, many know it as “Turkish coffee”, but it is “Armenian coffee”. – In your store I also saw very expensive varieties of coffee! – Yes, I have the most expensive and best coffees in the world at the moment. – What is the most expensive coffee? – Kopi Luwak at 1500 RON/kg, followed by Geisha Boquete from Panama at 1240 RON/kg, followed by Sfanta Elena at 870 RON/kg and others. They are the first three varieties of coffee in the world, a classification made by the great coffee tasters, recognized all over the world. Currently, I have the best coffee in Romania and I have the courage to sell it to anyone, anytime… I did a good job, I say…
– I know you are working on a new book, when will it appear?
– It will appear when I manage to finish it, it will be called “The oath of a coffee shop”, it’s a matter of time, I participate in many fairs, presentations and I don’t have time to deal with its completion. But I hope to succeed as soon as possible.
– Do you think that this profession of coffee maker will still exist in the future?
– Yes I am sure. I will let my family continue the job when I can no longer, my daughter, my son-in-law will continue… In a city suffocated by heat and dust, crowded with aggressive advertisements, fast food and 3 in 1 cappuccino, a man with tenacity worthy of a samurai, insists on selling the best coffee in the world, as he learned decades ago he was following his… mentor. How many people today still have a mentor, a man to whom they can relate to as a god?! How many people could make their job a way of life?! Hard to say…! Gheorghe Florescu writes a paragraph in the history page of Bucharest, probably watched over from above by his mentor, whose coffee is named after him, Cafea Avedis. Paul Agopian 12.07.2012