GE additive blog

Ralf Hetzel: Creating Community Through Coffee

Laura Bauer of GE Additive looks at how having a cup of coffee can foster good will while keeping sustainability in mind.

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Laura Bauer
April 2022

Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unexpected places. Ralf Hetzel had the opportunity to take a sabbatical from work to unwind and reconnect. His travels took him to various places around Europe and ignited a passion for coffee and the bonds that can be formed over a cup. I recently talked with Ralf about his experiences and how he transformed this revelation into a hobby and a business bent on sustainability.

Most people wake up with one thing on their mind – coffee. For GE Additive’s Ralf Hetzel, it’s also his side business and hobby.

Ralf is a lead engineer. In this role he is responsible for product safety and regulatory. His day-to-day includes running risk assessments, partnering with product development teams and helping trouble shoot and rectify any issues that come up with machines.

He started working for Concept Laser in 2014, two years before it was acquired and became part of the GE Additive family. Over the years, he’s had various roles within engineering and has always been interested in optimizing processes and improving machine use.

“In the early days we were a very small team and worked a lot of overtime,” he explained. After a couple of years of working overtime, the company encouraged him to take a sabbatical to recharge.

Ralf Hetzel standing in front of an M2 Series 5 at the Lichtenfels Campus.

Ralf bought an old van with a good friend and took a couple of European trips. Traveling from Milan to Barcelona to Manchester to Amsterdam, Ralf had plenty of opportunities to learn what he really cared about in life – community.

“Life is full of stories and experiences,” he shared. “During my travels, I spent a lot of time meeting people over a cup of coffee and sharing about life. I never felt more alive.”

Hetzel and his van on his sabbatical. Photo courtesy of Ralf Hetzel

In 2018 he invested in a portafilter espresso machine so he could recreate some of the good coffee he experienced during his travels. His hobby only grew from there.

During the first lockdown, Ralf had the opportunity to buy a roasting machine. Then in 2021, he bought an old house in the center of his hometown of Bad Staffelstein, Germany. He converted the home into a small café – where he also roasts and lives – and started a new business – ADAMS Kaffeerösterei.

Ralf says that while he is creating a product, the mission of his coffee roasting business is about connection, creating space for people and conversation. His café has 10-15 seats, as the community aspect of his shop is very important to him.

“My goal is to create a space where people can meet and enjoy time together. I recognized that I also feel good if people in my environment feel good,” he explained. “Enjoying also means having time for doing nothing, just being. Coffee is a perfect conduit for my vision for ADAMS.”

Ralf is the first to point out that his coffee roastery is a hobby, and he is not planning to grow a huge business. His goal is to produce 1,000 kilos a year and supply locally roasted, ethically sourced coffee beans to his community.

“Roasting is something that I enjoy doing, that I can share with my friends and that fosters community and connection,” he said. “I bought the roasting machine to make better coffee, but it isn’t just about the taste of coffee, it’s also about connecting over a really good cup of coffee.”

His coffee is also available in three businesses in his hometown – a craft brewery, a local honey shop and an upscale bike shop. All three of these small businesses have a seating area where people can enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation.

As an engineer, his hobbies tend to lean toward technology and understanding how things work.

“Roasting coffee isn’t much different than working with additive DMLM (Direct Metal Laser Melting) technology,” he explained. “With additive, you put in metal powder, adjust the settings and a product comes out. With roasting, you put in raw beans, adjust the energy and you create a unique coffee bean.”

Sustainability and ethical sourcing are also important to Ralf. He sources his raw beans via an importer he trusts out of Hamburg. The beans come from all over the world, from Ethiopia to Colombia to Uganda.

“The importer knows the farmers and can vouch that they are fairly paid and have good working conditions,” he explained. “The ethical side of this is important to me, but also from a sustainable supply chain perspective. If the farmers are treated fairly and have a good business, I know that they will be there in the future, and that protects the consistency of my product.”

The conversations extend beyond the bags of coffee. The assortments of beans are also named after cities that are important to Ralf such as Staffelstein, Milan, Padua – which he visited during his sabbatical.

“For example, ‘Amsterdam’ is a filter coffee with fruity and floral notes that have a summer feeling. This is the feeling and connection I have with this beautiful city,” he said, “My hope is that when people buy a bag, they will conjure up their own feelings and memories of that city and they share that experience with someone .. over a cup of coffee.”

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Tomas Kellner
19 September 2019