Meet Your Ally: Agnija Tilla

Agnija is Ally Coffee’s rep in Eastern Europe. Based in Riga, Latvia, Agnija has watched and been a part of Baltic specialty coffee’s recent growth.

I worked as a lawyer first. My background is in law, then three years ago I decided to try other stuff. I have always loved coffee and been a dedicated home brewer, especially while living in Toronto, Canada. My family has an accessory business, and I took the opportunity to get a working visa. When I returned to Latvia, I thought, “maybe there is something going on with coffee here in Latvia too.”

At that time I had three jobs: lawyer, part time barista, part time yoga instructor. My job as a lawyer was in aviation, working for airport and dealing in the field of commercial law.

In 2016 I placed third in the Latvia barista championship, and first in the Latvia national brewers cup in 2017, when I was able to compete in the worlds in Budapest. I used El Obraje Geisha [from Colombia]. One benefit of competitions is the feedback from the judges; now I know what to do better and can pass the knowledge to others, too.

I met Cris [head of Ally Coffee Specialty in Europe] two years ago at the Amsterdam Coffee Fest and since then out path has crossed multiple times. You always know that coffee connects people — it’s fantastic!

I was working for a coffee roaster in Riga, Rocket Bean Roastery, who had coffee from Brazil sourced through Cris. I remember it was the Agua Limpa. There I was a regular barista, hosted cuppings, and organized corporate events. When I’m interested in something I just go all in!
Now working with Ally, I like to cup together with customers. I need to taste and experience the coffee together. We recently tried this harvest’s Brazil microlots, including lots from Cerrado of Topazio and Acaia varietals, which were really surprising. When you cup often, you learn the usual profiles by region or by varietal and then something new really stands out.

Many think Brazil is for espresso and blenders, but these microlots surprised me and were unexpected! Everyone tries to be authentic with the stories behind their coffees, but Ally has good opportunity to really share the authentic backstory of a coffee because of the connection to farms in Brazil.

Right now in Europe, roasters are looking for good quality, something unique, and microlots from a specific origin and I’m happy Ally has those coffees to offer. People are also interested in exclusivity — they get excited when they get a coffee knowing that there are only one or two roasters in all Europe who will have it.

Events are also a big part of European specialty coffee. I like competitions, but I’m not a competitive personality at all! It’s more about the learning curve and motivation to work harder, challenge yourself and learn more. Latvia has a little local SCA chapter, so there is no competition this year. Maybe next year!

My preference when I make coffee for myself? I love black coffee! I love brewing, all the chemistry. It’s more of a ritual, giving energy to coffee. But I don’t like as much adding milk to coffee. I like true flavors.

Most of Latvia’s population is in Riga, so that’s where most of the coffee culture is. There are couple roasters outside the city doing their own thing, living in the countryside, roasting for subscription service and local events.

Latvians are more like Nordic people — we don’t smile that much, but once we meet we are friends for life. There is beautiful nature everywhere. You can jump in the car, drive for thirty minutes, and be at the seaside or deep in the forest. I really like that about Latvia. Here there are deep cultural roots that I missed in Canada. Europe is old! We have lots of history.

When I was still a lawyer, I worked with International trade a bit I, so I have some idea and experience for that side of coffee. For freight and contracts I know the terms and am familiar with looking at the big picture. When you start to sell stuff internationally there’s so much paper work and terms and responsibility, but I completely understand that it is all necessary. No surprises for me with signing agreements and handling contracts. Building systems for specialty coffee is part of the trade.

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