Every Saturday morning, the crisp air in Westgarth is infused with a blend of aromatic wood and smoky coffee; an indicator of what’s cooking up on High Street.
At the back of Sicilian gelateria Il Melograno, there's a big shiny machine straight out of Wonka’s factory. Plump hessian sacks sag nearby. Once a week, three friends, Adriano Pilati, Marcello D’Intini, and Phil Haddad, also known under their roasting company name, Ricci Method, come together to work.
Ricci Method is the first wood-fired coffee-roasting lab in Melbourne, and one of only a handful in Australia. Instead of looking to innovate, this roasting process is how coffee beans would have originally been roasted: over an open fire. This method of wood-fired roasting is the way Mediterranean Europeans would’ve done it back in the day. Instead of roasting the green coffee beans in wood-fired ovens, today’s roasting process occurs in electronically calibrated steel drums. You still get that traditional, smoky wood flavour, but it’s more refined. “It’s not a new concept," says Pilati. "It’s just a concept that hasn’t been used for a long time."
Pulling off the perfectly-roasted bean takes a lot more than just robotics – there’s no flicking a switch and leaving the room. Unlike many commercial coffee-roasting machines, the wood-fired process relies heavily on sensory perceptions. In this coffee lab, the roasters must listen for cracks in the beans to indicate when to move on to the next step. To ensure the beans are roasted evenly and at the correct temperature, the roasters must calibrate the amount of wood-fired heat that goes into the chamber, and constantly check to see when the bean has reached the perfect shade. Only when the shade matches perfectly to their sample bean does the cooling process take place.
The wood chamber burns through a blend of red, yellow, and sugar gum woods, which slowly infuse flavour into the beans. “It helps develop the flavours at a slower rate which gives it a sweeter result at the end,” says Pilati.
There are two blends on offer, a Buongiorno “morning” blend with more caffeine punch and a more intense flavour to cut through the milk, and a lighter, fruitier Buonasera “evening” blend which we recommend drinking black as an espresso.
The weekend antics have added a layer of theatrics to the cafe – customers at Il Melograno can watch the bean-roasting process through the glass wall. The gelataria has even incorporated the artisan coffee into its staple gelato range with a Ricci Method coffee gelato. Grab yourself a seat near the action and an iced coffee (black Buonasera blend coffee with a scoop of Ricci Method coffee gelato).
Fairly exclusive in its early stages, Ricci Method is, so far, only available at Il Melograno and Haddad’s South Melbourne cafe, Humbaba, and can be bought in store.