“I like dark coffee,” says Sam McKay, co-owner of new Malvern espresso bar and roaster Hark. “I kind of get laughed at.”

I hesitate, before quietly confessing that I’ve secretly always felt the same way.

Along with co-owner Theophilus Engela (who also co-owns Chaffey Bros Wine Co), McKay launched Hark in December last year to better serve dark-roast drinkers.

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Light-roast coffee has been having a moment. You’ll see golden, lightly acidic espresso shots being pulled from machines all over the city. It’s trendy, and for a long while, it was a refreshing change from the passé dark brews of the ’80s and ’90s. But light coffee is not to everyone’s taste. McKay thinks we shouldn’t have to pretend to like something just because our barista tells us it’s good.

“I thought to myself, I really like coffee,” he says. “I like the kick it gives you, the vibrancy of it, and the environment – I’m just not digging the flavour.”

Light roast has a “floral, stone-fruit, juicy” flavour profile, while dark roast has notes of “fragrant tobacco, cacao and caramel”, says McKay. The other difference with a lighter roast is the higher acidity, which reacts with the proteins in soy and other non-dairy milks, causing them to “split”, or coagulate. This interaction is the cause of that tofu-like milk at the bottom of your latte. Dark roast coffee is a better partner for non-dairy milks.

“The people who are the ‘academics’ of the coffee world are telling us that good coffee is light, bad coffee is dark,” says McKay. “However, you put it on a street corner, and 90 per cent of people still want dark roast. Dark coffee can be done elegantly, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And as far as good coffee goes, Hark is nailing it, using a technology called fluid bed roasting. Instead of roasting in a drum, where coffee beans can fry if the temperature is too hot, McKay’s technology relies 100 per cent on convection. The beans “levitate”, roasting gently with hot air. The system has diagnostic software to keep full control of heat, water and fan rotation speeds.

Once the beans have roasted, they need to be cooled quickly. McKay proudly shows off the purpose-built industrial vent that cools the beans more quickly and allows for greater control over the temperature. “Consistency is king,” he says. We climb onto the roof of the building to see how the system safely disperses hot air out the top of the vent. As far as coffee roasters go, you can’t get much more enthusiastic than Sam McKay.

The roaster is the centrepiece of Hark, which operates primarily as a wholesaler, with an espresso bar and kitchen on the side. Coffee beans are sourced from Brazil, Peru and Papua New Guinea via Victorian supplier Southland Merchants, which cultivates personal relationships with farmers. McKay intends to travel this year to meet with coffee plantation owners to learn more about the process and to assess the working conditions on-site.

The small kitchen has a limited weekly menu, which includes BLTs, salmon bagels and fruit toast. Cakes and biscuits are supplied by Four Seeds and the Portuguese tarts are by Saudade.
The site – previously a fruit and vegetable shop – was gutted and refreshed with white walls, fresh plants, and custom-made oak benches. McKay’s dog Pilot (an enormous, gorgeous groodle) greets every customer and mingles with those sitting under the grapevines on the sidewalk.

65-67 Duthy Street, Malvern
0478 121 171
Mon to Fri 6.30am–2.30pm
Sat 7am–2pm