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Four generations strong: How Mary Borg keeps a family coffee legacy alive
Mary Borg, the sole owner of coffee shop and coffee importer C&M Borg in Ħamrun, provides a glimpse of the family business which was first set up way back in 1886.

Anthea Cachia

C&M Borg in Ħamrun / Facebook

C&M Borg in Ħamrun / Facebook

If you happen to be walking along St Joseph High Street in Ħamrun while running errands, then there is a chance that you may be greeted by the fragrant aroma of freshly-ground coffee emanating from C&M Borg’s.

Ħamrun residents who were born and still live there often reminisce about their childhoods in the locality. Over the years, many have noted that the facades and shops of Ħamrun high street have changed. Only a few “old” shops are still standing, and C&M Borg happens to be one of them.

We sat down for a cup of coffee with Mary Borg, the sole owner of the coffee shop, as she discusses all the changes that the company has seen, the risks taken and what’s it like running a family business.

Mary explains that the business was established in 1886 at a factory in Marsa. Eventually, the coffee factory was inherited by her grandfather. 

Nicholas Borg

Nicholas Borg

“It was then that the firm Nicholas Borg was established. My grandfather had four sons, and one of them was my father. They took over the business, at the time through the factory in Holy Trinity Street Marsa, and continued the family legacy,” she explained.

She added that as the time went by, the next generation took over. The shop in Ħamrun was her father’s private property but began operating as a shop in the late 1950s. Years later, in 1990, the company ceased operations under the firm’s original name and the family business was split.

“It was then that my brother and I formed C&M Borg, which operated until 2022, when he retired. I bought his shares and have been the Director since,” she explains.

Apart from the factory in Imrieħel, the shop in Ħamrun is still operating in full swing. The business sells a variety of products including spices and coffee machines, but the stars of the show remain the coffee beans sourced from different countries.

Mary tells us that while she enjoys importing her products, it comes with risks.

“Importation can be tricky for your business, especially because you are ordering something that you are not physically seeing,” she says.

At the same time, she recognises that not every aspect is negative, especially when considering her time in the business. She remarks that technology has made it easier for the company to import its goods, especially when communicating with its suppliers.

“I still keep my eyes open when it comes to payment because you still run the risk of being scammed, but overall, it has made our operations much easier,” she reiterated.

Mary Borg

Mary Borg

‘We cannot compete with the large companies’

By now, Malta has seen many changes in food and coffee outlets and while in the past the majority of cafés were in popular spots like Valletta, Sliema, and Ħamrun, today cafés are more widespread. This was further amplified when popular coffee franchises, such as Costa and Starbucks, came to Malta.

With multiple coffee shops found in every corner, are people still taking time to make coffee at home?

Mary noted that despite changes in people’s daily life, the luxury of making coffee at home is still appreciated.

“There are many people out there who still have coffee at home. Some even buy whole coffee beans and grind them themselves. People like to make coffee at home after a meal. And that is an advantage for us,” she notes.

The biggest shock for the coffee shop came with the introduction of new machines on the market. Previously, coffee could be made with the use of a moka pot, a special kettle, or later an espresso machine. Next came coffee pods - a faster alternative for users.

“Globally there was a lot of change. For us coffee pods and capsules presented a new challenge. To compete with such a demand was very difficult when you are a small business like us in Malta. Whilst we are still innovative, the reality is that we cannot compete with giant multi-national businesses,” she stated.

In spite of this, she says that there are many clients that still choose fresh coffee, and some even buy coffee before traveling back to their country.

Mary also explained that clients provide suggestions and ask about new products. “I introduced organic coffee and peaberry recently to keep up with the new demands. Clients teach you a lot about what you need to do as a business,” she adds. Moreover, she also states that over the years demand has changed because of the introduction of different cultures and subsequent preferences.

People who appreciate the rich taste of coffee often experiment with it. Coffee acidity varies depending on the bean and its origins, but others add natural flavours to complement the bitterness with more earthy components.

Some add cinnamon, others add cloves, but many locals choose to incorporate chicory (iċ-ċikwejra). The chicory root is a plant that resembles carrots in shape and is cultivated extensively in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, North America, and France, the country from which C&M Borg imports its products from.

To this day, many people are still attracted to chicory and are experimenting with different flavours for coffee.

‘I’ve never worked a day in my life, because to me this is my life and not work’

Mary tells us that having the right person present at the shop is a relief because it ensures that even if her clients do not know much about coffee, her staff can give them the help and assistance they require.

She mentions that she is lucky that she is surrounded by her workers, who she refers to as her children, that have been with her for many years. One employee has been with the company for 30 years and her niece has been by her side for the past 12 years.

For Mary life and work have become so intertwined that the coffee business has become a fundamental part of who she is. She even worked at the old factory with her grandparents and her father’s siblings, and she has been living close to the shop in Ħamrun for a long time.

“When your life is so close to your business, it becomes part of you. I was always surrounded by the business, so I always loved what I did. That is what I tell my employees: I’ve never worked a day in my life because this is my life and not my work,” Mary says.

Even now, Mary says that she has no other commitments and since she lives close by, sometimes she keeps on working till 11pm, but she doesn’t mind.

Glancing at the past and looking ahead: The challenges and the future

Asked about the most challenging times throughout all these years of business, Mary recalls that settling in after the company split was a bit difficult. Nonetheless, she highlights that despite the fact that the family business changed, and that they no longer work together, they still maintain respect for one another.

Additionally, having to settle again through another change after taking the reins was also no easy feat.

On top of it all, an issue that has impacted the business has been the increase in prices both for the coffee beans and freight.

However, this didn’t dishearten Mary. In fact she makes it clear that she wants to continue working.

She finally says that even though she hopes to see the family business continue after she passes the torch, she doesn’t want to force anyone: “We do our best now and then God will do the rest.”

19th April 2024


Anthea Cachia
Written by
Anthea Cachia
Anthea has a passion for writing, meeting new people and telling stories. With an insatiable curiosity Anthea loves roaming localities in search of long-established small businesses. When not scribbling away on a notebook or tapping on her computer, you can find her experimenting in the kitchen or traveling.

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