Saturday evening was really enjoyable – between 55 and 60 people heard 3 passionate roasters talk about their businesses, their stories and what makes it work for them.
Some quick notes and video below – but first a couple of photos from the full set that Ken McGuire took on the night.
Jennifer Ryan, Ponaire
Jennifer opened and her main focus was on the work she has done on getting her supplies of beans certified. Interestingly, and this lead to discussion with the audience and also her fellow roasters, she found the Fairtrade certification to be extremely bureaucratic (17 page form not only for each bean but each size of packaging for the same bean from the same source). What was also revealing (and this was also said by Ferg) is that the premium paid in each case is not passed onto the consumer.
So more work and less margin. But she is adamant that it is so important to her personally and she also believes in it as a core brand value for Ponaire.
She also spoke about something that she does which is to buy the entire crop from either a small holding completely or a given area of it. All helping to build up the connection back to the grower.
Ferg Brown, Roasted Brown
This is a quiet man on the press and blog side so the majority of what he had to share on the night was new to me. He is “only” in business for a couple of years in his current location (having started off as a mobile coffee stand (#streetfood) and after an initial rocky start he bought from Brock for a while and learned loads from him!
When he moved into Curved Street he initially sourced from Hasbean and then, via a roasting course in the UK, came across someone who was about to invest in a roaster (Notes Roastery in London) and they came to a con-acre arrangement! So every 2 weeks Ferg goes to the UK and roasts half a tonne (this is from memory, I take zero responsibility for its accuracy) of coffee and bags it. They share the fun of sourcing green beans together from a Norwegian based direct trade supplier – Nordic Approach and he again learns loads from his roasting partners.
Ferg is growing the business slowly and does not yet want the pressure that his own roastery in Dublin will bring in terms of the volume required for payback on the investment. He expands by waiting for new business to come in (mostly from new cafes/coffee shops that are opening). As he puts it Dublin is too small to be poaching business off other roasters – it is not a game he wants to play.
He also wants to build up relations with one or two coffee farmers directly and to be able to visit them and work with them to develop and grow both businesses simultaneously.
Brock Lewin, Badger and Dodo
Brock got the chance to coffee-geek out a little as the last speaker and you could tell how much he enjoys it. He is the largest of the 3 with 150 trade customers and plans for his own place in Galway which is opening in October.
So he shared a little of his back story (with a sidebar on the strong coffee culture in Melbourne), and then spoke about the growth of his business and how he has changed and adopted to that growth. Stuff like being a judge in the Barista championship had to be stopped (because of time pressure) but the importance of Barista’s in the chain is carried through in the business through his insistence on his customers having fully trained barista’s on staff with training from Vin being provided as part of that.
On the geeky side of coffee brewing you will need to watch the video – wayyy too much detail to include here and if I got it wrong there is a chance he would hunt me down :-).
Thanks to Jennifer, Brock and Ferg for coming to Highbank and sharing their passions. Thanks to the audience who came along (including a couple who travelled from Northern Ireland! They worked it into a visit to friends in Callan). And thanks to Ken for his pics and video and to our hosts Julie and Rod in Highbank Organic Orchards for the unseen work they put in each time to set the stage for this events.
Improvements for next time
A couple of things that will be done to improve the next one – Meet the Chocolatiers and Chocolate Maker. We will start at 18.30 and not 18.00 to give people a chance to finish off Saturday commitments and get in on time. And I will work harder to ensure that the sharing by the panel is opened up to questions and interaction with the floor :-)
Comments and feedback welcome as always.