If you know me, you know that I’m not myself until I’ve consumed copious amount of caffeine. Simone and Peter from Bricks and Mortar Coffee Co are some of my favourite bean roasters in the South East – so of course I needed a reason to sit down, talk to them about their coffee, and then drink their coffee.
Why coffee beans?
P: I think coffee is something that transcends social or economic demographics. All age groups and all cultures enjoy it, it brings people together, its delicious and when you start delving into it, it becomes more than a beverage. The background of the beans grows your appreciation; like the farmers, the trading scene, people throughout the whole industry, when you learn this it’s more than just a coffee bean.
So where do you get your beans from?
P: We source our beans from a range of people. There are two main ways to get coffee beans. You can either deal directly with the farmers, which is often called direct trade or you purchase through a coffee trader. Direct trade is a pretty romantic notion, but it very hard to do, it’s expensive and risky. So we deal with coffee traders and they have an amazing scope of beans, you can get beans for any type of flavour profile you’re looking for. They know what’s going to be available and when it’s available. Their buying power means that tastier coffee is a lot more obtainable. They still do significant social works with the farmers, which is the normal benefit of direct trade, but on a bigger scale than what a single business like myself can achieve.
Explain the flavour of your beans and why you’ve chosen it.
P: We have a couple of blends and a few single origins that we rotate. Cafes generally use our blends for their milk based drinks. The single origins are used when they want to highlight something special, a particular type of flavour. This educates the customers on what other kinds of coffees are out there. A lot of milk based coffee can be very bitter and acidic when drunk as an espresso or long black, so we have tried to make our house blend work in milk whilst still tasting great straight up. The girls from Presto wanted a coffee with caramels, chocolates and nuts, so we developed a blend specific for them. We like serving blends and singles so the customer cam mix it up between their favourite go to coffee or something a little different when they are feeling adventurous.
S: I think it’s also great for the baristas as they get to have that interaction with the customers to talk about coffee. They can say “hey this is what we are running this week, it has berry flavours and sherbet and it’s from this region”, it engages the customer and creates educational conversation.
P: We love the educating side, unfortunately there’s so much bad coffee out there, people keep drinking it. It’s not that hard to make good coffee, it’s down to good beans and good training for the staff. Then you can tell a customer to try a single origin, explain why it tastes different, the altitude of processing method, etc. When people learn more about it they say “yes i’m a coffee snob”, and they take pride in that, they appreciate coffee more and helps grow the cafe culture. That’s what we want to do in the South-East, educate people about how good coffee can be and how interesting and diverse it is.
S: I think people also get so stuck with their ‘go to’ drink that they forget there are other ways to drink coffee. They can say that there is too much milk, so you can suggest another way to drink it which they never knew was possible. Sometimes they don’t know what to ask for, that’s where skilled baristas have so much influence.
You run the business together, how does that go?
P: She comes up with all the ideas and I do the work to make them happen.
S: I think with any husband and wife team you need to be passionate about what you’re doing and strive for that goal, otherwise the late nights and long weekends just become time. When you know that you’re doing something great, making a difference and people are enjoy your product, i think that really keeps you driven to expand and to educate people. Like Peter said, we have different but complimentary roles, I’m a little more behind the scenes.
P: I do the roasting and the barista training. But taking a step back, you can’t do anything like this without being completely passionate about it because you are so busy and it takes up a lot of your time. If you don’t have that support and commitment together then its just a recipe for disaster. You can’t be this busy with so much going on, literally from 5am till midnight, you can’t do that unless your are both on the same page. You need to have the same goal in mind.
S: When the pressure is on one of us will be like, okay let’s put some music on, lets talk, lets put a silly story up on Instagram. I think it’s so important just being there when the other person is struggling, you do have your lulls in any business.
Did you have any challenges at the start?
P: We started with no money at all, we had no savings or financial backing.
S: I think we started purely out of the love of coffee, Peter built his home roaster and people liked the coffee we were making. We were just roasting and drinking it at home and giving it to friends. It grew from there to sell bags at markets and to where we are now. Our coffee carts played a big role, it allowed people to taste the coffee and then buy the beans.
P: We have learnt a lot growing it like we have, it would have been a lot easier starting out with some financial backing to buy bigger ticket items without having to worry about it so much. But then for myself, as a dad and husband, I’ve deliberately wanted it to be self funding, so that there was no pressure on our personal income. Having some good financial and business structure advice at the start would have been helpful, but because it’s grown organically it kind of snuck up on us.
S: People in Mount Gambier are very supportive of small businesses, which is amazing, if we all support each other than we all grow.
P: Yeah, we love serving the local people.
So you’ve been hinting about a type of podcast, tell me about it.
P: There is a bit of a gap in the coffee knowledge sphere, you can go on the web and find lots of forums for home coffee enthusiasts. Once you’re inside the industry there are catch ups and trainings, but people are busy and they are only once or twice a year. There’s this huge amount of people in the coffee/cafe industry, all at different stages of business, start-ups and cafe ownerships, barista education and so on. In our own searching we found a gap between the home enthusiasts and the commercial industry. We wanted to further our own knowledge but you can’t just go up to some business owner and be like “hey tell me everything you know about coffee and running a coffee roasting business” especially if you don’t have a relationship with them. But that depth of knowledge, that insight, its hard to find on the web. So basically it’s a podcast of interviews with business owners in the industry. I went to MICE (Melbourne International Coffee Expo) and talked to a couple of friends in the industry to see if this had legs, they were all really excited and supportive. We’re going to be talking to as many coffee roasters, cafe owners and consultants as we can. The response from the Australia coffee industry has been very positive, everyone is very keen to jump on. I’ve already talked to about 30 industry people and they all had smiles on their faces. The hardest thing is just aligning everyone’s schedules!
Where can we find this podcast?
P: We have just launched our new website, you can stream it from there or get it on iTunes. We’ll likely have a feedback loop too, at the start of every episode we can answer people’s questions from the previous podcast. I find myself wanting to ask lost of questions after listening to my favourite podcasts but you don’t get that chance, so hopefully this will be another way to keep the interaction flowing.
Whose idea was it?
S: I’m pretty sure it was Peters, he listens to podcasts when he is roasting so it stemmed from there.
P: I was listening to a couple of coffee podcasts, ones is very specific on coffee jobs based in England and the other two are American, the scene in Australia is different to there.
S: One guy we interviewed has 65,000 followers on social media and an incredible business, you don’t often get to hear their stories, others had to re-brand or nearly shut down. It’s pretty inspiring to hear their journeys.
P: There are so many amazing people behind the scenes of the coffee industry but you never get to meet them. When you can listen to their story the connection with their product becomes a lot stronger and you feel like you have a direct relationship with them.
Apart from the podcast, what are your plans for the future?
P: Just to keep growing. We have a couple of wholesale accounts we are working on and are really looking forward to bringing speciality coffee to our surrounding areas. They have no real speciality coffee scene at the moment, so we’re really excited to play a role in making a difference to those areas. There are cafes out there that have great food, great service and a real passion for their customers but they just don’t know much about coffee. We’d love to play a part in helping them; give them delicious fresh beans, some great training and rejuvenate their love for coffee. It’s another way to help them succeed, when they succeed we succeed.
Thanks for reading! Jess x
Photos: Jessica Elise Design
Bricks & Mortar Logo Design: Rene Veno Design