The origins of coffee may be the stuff of legend, but today it is very much a part of our everyday reality, with 75% of adult Australians drinking coffee and the industry generating around $10 billion a year in revenue.
While global brands like Lavazza and Vittoria may dominate the market, sitting happily on the fringes operate the micro-roasters, small companies or individuals with a passion for the art of creating distinctive, high-quality, small-batch coffee. Very much like the rise of the micro-brewery and the craft beer revolution, micro-roasters are gaining an ever-increasing market share.
Edmund Schaerf and Elna Schaerf-Trauner operate the Coffee Basics roastery behind their industrial-chic Viennese coffee house, Das Kaffeehaus, in Castlemaine. Edmund sees the micro-roaster as a purveyor of quality: “In the historical context, all bakers, brewers and coffee roasters were originally ‘micro’. The world wars and the Great Depression changed the landscape, certainly in the northern hemisphere and North America. The post-war years saw the ascendancy and growth of large companies to supply the needs of a growing consumer market. For many years big was better, and people trusted large brands, many of which went global. By the late 20th century, however, an educated and new generation of well-heeled consumers emerged looking for quality, rather than sheer quantity, in what they held valuable, be it what they chose to wear, drink or eat. Thus arose the fertile ground for all things ‘micro’ once again.”
Young entrepreneur Josh Rodgers found his passion for coffee at the Moto Bean Roasters in Malmsbury. He is now a barista at the Social Foundry in Kyneton and in his spare time roasts, packs and ships orders for his own brand, Stay Dialed Coffee. As Josh explains, the quality of a micro-roaster’s coffee is attained through intimate product knowledge: “The art of roasting is about understanding how the bean reacts to the hot air flowing around it. You need to know where your beans are grown, by whom, how they have been dried, stored, packaged; everything plays a role in a great cup. Being the roaster is bringing an understanding to all these elements.”
Interestingly, while coffee generates spectacular revenues, the overheads of running a successful café or restaurant can quickly erode these returns. Simon Gracie and his partner run Martin Street Coffee Roasters in Blackwood, just south of Trentham. They have helped develop a live roasting technology that could see more businesses adopt small batch production, roasting in real-time on their premises, and in doing so, helping them retain their returns. Simon explains: “Industry-wide margins are very low; we’re talking single digits. Modern operating costs are very high. There’s often very little left over for innovation, or to pay owners anything close to minimum wage. This is especially true for regional operators. Our Live Roast [technology] enhances a venues’ customer experience. The beans are suspended during roasting within a glass tube. The sight, sound and aromatic combination will have any coffee drinker drooling.”
The modern evolution of coffee is considered to have gone through three waves: the first wave, the mass commodification of coffee in the early-mid 20th century, is exemplified by the instant coffee revolution; the second wave is exemplified by espresso coffee served at outlets like Starbucks and the current third wave, the production of small-batch coffee produced by micro-roasters, who place emphasis on superior quality, single-origin sources, sustainability, and subtle flavours. The Daylesford Macedon Ranges are home to some of the best small-batch coffee producers in the country, and with most also operating cafés, having wide product distribution and selling online, it is now easier than ever to experience the superior artisanal coffee our celebrated regional roasters have on offer.
Das Kaffeehaus, Castlemaine coffeebasics.com
Stay Dialed Coffee, Newstead staydialedcoffee.com
Martin Street Coffee Roasters, Blackwood martinstreetcoffee.com
Moto Bean Roasters, Malmsbury motobeanroasters.com