Why the focus on African based coffees ?
Date Posted:20 July 2016
I have been around coffee for 35 years which sort of feels like a lifettime, but it's a relatively short time in the overall history of coffee. In the context of what we know as specialty coffee in Australia it is actually quite a long time.
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, NSW.
Back then, coffee served in most eating establishments was either instant or drip-filter brewed percolator - espresso was a rare novelty.
In the early 1980's, a big espresso machine with a wild eagle on top was taller, wider and scarier than you could possibly imagine as a teenager.
It made all sorts of loud noises from the big brass and copper boilers 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 espresso machine - just as well he was handy with tools to fix it's leaking and temperamental existence - barely a week passed without incident as it was supplied out of Sydney and at the time espresso in Newcastle was a rarity.
In those days, there was no such concept as specialty grade coffees or single origin or variable roast profiles.
Most of the coffee was supplied from just a few large Sydney roasters who would pre-grind the coffee in bulk and their local Newcastle agent would deliver the ground coffee in wax lined tin-tie bags to Mum's cafe.
It was most likely stale, but the aroma from these freshly delivered bags of ground coffee packs was amazing.
Back in those days, I enjoyed coffee because it helped my performance goals in bodybuilding, weight training and triathlon training. I didn't even realize at the time that caffeine was a performance enhancing drug but my body know there was nothing better than a double espresso before hitting the gym.
In those days, I can't honestly say that coffee was enjoyable. Not in the way that many of my migrant friends enjoyed coffees with their families over a traditional stovetop brew.
It wasn't until my early 30's that I developed a serious addiction or infactuation with quality coffee. It was driven entirely on the culture of holding business meetings in cafes and ordering 1 or many coffees to consume over relaxing conversation or interesting discussion.
Ironically, it was back in those heady days of the 1990's and 2000's in capital cities along the east coast of Australia the birth of what we know now as the classic cafe culture really began to grow legs.
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 cup, or to be honest, the hunt for the absolute best coffee in whatever city or street I found myself at the time.
This is the story of 2001 and 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 about what to eat or what to do or 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 any of the other normal things people did in those times.
Australia leads the Global Specialty Coffee Movement
The early days 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 this point if we are honest), 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 of the emergence in single origin estate coffees.
These were the brave cafes and roasters willing to take big risks and serve up to customers something a little different to the chocolate sprinkles on the foamy cappuccino.
Historically, Melbourne has been entrenched in the Italian espresso style of darker roasted coffees.
All of a sudden, lighter roasted coffees started to feature with descriptors of flavors and attributes.
Some of these early incarnations of lighter roasted coffees were epic failures. Sour, lemony, woody, grassy......yuk.
These were the times when espresso mostly needed some sugar added.
Sometimes, the specialty grade focus worked and other times it didn't. Roasters were still experimenting with profiles and many did not have the right tools to view their roast cycles adequately. This meant that consistency was all over the place and I put that down to inexperienced baristas and perhaps the lack of involvement from the roaster.
Those at the bleeding edge of specialty coffee had the same all-consuming passion - cleaner, sweeter, smoother, fruitier. It was a strong march towards purity.
Around 2006, we developed a concept for preparing high quality, single origin, estate coffees that would be fresh roasted in small batch roasting systems.
It was still early days for Specialty Coffee but we had seen and tasted enough to convince us to invest and focus solely upon this segment.
At the time it was a brave and ballsy move because it meant that we had such a small segment to focus upon.
The key to this concept was the freshness and we wanted to offer these quality coffees to everyone around Australia with easy access to new types and styles of coffees that had been previously unavailable.
Looking back 10 years now, there is no doubt we had big dreams, lofty ideas and our hearts were pounding.
By 2007, we started shipping single origin and quality blends to customers online. It was bloody hard work back then as systems and logistics were literally non-existent for online retailers.
Customers we also accustomed to buying their coffee in supermarkets or retail outlets and the revelation of using fresh roasted, premium coffees had not yet taken any hold in the market.
They were really quite tough times for us - pushing hard every day to convince and prove our quality was comparable and far superior to the well-known brands when we knew deep down it was only a matter of time before scale would take hold. The only thing holding us back was the brand reputation to leverage and the clunky online solutions.
Our days were spent exhaustively tyring our best to demonstrate that our fresh roasted coffees were the fundamental key to greater enjoyment of coffee compared to stale supermarket coffee being the inferior substitute.
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. We were basically giving it away - not taking any profit, working for nothing and believing in the dream that we were gaining something by building our customer base.
Online shopping was known in those days as being the destination for distressed inventory or 2nd hand items, e.g. think eBay, Auction sites, 2nd hand or used items, etc. It was certanily 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% imported mainly from Europe.
Fast forward to 2017 and in just a few short years our domestic coffee industry has exploded to more than 1100 brands from about 750 domestic coffee roasting companies.
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.
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 a specialty of African, Central and South American coffees that punch well above their weight.
We are creating a new coffee trend in Australia - just watch how the others will start to follow.