An all-in attitude to life and coffee

Radu with his coffee-roasting machine.
Radu with his coffee-roasting machine. / J. RHODES
  • Radu Roşu has lived in Nerja for three years after several spent in the USA. His experiences growing up at the end of the communist era in Romania have helped shape his attitude to life

Radu Roşu sips a cup of his own roasted coffee as we sit in the morning sun on the terrace of the small café he runs in Nerja. Radu taught himself how to roast coffee and over the years has perfected his technique. "I am a perfectionist," he confesses, adding, "When I'm passionate about something I go all-in."

Radu, whose surname Roşu means 'red' in his native Romanian, and his wife, Alina, have lived in Spain for three years, after deciding to move back to Europe from the US, where they spent 11 years in total. Radu explains that the decision to move back to Europe was fueled partly because of the "political situation" in the country and also a desire to be a little closer to home.

The 42-year-old speaks openly about his experiences growing up in Romania during the last few years of Soviet communism and of the risks his family took as a deeply religious - Protestant - unit. This was not technically permitted during the communist era but, Radu explains, was "tolerated" in his hometown in the Transylvania region.

Despite this, members of his family and their neighbours would "keep guard" in their church, which was built by the local religious community and designed not to stand out. Radu relates the story of how he and other members of his family were on guard at the church, shortly before the 1989 Revolutions, when there was a raid.

"They took the adults but I was only 12, so they left me behind. They were driven about 30 kilometres away and then dumped and left to make their own way home as a kind of punishment," Radu recalls.

Social change

He is old enough to remember the enormous social change that occurred after the Berlin Wall was pulled down in November 1989. Something that we both, being three months apart in age, reminisce over, albeit from very different perspectives. The conversation gives both of us goose bumps.

"There was this sudden influx of TV, like soap operas, and products from the West, especially from the USA," Radu recalls. We laugh over memories of watching US TV series Beverly Hills 90210 as teenagers. "Many people couldn't cope and everyone had their own interpretation of what capitalism meant. Lots of people just used it as an excuse to do whatever they wanted."

Radu is the sixth of eight children and the first of his siblings to go on to higher education. He was teased by his brothers and sisters for always having his head in a book. "I was always reading. Anything I could get my hands on. It was my refuge," he explains. He also discovered a passion for languages and in particular learning English, which both inspired him and later helped him in his decision to live in America.

Radu had a talent for music and he and some friends formed a band, which was hugely successful in Romania. The other members of the band, like Radu, were "open-minded" and their lyrics, he explains, were "controversial". The band was called Aripi, which means 'wings' in Romanian. They made an album and were regularly played on the radio, but like many young bands, the self-confessed "free spirit" explains, started to drift apart as they got older and after ten years together they went their separate ways.

Living in America

In 2005 Radu and Alina married and shortly after the couple decided to follow in the footsteps of a friend and try life in the USA, spending a number of years in Arizona and later California.

"I did all sorts of work, I started off as a carpet cleaner working with my friend and later became a cook at a luxury centre for seniors," Radu explains. He says that he's always been interested in cooking and used to help his mum in the kitchen. "My mum was a phenomenal cook and baker," Radu smiles.

It was through cooking that Radu started to read and teach himself about roasting coffee. After reading up on the subject he started experimenting with his own coffee. He started off by giving his coffee to friends and admits that when the couple moved to Spain it was "not with the plan to open a roasters". But in the end his "all-in" attitude to life won over and he opened El Camaradu in Nerja. The café is only open at weekends and by arrangement. When he's not roasting coffee, Radu helps out at a local animal shelter and with community and environmental events and donates packets of his coffee as prizes.

He's also getting back into music and has taught himself how to play the guitar. He's beginning to do gigs, both solo and with a new band that he and some friends have just formed.