Coffee is a famously cliquey business. Waves rise, break and subside as fast as they reach the shore of your coffee cup. But with all of our fascination with the newest cafes, it’s easy to overlook the early innovators.
Genovese has been roasting coffee here in Melbourne for 43 years. After migrating to Australia in 1950, Alfio Genovese set up an Italian food importer, selling roast coffee at the Queen Victoria Market. In the 1960s, Alfio decided to begin roasting coffee himself, trying to reproduce the Italian style he loved.
Genovese’s flagship blend was then, as it is now, the Super Brazil. Ben Toovey, who heads up the company’s growing specialty coffee division, explains that while the blend wasn’t strictly from Brazil, it was the only way to explain what the stuff was at the time. “Coffee wasn’t as popular then as it is now,” says Toovey. “But everyone knew that coffee came from Brazil. It was one of those catchphrases that went with coffee.”
These days, the Genovese family roast about eight tonnes of Super Brazil every week in their Coburg roaster, selling to over 300 cafes, restaurants and bars in Victoria alone. The blend has changed and evolved over the years, and though there’s less Brazilian bean in the coffee, the name has stuck. “What’s unique about Super Brazil is that it’s got a lot of components,” explains Toovey. “Typically, you see blends with three to six different origins blended together, but this blend has 10 to 14. It’s predominantly Central and South American, but there’s representation from pretty much all coffee growing regions.”
If components of the blend itself are constantly in flux, it’s only to ensure that the coffee has a consistent flavour. And that flavour is one of the secrets of the family: every batch is tasted by at least one of three Genoveses. “One of the three tasters has to be here everyday, or we can’t produce Super Brazil,” says Toovey. “They can’t go on holidays at the same time or we all have to go on holiday…”
The blend is unashamedly Italian in style and Toovey explains that it’s designed to particularly appeal to those who drink their coffee with milk. “We try and make it a really versatile coffee so it makes a great espresso – and that’s how it’s tasted – but we’re always thinking about the end result being in milk,” he says. “If you make it a perfect espresso, when you add milk to it, the flavour gets washed out and you don’t really taste the coffee.”
But while the Super Brazil is Genovese’s bread and butter, the company is carefully making its move into the world of specialty coffee. After working for Genovese for six years as a trainer and a sales rep, Toovey has been given a roaster all of his own. A new range of specialty blends are now on offer, as are a selection of single origins for those who’re looking for something different.
But Toovey is adamant that his specialty coffees will be very much in keeping with the Genovese tradition. To that end, Toovey roasts a little longer and a little darker than perhaps some other specialty roasters. “Our customers are probably looking for a happy medium between a traditional coffee and a more contemporary coffee,” he admits. “I’m looking for a balance; something that’s definitely a bit different and a unique coffee experience, which a single origin should be.”
Toovey explains that Genovese decided it was time for the company to branch out, and since 2010 the company has been growing its specialty range. “I think there was a period where it was looking like we had to make a decision to evolve with the coffee industry, or potentially, be left behind with some of the other companies that resisted,” says Toovey. “I’m hoping we can keep riding along with the changes and keep our long, loyal customers happy with what they love.”
While Genovese isn’t naturally associated with the newer wave of specialty coffee (given that they’ve been roasting much longer) Toovey understands that people’s perception of Genovese and its old world Italian associations mightn’t gel with the slick branding concepts of modern coffee. But he hopes that coffee-lovers can consider the product as being open to a wide variety of different expressions and styles.
“It’s just a different approach,” he says. “Even though I love specialty coffee, I think there’s a lot of hype around it. Eventually the public won’t be so black and white about it, and just say that this is a style and this is another style, and they’ve both got their pros and cons.”