From green coffee beans to roasted grains
Julius I made up his mind in 1862 and moved from Prague to Vienna, not driven by a juvenile fever, he was 38 years old at that time. He had previously worked in several upscale shops in the Imperial City, but already at the time of his apprenticeship he decided to sell only products of impeccable quality in his future shop. In addition to teas and spices, he also sold rice, sugar and, of course, green coffee beans in the small Viennese shop already mentioned.
During this period, customers used to roast green coffee beans at home. In 1877, Meinl realized that the roasting process was what really determined flavours and aromas, so they developed their own process to get the most of the grains. The main point was that coffee beans had no contact with the carbon gases so they had no aftertaste, while they retained their natural aroma. Roasting at home was no guarantee of anything anyway, there were times when the coffee beans turned black at certain parts, while hardly roasted elsewhere, and the finished coffee became what they managed to make it. Thus, Meinl sold not only green coffee beans but also roasted coffee with great success. The proliferating coffee houses, which were reliable purchasers of his coffee, also contributed to this success, thus connecting the coffee of the Meinl store with the Viennese coffee house culture.
The first Hungarian store
In Hungary, the first branch store was opened in 1900, at 1 Kossuth Lajos Street. The company placed great emphasis on quality; customers could find the same selection in Vienna as in Budapest. Not only the goods but also the business image was uniform: yellow tiles with coffee brown furnishing. In 1909, the independent Hungarian Gyula Meinl Coffee Import Co. was established. According to the 1924 Hungarian Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Directory, the headquarters of the public limited company operated at 15 Dandár Street. The property was bought by Julius Meinl back in 1908 and two years later he opened his first coffee roasting plant there. The company had several units, another operated on István Road, where production was gradually relocated. Finally, in the late 1930s, the company merged its plants at several sites in its new, larger factory, built on Budafoki Road.
In 1914, his son Julius II took over the prospering company. By 1930, there were already more than 300 branch stores in Hungary.
The most beautiful shop served its customers who wanted tea and coffee on Ferenciek Square. Meinl coffees, teas, were more expensive than other brands on the market, but despite the higher price the business went well. With good business sense, shopping was connected with product tastings, coffee trial tests were held, and they pampered customers with small gift products. In 1924, graphic artist Joseph Binder created Meinl Mohr, the little Moorish with red fez, which became an icon of Meinl coffee and later a trademark of the company. Naturally, the store did not sell only coffee, cocoa and tea, but also pralines, liqueurs and even wine.
Working at Meinl’s was a big thing, not only because of the honour, the company paid attention to its employees, it also provided them with sports and cultural opportunities. But the vending ladies didn’t have to worry about the expected groomed hairstyle either, as they also got hairdressing passes in addition to their salaries.
However, getting into the company was not that easy. In addition to aptitude, knowledge of the German language was also important, as corporate correspondence was written in German. The recruited workers received a three-year vocational training, where their ‘Bible’ was the Commodity Knowledge textbook. Besides the polite treatment of customers, they were taught, among other things, shop-window decoration, business transactions and business administration. The top performers ended up in exclusive stores. Even more important was the experience gained in measuring coffee. In the shops, so-called trial measurements were made from time to time, as precision was very important; only some grams of difference were tolerated by the owner. It was a general truth that salespeople had to keep learning because continuous development made the company fruitful.
The restrictions of the Second World War also had an impact on the coffee industry (we have already written about it earlier). Housewives could not do much but to replace or substitute what was missing. The Household Economic Adviser of the Gyula Meinl Co. tried to help in this - of course not without any ulterior motives. The Adviser worked from 1942. In times of need, while providing the public with recipes, they did not forget about the company’s own branded products either. Its offers always included: wine, Meinl black coffee, Meinl tea, Meinl-Caffeána, Meinl-Teána or Meinl Household coffee can.
It was in Soviet hands from 1945-52, then from 1952 it operated as a Delicatessen Food Company, and its logo became the delicacy basket and the inevitable Moorish boy with a yellow background. After 1991, customers could meet the company under the name Csemege-Julius Meinl Industrial and Commercial Co. In 2001, the company sold its stakes to the trading company Match, ending the history of Meinl in Hungary. Nevertheless, the brand still operates today - still in the hands of the family - as a world-leading distributor of coffee and tea.
Translated by Zita Aknai
S. Nagy Anikó: Kereskedővilág – Szemelvények a magyar kereskedelem történetéből. Mundus Kiadó, Budapest, 2007.