Along with deconstructed black clothing, graffiti covered laneways and independent art spaces, if there’s one thing Melburnians can get behind, it’s a cup of coffee. It may be a cliché, but the sheer number of cafes per capita serving up single origin, blended or cold drip caffeinated beverages suggests Melbourne’s thirst for coffee to be a defining phenomenon.
It’s this enthusiasm for coffee culture that has seen Five Senses – a family owned roasting company that originated in Western Australia – expand at such a prolific rate in Melbourne, where it now operates a second roasting site in Cheltenham and is stocked everywhere from ritzy Vue De Monde to popular Richmond fixture Pillar of Salt.
Bahen & Co. is another West Australian family run business obsessed with creating delicacies crafted from premium quality beans, sourced via direct relationships with growers – only this time they’re cocoa beans, not coffee.
With a decade of experience in wine making, Josh Bahen was already fairly in tune with the production processes behind food and wine, but until tasting a single origin chocolate bar, like most people, he had never really considered what goes into the supermarket chocolate readily available on shelves. After experiencing love at first bite, Bahen embarked on a mission to bring chocolate produced with pre-industrial techniques and made from just two core ingredients (cocoa beans and a little bit of cane sugar) to the Australian market.
“The removal of fats, emulsifiers and preservatives from chocolate completely alters its taste,” says Bahen. “There has recently been a move away from masking low-quality chocolate with overwhelming flavours, like vanilla. This is the equivalent of using syrup to flavour coffee, which should be illegal!” he jibes, half-jokingly.
Podhaczky has seen this paring back mirrored in the coffee industry, where a strong espresso is increasingly popular and serious drinkers tend to frown upon the use of milk and sugar.
One only needs to survey the surrounds of the Cheltenham roastery, where mysterious laboratory-style equipment – complete with beakers and rows of ominous syringes – lines the tables, to understand just how seriously they take their coffee here.
“At Five Senses the beans go through a rigorous certification process, involving adherence to world standards,” says Podhaczky. “Samples are cross-tested on fragrance, aroma, flavour, aftertaste, acidity and body using a calibrated system, before they make the cut.
“It’s amazing once you sample a fair bit how refined your palate can become. I believe you can learn to articulate what you are experiencing and this comes through learning and knowing what you taste.”
Where Bahen uses a similar process to assess his cocoa beans, because of the chocolate industry’s comparative youth, the same certifications do not yet exist. “The chocolate industry is a long way behind coffee with systems, whereas the wine industry is very similar to coffee. It’s great that we can look at the wine and coffee industries for guidance,” says Bahen.
A sense of community is another thing Bahen thinks chocolatiers could learn from their coffee roasting counterparts. “There are basically three companies that make all the world’s chocolate – there are no small guys! There are also a lot of closed doors. Nine times out of 10, when you call up a chocolate factory and ask to work with them, they’re going to say no. That’s really different to coffee; where there’s a real sense of camaraderie, especially in Melbourne.”
Podhaczky reinforces the notion, reeling off a list of his favourite roasters in Melbourne: “St. ALi, Seven Seeds, Market Lane, Proud Mary, Small Batch, Monk Bodhi Dharma and us, of course!” he laughs. “With cafés, we just like going wherever there is good coffee, like Gardiner and Field or Two Birds One Stone, who have also just opened Top Paddock.”
Where the coffee industry may be more advanced than the chocolate industry in many ways, this doesn’t make its processes more complex.
“Chocolate refining involves seven steps and is far more complicated than coffee,” remarks Bahen, a comment that results in a double take from Podhaczky and his team of roasters.
Whilst not everything can be agreed upon, Bahen is suitably impressed by the addition of a table tennis table to the Five Senses space. It’s the perfect way to fill in idle time as the beans roast, although things can’t get too intense, as even a minute too long in the roaster can completely throw off the flavour of the batch. A round of ping-pong might just be the way to settle any impending rivalry between the two roasters, who jovially debate the superiority of their parallel crafts.
Rather than decide between chocolate and coffee, why not meet halfway and make it a macchiato? Or even better, have both? With whispers of a Bahen drinking chocolate to be distributed by Five Senses, there should never be a reason to choose between two of life’s finest indulgences.