We’re always on the lookout for great writers. In fact, if you think you’re one of them, click here.

But when we came across @Har00nzcoffee on Instagram, we didn’t immediately assume he was a candidate. No, instead, what struck us most was his meteoric rise on the social media platform. How fast is his page growing, you ask? Let’s put it this way: when we met in Abu Dhabi he had 20,000 followers. At the time of writing this piece, a few weeks after our meeting, he has more than 35,000 followers!

We knew we had to meet this guy. We had so many questions. Who is @Har00nzcoffee? What’s his secret to making his instagram page grow so fast? And how come he knows so much about coffee? Does he want to write for FLTR?

And so we met.

Please introduce yourself to our audience.

My name is Haroon Zafar. A banker by day and a coffee enthusiast by night. Sounds like some superhero stuff, I know. But it is what it is.

How did you get your start in Specialty Coffee?

My coffee journey is an interesting one if I’m being honest. I drank a lot of coffee at various cafes and commercial outlets before getting into coffee myself. The first machine that I got was a super automatic bean to cup machine of a well known brand in the coffee industry. I was happy with the coffee it made and at that point of time my perception of espresso was that it is supposed to be bitter and acidic nothing else.

I was completely oblivious of the specialty coffee world or third wave coffee at that time. As I was researching different types of beans for a super automatic, I stumbled upon a video from James Hoffmann. Needless to say, it was a revelation. When my eyes saw the way he made those espresso shots, it made me want and learn the process. I ventured into the world of coffee. I consumed countless videos. Read hundreds of articles. Even joined a discord group before buying an espresso machine. You might be asking yourself why did I do that? The answer is simple: KNOWLEDGE.

James Hoffmann. Source: European Coffee Trip

Why did you start your instagram page?

Well, one of my close friends saw my passion for specialty coffee and suggested I showcase that passion on Instagram. I was hesitant at first because I hardly ever used Instagram. In fact, apart from watching specialty coffee and gaming videos on Youtube, I wasn’t really into social media at all. And I had no idea how to start. I was clueless.

But as they say, where there is a will there is a way. One scary trait I have is that when I get into something, I don’t do it half-heartedly. I go all in. I will give it my all because if you want results you should be ready to put the work in. You can’t be questioning yourself everyday. Should I do it? Is it worth it? NO. We decide. We implement. We wait for the results .

I started with one small, cheap light and my Samsung phone. I knew nothing about cameras. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of camera terminology. I was a total newbie.

Your page grew at an amazing rate. 0 – 35,000 followers in 6 months! If you were asked to name just 5 rules to grow your instagram page, what would they be?

I started posting one reel a week and some random photos. All coffee-related. And I wasn’t seeing any growth at all. Then I started to do research on how to grow on instagram. What strategies I should implement and follow in order to increase my reach. And what I learned is that a key thing to grow on Instagram is to identify a niche. You need to decide on a niche you like. And then you need to focus on that niche. You can’t post random stuff. Whatever you post needs to relate to your niche.

So, if I had to sum up what I learned in 5 rules, they would be:

  1. Decide your niche.
  2. Make your bio SEO friendly. SEO means search engine optimization. Your bio should have as many key words about your niche as possible. And it should have one line that describes what value you offer to your followers.
  3. Decide on a content strategy. Will your content be informative? Will it be entertaining? Or will it be a mix of both?
  4. Don’t worry about the views and followers in the beginning. Post only Reels in the beginning and be consistent. No matter how your day goes, you need to be posting at least once a day. That said, if you can’t no worries. But take time to think about how you can post at least once a day no matter how busy your day gets. Expect that you will feel burnt out at some point. Keep posting once a day. If you can’t manage once a day at the beginning, post at least two to three times a week.
  5. More important than Likes, is Engagement. You have to be engaging with people who are in your niche. You have to interact with others within your niche. It’s called social media for a reason. You can’t ignore questions on your posts. And you have to engage with other accounts in your niche.

These are the five most important rules to follow for success.

You love experimenting. With different tools, recipes, etc. Why is that important to you?

When you’re about to venture into anything new, you need to educate yourself first. This is my advice to someone who’s getting into any new field, whatever it may be. Once I had enough information, it made it easier for me to decide on a starting point. Which machine I should buy, what grinder I should get and what tools I should start my journey with.

I get so many questions about coffee machines on Instagram and my first question is not about their budget, it’s always about what they expect to achieve from their machine. Let me explain. If you’re a novice and getting started with home brewing, investing in a very expensive machine and grinder will just overwhelm you. You will have high expectations from your equipment. But if you do not have any knowledge on home brewing you will probably have a hard time.

I always say: buy something that suits your goals. Are you an espresso-only person? Will you be doing a lot of Latte Art? Do you
prefer milk drinks more? Have you worked with different machines earlier? Ask yourself these questions and then decide on your purchase.

My first machine was a dual boiler. And my first grinder which was a small conical. I started to learn everything that is out there about espresso. I joined a small community of home brewers. We would share knowledge and it was fun.

