SYDNEY—Single Original Roasters reflect a new era of coffee culture in Australia. In the ’80s, when the early café pioneers opened Australia’s eyes (and palates!) to good coffee and funky café environments, they were breaking new ground in bringing communities together in positive and creative ways.
The noughties and Gen Y, however, are introducing a whole new realm of café community, beyond traditional boundaries.
Sydney-based Single Origin Roasters are the perfect example. In line with Gen Y predilections, the company has strong ethical values, with a mission to serve sustainably-produced quality coffee beans that are certified as one of either Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Organic or Forest Friendly.
“It is an important part of being transparent and ethical,” says Dion Cohen who, with wife Emma, owns and manages the Single Origin company.
As roasters and coffee bean suppliers, Single Origin has some of the top restaurants and cafés in Australia as its clients, but it is the people element of the business that is the driving force.
Stretching the Boundaries
Staff are, in many ways, treated like family, says Dion. The resulting culture is interactive and creative, where staff are empowered to play to their strengths—and differences! The core team contains, enthusiasts from Japan, Korea, South Africa and the UK, as well as locals. The cultural mix is powerful in enabling the company to explore new areas, says Dion, citing an upcoming exploration of the traditional Japanese coffee brewing technique, the vacuum pot or siphon brewing system, which is centuries old.
In fact, “stretching the boundaries” is something all team members are interested in, says Dion, and something of which he is proud.
Dion says working with a bunch of non-conformists might take longer, but he is interested in how people think and the bottom line is that the company is the winner.
“People can see things you might not and you can bring all those skills together,” he says.
While his staff are not co-owners of the company, he and Emma are looking for an appropriate structure in that direction. Until then, they will work on an incentive system—this includes, for example, the recent trips members of the team took to visit suppliers in Ethiopia and Sumatra, the family trip to Japan another member took or the help that was given to another for an over-extended credit card.
“Everyone is a boss—we reward for creativity,” he said, adding: “The creative spirit of the company is all important.”
That creative spirit, guided by Emma, whose background is in marketing, manifests in the company’s savvy website, a dimension of the business that connects Single Origin to a far broader network. Designed by foodie blogger Billy Law, the website “really depicts what our business is about”, says Dion, who explained that they receive e-mails complimenting the company on the website, while placing an order for coffee as well.
“We had someone ordering from Norway the other day and I am just not sure how well that will work, sending beans all the way over there,” he says, scratching his head and flashing a twinkle in his eye.
Single Origin Cafe
That twinkle also flashes at the many customers that pass our pavement table, heading into the Single Origin Café in Sydney’s Surry Hills, where we sit wrapped in blankets, yarning and sipping dreamily good coffee.
Hugging the comparatively bleak vista of Reservoir Road, the Single Origin Café is buzzing with the social media tweeting group that meets on Friday mornings. And paths are made in all directions as people cruise by for a take away coffee, an interesting treat or a sit-down breakfast or lunch.
Foodie Nick Smith is responsible for “menus” at the café, but in typical Single Origin style, embraces a much bigger picture of that role.
“When we first moved here, the place was quite hard, not a lot of warmth,” he said “We were really conscious of being an ember from which the neighbourhood could grow.”
Nick lists street parties, coffee bean sack races and film nights as just some of the events the café has held to keep that ember burning.
“I am really proud of that, that sense of neighbourhood which is basically around this space,” he says.
The menu, as with the website, is informative and offers a glossary at the back to add to the dining experience.
“Rather than having verbose menus, we educate clientele to find out a little more about something or to put it in context,” says Nick.
More Creative Things
Dion has no plans for world domination, but he is not short of ideas for new directions for the company. He is extending the café space into the building next door to “do more creative things with coffee and food”. There is also a retail line for chutneys and condiments in the planning, as well as a charity project.
At the same time, he is mindful of his clients. “I just have to be very strategic. I don’t want to cause issues with existing clients. At the end of the day, I am a roaster. My clients are everything, the ones that pay the bills. They are paramount.”
At the end of the day, Dion Cohen is delighted with his work environment and the culture that has been fostered at Single Origin. He left the top-down corporate world to get to a place of “actually being human” in his working life, he says.
“I chose coffee because it is a fun thing … a social thing, not smokes and mirrors. Peoples’ passion are released when they sit down,” he said.