During the taxi ride to the interview with Dose Espresso owner and award-winning barista Sam Gabrielian, the driver says, a little exasperatedly, that he doesn’t get all the fuss about coffee. “Isn’t it just coffee, wherever you go?” he queries. “People talk about it like it’s an art form!”
For some, the humble bean indeed is. Coffee junkies like Gabrielian are experts, not only in preparing the ultimate cup, but in the tricky art of roasting it. The industry is competitive, and innovation and quality production are essential to staying in the game. Be it for point of difference or greater control over their product, an increasing number of cafes are choosing to roast their beans in-house. We spoke to three that are doing it right.
199 Victoria Road, Marrickville
“We do our roasting in the shop, so people can see it,” explains Scott Robertson, a Scottish-born chef and now café co-owner. “It’s a bit of theatre. [Customers] can go home and watch chefs prepare meals every night on TV, but they may not have ever seen someone roast coffee.”
The menu at Double Roasters is deceivingly simple. Almost everything is made on-site, except the bread, which is sourced from Sonoma. This allows coffee to remain the hero: the warehouse cafe roasts around 500 kilograms every week and acts as a supplier to more than 15 other venues. In store, there are four blends available (Robertson seems proudest of the ‘Flight Path’ house blend). A three-bean combination, it currently samples from India, Nicaragua and Brazil. Big and full-bodied, the focus is on smooth breakfast flavours such as hazelnuts, caramels and chocolate. “A lot of the other roasters in Sydney have made a name for themselves on being fruit-driven, but I don’t see the point in replicating someone else,” says Robertson. “We make this because we like it.”
Forging strong relationships with coffee brokers (the ‘middle man’ negotiating between producers and distributors) has been essential to Double Roasters’ success. As Robertson explains, details as specific as which family runs the coffee plantation and how the workers are treated can be obtained – his brokers know everything about their market. Robertson’s team works by instinct: when new batches of green beans arrive, they’re roasted at a medium heat, sampled and then subsequently adjusted. “It’s very much like cooking; that’s how I always explain it to people. You kind of know when you get it right.”
White Horse Coffee
2/137 Flora Street, Sutherland
Co-owner of White Horse espresso bar and a former Grand Barista Champion, Dominic ‘Domtron’ Majdandzic takes a refreshing approach to coffee. He thinks beyond hotspots and trends, aiming only to serve great coffee where there’s a need. In the Sutherland Shire, Cronulla has firmly entrenched its place as the area’s coffee Mecca – exactly the reason that Domtron and his business partner decided to set up shop a little further afield.
“It was really hard for us in the first six months because nobody came!” Majdandzic admits. “It did give us a lot of time to perfect our processes though.” All that perfecting has paid off and most mornings see a snake of customers trailing down the street from White Horse. The cafe’s house blend draws on Majdandzic’s love of sweet, rich Ethiopian coffees, combined with beans from Papua New Guinea and Sumatra to add some buttery depth.
“Everyone says too much coffee is bad for you, but it tastes so good,” he urges. “I could be done with six cups in the first 30 minutes [of work] and be on to my 25th cup by the end of the day!” While Majdandzic has recently cut down, he believes it’s essential to constantly test products and encourages his highly trained staff to do the same, from the milkiest cappuccino to a sharp ristretto. White Horse now orders green beans more frequently and in smaller batches to maximise their vigour. “All those vibrant, amazing favours really have an expiration date,” Majdandzic says. “Only now are coffee professionals understanding that all our best experiences of rich, fruity, juicy coffee comes when the green bean is roasted only up to nine months after harvesting.”
6/187-191 High Street, Willoughby
“I’m chasing the best espresso that I will ever have in my life,” exclaims Sam Gabrielian. “I’ve travelled for nine and a half months around the world searching for the best cup of coffee. I’m still chasing, still trying to produce it.”
At Gabrielian’s espresso bar, the focus is on cultivating love and respect for the not-so-humble brew. Every Thursday at 4.30pm, he meets with Dose’s four baristas and other enthusiastic “coffee geeks” to talk all things coffee: tasting, serving and recommending new single origin blends.
Via his own boutique roasting company, Caffe di Gabriel, the connoisseur produces 2.5 tonnes of coffee weekly – the majority for wholesale – and is currently setting up a bigger roasting plant. A former chairperson of the Australian Barista Guild, Gabrielian stresses that in-house roasting is a capricious undertaking. With so many variables in green bean age, region and harvesting, the ideal maturity level is difficult to determine. This is certainly no game for amateurs. “Anyone can make coffee turn brown,” says Gabrielian. “But not everyone can roast.”
While the di Gabriel house blend at Dose “tries to resemble a Toblerone chocolate bar” (packed with roasted almonds, hints of dark cocoa and honeycomb), specialist beans of all varieties are available, many sourced with customer requests in mind. A few months back, a Dose regular told Gabrielian about the most fantastic beans he had tried: Guatemalan Liquid Amber. Two days later, Gabrielian had sourced three bags was roasting it. “He was over the moon!” he exclaims. “He’s a customer for life now. We aren’t keeping things secret here. We’re happy to share the love.”