Things changed (for the better) when I met one particular person online. He would change my coffee journey forever. He was into experimenting. Measuring extractions and breaking all the “rules” across the board for espresso.

To get more out of my espresso I ventured into the dark / mystic world of grinders and burr sets. I purchased my first FLAT 64 mm burr grinder. I still remember the night I received my grinder. I was like a young boy at a toy store with an open tab. My excitement had no limits. I reached home, didn’t even change out of my office attire and hooked up the grinder and started brewing espresso.

And the excitement didn’t last to long. My extractions were very poor. Channeling and bad tasting espresso was my friend for the entire night. I took a break and decided to come back strong the next day.

When I hit my brew bar the following day, I focused only on my puck prep. I used RDT, WDT, a proper level tamp and dialled in the espresso as per the 1:2 ratio between 25 to 30 seconds, water temperature at 93 degrees and a pressure of nine bars. After all that, the espresso I tasted was life changing. I had never tasted anything so complex and sweet in my entire life. My eyes teared up. My happiness had no limits.

This propelled me into experimentation with different tools for puck prep and burr sets with different geometry for my grinder. The fact that by just changing a simple tool as a tamper can effect your end result excited me. I started brewing espresso using the same beans but with different burr sets. Every shot would taste different. My pallet became a science lab. I would taste, enjoy and repeat . It was so exciting to me that just by changing a burr set and keeping all other parameters constant I would get a totally different profile of the same coffee.

I ventured into the rabbit hole of grinders. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the ultimate conical espresso grinder in the market. I waited nine months for it after paying full price. When I received the grinder and I made my very first espresso from it. The shot went on for 50 seconds! I went crazy but let it run as it looked great. Once it was done, I tasted the espresso. Guys, let me try put that moment in words. There are certain moments in your life when you taste something you feel like your soul is leaving your body and all the colors of the rainbow start to appear in front of your eyes. Yes, it was one of those moments. The espresso was so sweet that for a minute I thought I had added some flavored syrup to the glass. So just to be sure, I pulled the same shot again without changing anything and split it with my wife (who, by the way, is not a big fan of coffee). Even she was asked if I added hazelnut syrup!

This pushed me even further down the rabbit hole. I purchased a refractometer. I got my first dripper which was a v60. I turned into a mad scientist. I would brew and compare for hours. It was such an awesome experience and process. I would run back to my coffee bar everyday like a kid to a playground. My coffee bar became my zen garden. It makes me forget all my worries and always leaves me feeling that it’s all going to be okay. It inspires me to get back out there and get back to the grind.

How do you dial in your espresso?

The basics need to be in place at the start. The right grind size (you need to learn about your grinder’s capability to produce the right grind size – most grinders have a very small range when it comes to espresso ). And your puck prep process should be on point. When you have that sorted, you can begin to dial in your espresso.

Start with the 1:2 ratio. Meaning, if your are dosing 18 grams of coffee, shoot for something 18 in 36 out between 25 to 30 seconds. Another age old question: when should I start timing? From the first drip? From the point I pull the lever? Let me answer in this way. What you need to know is that once hot water hits the coffee puck the extraction process starts, You might not see any drips from the portafilter until after a few seconds. But extraction has already begun. So if you do want to time by first drip, you should be aiming for anything between 21 to 25 seconds. If you want to start timing when you pull your lever, then it should ideally be around 25 to 30 seconds.

Now once you have dialled in, taste the espresso. Always let the espresso cool down to room temperature before tasting. And if you taste a well-balanced cup, by that I mean minimal bitter notes and a sweet acidity, a cup that’s not very harsh on the pallet, you are on track. Kudos!

Let’s say you want more from this point onwards, start to change only one variable at a time and taste each shot. Maybe change the grind size. Maybe you think it’s a bit bitter – go a bit coarser. Maybe it’s a bit acidic – go a bit finer.

Changing the temperature should be your last variable to change when you want that little extra bit out of that bean.

What does the future hold for @har00nzcoffee?

As far as the future of @Har00nzcoffee, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting the page to grow this fast. I thought that perhaps I’d have 10,000 followers by the end of 2022. In fact, that was my goal. But the growth of the page just goes to show that if you put your mind to something and are prepared to put the work in, success might not be right around the corner, but it will come.

I hope this was a good introduction of my crazy self. I wanted to thank two people who have always supported me and been by my side. My wife Asma Haroon for letting me get all this coffee equipment. She’s just on another level. She’s always supported me in all my crazy ventures and hobbies. Love you babes. And my friend Yousif AL Hammadi who pushed me to make content and is always pushing me to do more. He’s always telling me “you can do it”, “you are there” and ”don’t worry about it dude”. He pushed me to share what I have learned and I am glad to have him by my side. Love you bro.

Lastly thanks to FLTR magazine for giving me a platform on which I might be able to help some people make better coffee.

We’re very proud to announce that Haroon has agreed to be a Contributor to FLTR Magazine. So you can look forward to detailed discussion and experimentation with specialty coffee beans and equipment. Subscribe here to be notified of his first article. And follow his phenomenal growth on Instagram here.