Coffee drinking in Melbourne, is quite a scene. How do you fit into that?
We started before coffee was really a scene in Melbourne, which was fine by me. At the time there were a few “thought leaders” feeling their way and working things out; Mark (St Ali), Gavan (Five Senses), Justin (Coffee Supreme) and Adam (Genovese) – they were all great influences and very supportive, it kind of grew from there. I think their help was instrumental in shaping the way we dealt with coffee, ‘comradery over competition’ coming to define the specialty coffee industry.
We didn’t really see ourselves as coffee roasters in the beginning because our café was our home. This changed after we opened our second store and realised where we wanted to take it. From there we had to really learn and grow. We were rather blessed (lucky or crazy?) that we just got into it and the people who came along to join our show were amazing. They still are.
Describe to us, in fetish detail, the qualities of a perfect brew.
Fetish detail? Okay. For me, right now, it’s filter coffee. I have great ‘taste memory’ and play a daily game involving variations of grams and half grams, with a similar water-ratio fetish and a two to three degree temperature margin using unboiled, reverse osmosis filtered water. I’m working on a Chemex recipe for a Burundi coffee we are roasting – I liken it to drinking coffee molasses. It’s all about the 28 grams of coffee to 315 grams of water; washed, bleached paper filter; 94 degree water (can’t have been previously boiled, oxygen is important); brew time approx. 3 minutes (although I have a few ideas about that).
Why coffee? How did it all begin?
It all started with the café in Brunswick. We wanted to roast after using Five Senses and experimenting with coffee. They suggested we get into it. Brunswick East was a bit of a backwater with low rent and lots of space, so we set up a nice little café (no kitchen). What could possibly go wrong? No plans, no ideas, just slingin’ beans.
The world of coffee is so specialised and full of subtleties. How did you learn your craft and do you think you can ever know it all?
To be honest, I don’t think anyone can ever know it all, although I’m sure some claim to. You can definitely over complicate things. We spend a lot of time in our company learning – and learning to be pragmatic with knowledge. Coffee can be very trendy and occasionally gets engulfed in misleading knowledge. There is always a new gadget/trend/science and part of the fun in our industry is learning and understanding and applying the information. The most recent, which is actually extremely interesting, as it answers so many questions, is the move to shade drying green coffee over many weeks. The science is compelling. The slow drying keeps the seed embryo intact and results in a much brighter cup with a much longer shelf life, but the process is expensive and labour intensive. There are always arguments for and against. In the end, like photos, the cup doesn’t lie.
Has having children changed your perspective on any part of your business?
It’s changed every part of the business. It’s a challenge I love. I think it gives me more energy and patience but also makes me wonder about motivation more. It’s like the Kruger Dunning Effect – makes sense, but does it? I think children help us look at ourselves honestly and this flows through to everything I do.
What is the hardest thing and the best thing about being a working parent?
Time. There is never enough time and this is the hardest thing. The best is that I’m never bored or stuck for something to do. The issue is balancing things you have to do, with things you want to do and things you are expected to do. That’s lots of doing.
Were there any times you thought you could give up? Any challenges that seemed too big? What kept you going?
Plenty. I think the main thing for me has been people. I’ve had business partners who weren’t really working towards the same goals. It comes back to being honest with yourself and with them. When it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I think recognising that and working through it, while staying positive through the changes, has been the biggest hurdle. Ultimately, what kept me going and what still keeps me going, is the people I work with today. They are all amazing, kooky, brilliant and kind of crazy. It makes the world go round seeing them achieve and thrive.
In a social sense, what do you think coffee culture has given us?
Good times. Coffee has given us community. I think the big push back to the local café was because of the feeling that big chain fast food/fast clothes/sterile shopping centres were taking over our social spaces. In Brunswick especially, coffee culture gave us a real sense of community and connection and it’s still there today. People thrive on being part of something and knowing their neighbours. Coffee gave everyone a place to connect.
What about your coffee beans? Is sustainable farming and/or sourcing integrated into your business model?
Yes. By definition ‘specialty coffee’ can only be sustainable. We only buy specialty grade, we only buy ethically sourced and we develop relationships and long term partnerships through this, but we pay the price. It costs us more for staff, time and overheads and our raw product comes in 4 to 5 times the price of commodity coffee. This is why fast food chains can do coffee at low, low prices. It’s not real. Commodity coffee is as sustainable as sweat-shop clothing – it’s all related. There is a decision made to make money on volume, or to stop and consider the supply chain and the people in it.
Coffee is heading towards crisis in terms of pricing, as it’s not sustainable to continue to expect a $4 cup and still have growers and pickers get a fair deal. Just as we have chosen to build our brand with respect for the supply chain, the end consumer must also acknowledge the price of ethics in the coffee business. The world is the way it is because of the choices we all make.
How do you hope people will remember Padre coffee?
Hopefully a happy, beautiful place with delicious coffee and a few cool cats around with great stories.