Winning medals and awards can help towards assuring customers you have what it takes to deliver a quality product but it’s not the whole story.
We roast coffee 5 or 6 days a week (including public holidays) and deliver our premium grade coffees to every part of Australia – sending over 50,000 individual consignments per year – so we have deep experience on how to manage logistics for speed and efficiency.
There is no escaping the reality of the Australian coffee industry having exploded with roasting suppliers – in fact it has become over-crowded with 2,000 brands and highly confusing for customers trying to select a supplier or partner.
Whether it’s a quality coffee to enjoy at home, great beans for the workplace or office, or you have a cafe that needs a cutting-edge coffee solution to stand out from the competition, we are likely to have a coffee bean solution for you.
In early 2000, there were just around 60+ key coffee suppliers (brands). In 2007 the number had grown to almost 300. In just a few short years to early 2016 and the number of brands exceeds 1,200 and by 2020 it’s up to 2,000.
It’s hard to imagine an industry supporting so many players – yet still continuing to grow.
This intense competition has resulted in standards for coffee in Australia improving at such a rapid rate that in 2015 coffee experts around the world deemed Australia as the global leader in the preparation of quality, consistent espresso coffee beans. In other words, a great cup is easily available in Australia.
To many people, the art of roasting coffee appears rather simplistic – taking a bunch of green beans, drop into an oven for 15 minutes until it is the desired shade of brown and then pack into bags – just like baking a loaf of bread or cooking a steak on the BBQ.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple – there is so much more involved that the famous Dr Illy wrote a 300+ page thesis on roasting coffee.
IT STARTS WITH SELECTING THE BEST INGREDIENTS
Every year there are more than 400 different green beans imported by Australian raw coffee brokers – all with different cup character, price and available quantity. This presents the first challenge to the coffee roaster – green bean selection.
Generally, inexperienced coffee roasters use a gut instinct and basic criteria of SCAA scoring – if it’s expensive and scores more than 80 points, it should be good enough.
The reality is far different – an expensive bean with a high cup score doe not guarantee those extremely important people paying for the end beverage – will like it. This has been proven time and again.
Coffee is a 6-monthly crop for many origins. Volumes of specialty coffee can be as small as a few 60kg bags up to hundreds of tons.
WHY THE MAJORITY OF CAFE SUPPLIERS GET IT WRONG
Most coffee bean roasters cannot move past the simple and unscientific criteria of using price as their primary control of bean selection method.
Coffee roasting is a manufacturing business. It’s not the romantic, arty, experience whereby you can faff about like they appear in selfies and videos.
The reality is that like all types of manufacturing, coffee roasting operates on a fundamental basis of input costs and efficiencies.
As a side-note, we see many coffee companies at odds with their own marketing messages to their customers. How do we know this…….well, the same trucks that deliver raw coffee to us also have pallets destined for these other companies on-board – so we get to see what they are ordering.
The majority of cafe suppliers are compelled to act and behave as bargain hunters. It’s not their fault, it’s a survival thing as they are forced to operate within extremely tight budgets.
You see, many cafe suppliers have foolishly given the majority of their business operational margin away to customers in promotional incentives – cafe equipment, signage, incentives, etc.
This happens before they even supply the first kilo bag of coffee, many cafe suppliers are up to $20,000 out of pocket.
It’s a terrible cycle to be caught in……paying out so much money upfront to win business and loyalty when in reality that loyalty is often tested or abruptly ended when the cafe is sold or changes hands before the upfront investments are returned.
To survive, many cafe suppliers rely upon their written contract that locks in customers for agreed periods of time – then they have the freedom to supply these locked-in customers with budget bin offerings.
So, you have the cafe owner desperately hoping their beverage is better than the place 4 doors up, or across the road, or any of the other 38 outlets selling coffee within a 500m radius……….but little does the cafe owner realize their coffee supplier has gone to the butcher and bought the dog meat because that’s all they can afford after handing out the upfront incentives that formed the substance of the supply contract.
Harsh – but unfortunately very true and disturbingly pervasive throughout the cafe supplier segment.
WE DO IT OUR WAY
Around 50% of our green beans are purchased from the major Australian brokers. The remainder is spread between Direct Trade and the small Tier 2/3 brokers when they have something unique and interesting to offer.
The reason we spread across many brokers is that it reduces (and to a large extent even eliminates) risks of defective product quality and gives us a level of recourse on forward arrivals in the event of unexpected changes in quality.
Our green bean selection process is stringent – we allocate around 12- 16hrs a week to managing our green bean sourcing – encompassing reviews and short-listing upcoming/pending arrivals, cupping pre-shipment samples with the brokers under controlled lab testing conditions and of course quite a bit of speculative purchasing of 60kg lots to trial roast, cup and evaluate.
Every month we purchase many new coffees for evaluation. Whilst it may sound like a simple statement, it’s quite a risk actually.
Buying new coffee is an important activity that many Australian coffee companies ignore or refuse to perform – either because they are locked into a limited range, or they are highly conservative (not wanting to surprise or alienate customers) or they are risk averse and not knowing what to do with these different coffees, or they are operating on limited cash flow.
We believe it is a vital “best-practice” to determine how coffees perform using real-world experimentation rather than spending countless hours in a lab cupping coffee. After all, the way coffee is cupped in a lab is distinctly different to how it may perform in a cafe espresso machine.
It’s this constant search for the ideal bean that drives us towards excellence – we road-test more coffees than just about any other company – further developing our knowledge and creating a clear differentiation over our competitors.
WHO IS ROASTING YOUR COFFEE ?
If you are a specialty cafe or private label client and serious about quality, have you ever asked yourself the following question…..who is roasting my coffee ?
- Is it the smartly-dressed, smooth-talking sales person sitting in front of you offering incentives…….is he roasting your coffee or just telling you an exaggerated story about how famous his roaster is ?
- Is it the larger-than-life media-hungry coffee company owner who promises the world and impresses you with amazing knowledge – is he actually roasting your coffee or desperately seeking his next slice of publicity ?
- Does your existing coffee roaster retain the talent of roasting or do they promote the delivery driver into a production role so they can “look after the roasting”.
- Is the person roasting your coffee employed with the correct incentives to make a perfect product ?
Roasting great coffee is all about experience – it’s not freaky talent, not classroom or internet theory, not a stroke of luck and it’s certainly not some long-held whispered secret that is passed down through generations.
Generally speaking, the average level of roasting experience for the person producing the coffee at Australian coffee companies is literally 18 months. Wow……that’s incredible.
For us, it’s 15+ years of roasting experience……7 roasting platforms……..that’s a big difference !
Just like a golfer, you can’t pick up the clubs and win a title without the significant investment of literally millions of hours of practice. Sure, there can be some natural elements that help accelerate the development of skill, but please make no mistake ……..there is no substitute to countless hours chained to the roaster to fully understand the skill of roasting – there is no short-cut or cheat-sheet or google “how-to”.
Roasting is hot, dirty, smelly, smoky, dusty, loud, back-breaking work. Many people who think it’s a romantic notion to roast coffee soon face the grim reality……it’s tough stuff.
Experience is one thing – delivering a consistently high quality product is another.
Many large coffee companies do not retain their roasting staff for very long – skills and experience are constantly walking out the door, along with their product quality and consistency.
There is a reason that more than 1,000 brands of coffee are being sold in Australia now – many of these are from disgruntled roasters thinking they can do it better.
Who do you trust to roast your coffee ?