Danny Genovese is celebrating 46 years of contribution to the Australian roasting community. He stares down the barrel of his career, and gives retirement a whole new meaning.
Since 1975, Danny Genovese has enjoyed the same morning routine: commute to the family roasting facility in Coburg, Victoria, open the same factory doors his father once did, greet the staff, and test the latest blend.
Ten months after he bid a formal farewell to his official duties, Danny visited the roastery for this interview and proved some habits never die.
“Give the blend to the boss to try,” said Danny’s brother, and now company Managing Director, Ray Genovese.
As Danny took a sip and savoured the Arabica blend, his face indicated it wasn’t quite right and he told the roaster to add something specific, before returning with an improved profile. “Yep, he’s still got it,” Ray said.
Danny’s palate reflects 46 years of experience and understanding of the intricacies of roasting and blending coffee. He recognises the individual taste of origin coffees, the characteristics they possess, and how they interact with each other. It’s a palate many professionals would envy, and a skill he says the industry is at risk of losing, without appropriate training.
“The only guarantee is experience. My father [Alfio Genovese] taught Ray and I how to maintain a high-quality product and how to manipulate it to produce a consistent taste. He would play around with different coffees and ask Ray and I what we thought. We learnt how to identify what different coffees tasted like, how to add or subtract bitterness or acidity, and how it could impact on a blend to achieve a particular taste,” Danny says. “Like many other roasters we use technology to help maintain the consistency of our coffee, but I don’t know of many roasters in the world that use their palate like we do.”
Danny recalls the day the late Vincenzo Sandalj, former President of the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe, visited the Genovese factory. They tasted a blend together and Danny asked for his opinion.
“Vincenzo said it was nice, but I said it wasn’t right. He couldn’t understand why. I told the roaster to add a particular coffee to the blend and he returned with the coffee to try again. Well, you should have seen his face. He couldn’t believe how I used a certain origin coffee to improve the flavour,” Danny says. “My father taught me everything I know. He knew exactly how to fix a coffee. When he passed away I thought we’d be in trouble, but unbeknown to me, he had been teaching Ray and I without us really knowing.”
To ensure this form of craftsmanship is never forgotten, the company’s traditional values and skills are now in the hands of Ray, Danny’s son Adam, who he describes as “integral” to helping the company cope with modern developments, and Ray’s son Emilio, who Danny says is “the next generation of Genovese coffee.”
The Genovese family came to Australia in 1950 from Catania in Sicily, Italy. There, Alfio worked in the Italian Navy where he got a preview of coffee as a commodity, often transporting green beans from Ethiopia to Italy. Alfio moved to Perth in 1950 and then Sydney in 1955 for two and a half years, where he established himself with a major importer and distributor of Italian foods. The business eventually expanded to Melbourne to start roasting coffee for the Victorian market and Alfio followed the opportunity. That company was Vittoria Coffee, now one of the largest roasting companies in Australia.
From the age of 12, Danny knew the coffee roastery as an extension of his home. On weekends he would go to work with his father and package coffee in the factory. It was his playground. In 1960, when Danny was 14, his mother pushed Alfio to start his own business so they could offer their children employment when they were old enough. It wasn’t until 1969 that Alfio took it seriously.
“I was happy working at a reputable import and export company, but I got to the point where I wanted to start my own business,” Danny says. “I would have happily started my own sandwich shop or milk bar as long as it was mine. Coffee wasn’t my chosen profession, but I had to remain loyal to my father so when he said ‘let’s get into coffee’, I followed.”
In the late 1960s, Alfio decided to roast coffee that would resemble the true Italian style coffee, and started A. Genovese & Sons in 1970. The company began roasting in a small factory in Lygon Street, Brunswick before moving to its current site on Nicholson Street in East Coburg in 1975, since expanding along Moreland Road.
“When I first started with the family business, Mocopan Coffee was advertising on the radio and had giant posters on billboards,” Danny says. “My father, on the other hand, didn’t believe in advertising.”
The biggest competition at the time was the likes of Robert Timms, E.H. Harris and Bushells, followed by Coffex, Mocopan Coffee, Grinders, and Vittoria.
“All these companies are instrumental for creating the culture we have today,” Danny says. “Back in the day, there were only seven or eight roasters out there. Now there are hundreds.”
Genovese remains one of the few Italian roasters who were not only responsible for introducing espresso culture to Australia, but continue to grow it over the years. Genovese embraces a world-class training centre and Specialty Coffee Association courses, and is committed to sharing Genovese’s love of espresso culture with the world. It exports to Fiji, Singapore, Sri Lanka and France, and is in negotiations to start a venture in New York.
“My father used to dream of exporting,” Danny says. “I owe dad everything I know, and every success to the Australian coffee industry. I think it’s our ethics and loyalty to our customers that have ensured we’ve stuck around. It was my father’s dream, and mine, to see the company evolve, and it truly has.”
Danny predicts Melbourne’s coffee scene will remain stagnant for a while, but is slightly concerned by the lure of “fancy ideas” and “shiny new toys” that can pique interest but fade quickly.
“People are looking to improve things that can’t be, or don’t need to be,” he says. “We were brought up not to be acknowledged, but to do honest work and keep customers as happy as possible. That’s as simple as it needs to be.”
Danny says unlike many companies, Genovese’s core strength has always been roasting individually then blending, not the other way around.
“Each coffee is unique. No coffee has the same taste or characteristic, therefore each should be roasted differently,” he says. “Even when the price of coffee has gone up, we’ve kept buying specific origins we want because people crave consistency. We never changed for price. In return, loyalty is something we’ve had from our staff and our clients.”
This article features in the August 2017 edition of BeanScene Magazine. To see the article in FULL, subscribe here today: www.beanscenemag.com.au/subscribe