Why the focus on African based coffees ?
Author: Head Roaster Date Posted:21 July 2016
I have been around coffee for literally 40 years - a relatively short time in the overall history of coffee, but a long time in the context of coffee in Australia as we know it today.
My earliest memories of coffee were from back in the 1980's when my mother opened up one of the first espresso coffee lounges in Newcastle. Back then, the coffee served in most eating establishments was either instant or drip-filter brewed percolator - espresso was a rare novelty.
This big espresso machine with a wild eagle on top was taller, wider and scarier than you could possibly imagine as a young boy. It made all sorts of loud noises from the big brass and copper boiler and would often injure someone with a minor burn from the steam or a splash of scalding hot water. Dad was always swearing at this enormous machine - just as well he was handy with tools to fix it's leaking and temperamental existence - barely a week passed without incident.
In those early days, there was no such concept as specialty grade coffees or single origin. Most of the coffee was supplied from just 1 or 2 large Sydney roasters who would pre-grind the coffee and thise local agent would deliver in wax lined tin-tie bags to Mum's cafe.
It wasn't until I was in my early 30's that I developed a serious coffee quality addiction - driven entirely on the culture of holding business meetings in cafes and ordering 1 or many coffees to consume over relaxing conversation or exciting discussion - it was in those capital cities along the east coast of Australia that the birth of what we know now as cafe culture had began.
My appreciation of all things coffee was not so much the fact I was drinking a few coffees per day, it was more about the journey of discovering something that was better than the last time, or to be honest, the hunt for the absolute best coffee in whatever was my city at the time.
This is the story of how I became a serious coffee obsessed maniac, a person with zero tolerance for mediocre coffees and a someone that tragically spent more time thinking about coffee than they did about what to eat, what to do, who to catch up with or where to go. Coffee seemed to consume my entire day.....it was more important it seemed than other people or other things.
The early movement of specialty coffee had some pretty fundamental beginnings in Australia - although that statement would be hotly debated by New Zealanders, Americans (actually the Yanks don't deserve to even contest), Scandavians and just about any other coffee loving culture - even the Italians - but I have another story about them.
In Melbourne around the mid 2000's, we saw the early signs and emergence of single origin estate coffees - these were brave cafes and roasters willing to take some big risks and serve up to their customers something a little different. Lighter roasted coffees started to feature with descriptors, flavors and attributes in contrast to the darker roasted commodity grade coffees used for milk-based espresso that funnily enough mostly needed some sugar.
Those at the bleeding edge of specialty coffee had the same all-consuming passion - cleaner, sweeter, smoother, fruitier.
Around 2006, we developed a concept for preparing high quality, single origin, estate coffees that would be fresh roasted in small batch roasting systems. The key to this concept was the freshness and we wanted to offer these to everyone around Australia with easy access to innovative types and styles of coffees that had been previously unavailable. There is no doubt we had big ideas and our hearts were pounding.
In 2007, we started shipping single origin and quality blends to customer online. It was hard work back then as systems and logistics were literally non-existent. Customers we also accustomed to buying their coffee in supermarkets or retail outlets and the revelation of using fresh roasted, premium coffees had not taken hold in the market.
They were rather tough times - pushing hard every day to convince and prove our quality was comparable with the well-known brands. Tyring our best to show that fresh roasted coffees were the fundamental key to greater enjoyment of coffee and that supermarket coffee was a no contest.
Truth was, we were and still are using much higher qualities in our raw coffees compared to the large household brands. It was unbelievably difficult to sell online at a price that was profitable - online was known in those days as being the destination for distressed inventory, e.g. auction sites, etc. it was not the place to buy premium, gourmet products - but times have changed.
In 2007, there were around 300 coffee brands available in Australia - with some of those being imported - say 10 to 15%.
Fast forward to 2016 and in just a few short years our domestic coffee industry has exploded to more than 1100 brands from about 650 domestic coffee roasting companies. Whilst most of this capacity is from new entrants known as micro roasters over the last few years, the trend is still showing no signs of slowing or declining. The coffee market in Australia is confusing to day the least - there is no structure, regulation or clear and verifiable set of standards that separate the best from the worst.
In reality, many of these new micro roasters tend to snatch a lot of attention but they really don't have the skills or experience required to deliver a consistently great product. Australian consumers are more seduced by new brands and bombarded by hyped up marketing.
Without doubt, you don't need to be a genius to see that the local Australian coffee market can not easily support such growth in the long term. Whilst it makes for great times if you are a cafe owner or coffee drinker with a never ending range to choose from, playing roaster off roaster......on the supply side (e.g. roasting coffee) the conditions and structure of the Australian coffee market, particularly the quality segment are now indeed over saturated and unsustainably too-competitive.
It's been quoted a few times recently - "coffee has become the modern day equivalent to the gold rush". As with all rushes, the good money was made by the early and the large players benefiting from lock-in or contract positions.
The most obvious upside from this ultra competitive environment is the stimulant for quantum leaps in quality improvement - you must either get better at what you do or fail. This has led to amazing changes to the overall standards of coffee in Australia and it's no surprise that Australia leads the world in roasted coffee quality (yet another debatable statement).
Due to the increased competition, over the last 3-4 years many coffee companies have been desperately pushing the boundaries and extending their comfort zones to produce cleaner, sweeter and more defined and unique products.
In some respects, all this effort to achieve a consistently smooth and creamy coffee has meant that some of the complexity, the wild and interesting character, the excitement factor is being lost through sanitisation- by playing it too safe.
Today, most of the quality fresh roasted coffee in Australia is more than acceptable, if not a little boring - excluding supermarkets and some retail outlets where the product may be low grade or stale.
In fact, in the cup the end result these days is not so much a reflection of the ingredients (roasted coffee beans) but more about the brewing and extraction (technique). Instead of blaming the beans, we blame the barista.
Just Fresh Roasted is a move to stand out from the crowd by specializing on coffees with undeniable character.
We think that coffee drinkers in Australia deserve something more than just smooth and creamy.............they want a rich, memorable experience - something with intensity delivering amazing bursts of flavor, a hint of fruit, a spicy twist and a complex finish.
This brand is focused on taking up that challenge with African coffees that punch above their weight - which by the way, are our preferred coffee beans to brew on espresso machines.
We are creating a new coffee trend in Australia - just watch how the others will start to follow.