Clark St Coffee Roasters takes a holistic approach to sustainability and is sharing this outlook with the wider coffee community through its Kit Collective program.
Coffee generates a lot of waste. Tonnes of organic and water waste is produced processing coffee at origin and thousands of takeaway cups end up in landfill in consuming countries. Between the two, a large amount of plastic disposable packaging is used to transport coffee.
Because waste exists throughout the supply chain, Clark St Coffee Roasters in Melbourne believes a holistic approach to sustainability is necessary. Founder Melissa Floreani tells BeanScene that Clark St aims to make its coffee supply chain plastic-free. One way it has done this is swapping to coffee packaging that is 100 per cent compostable, including the one-way degassing valve.
“When I talk about it with baristas and customers, they touch and feel the bag, and feel proud to be using something that is compostable and looks appealing,” Melissa says.
Cafés can dispose of these bags alongside other compostable packaging, coffee grounds, and organic waste, which Clark St will collect for composting.
“When you treat waste as a resource, it changes how people think about the materials they’re using, what they’re buying, and how they can contribute to that circular economy,” Melissa says.
“Government is generally slower at adopting this type of technology until it’s absolutely necessary. It’s clear individuals and businesses will have to make these changes first to close the loop. People in the industry are trying to find solutions, and when they do it really excites them.”
Another form of waste in the coffee supply chain Clark St is tackling is the plastic lining importers use in hessian bags to preserve coffee. The roaster is encouraging its importing partners to instead adopt Harvest Restore linings, which are a biohybrid plastic containing plant-based renewable materials that can be reused or recycled.
“That material and structure is performing really well,” Melissa says. “We’ve done trials with the Harvest Restore bags and are finding that they hold up really well compared to the alternatives. The coffee is cupping well and the scores are maintained over a longer period of time.”
Clark St works closely with its importing partners and frequently invites them to host cupping sessions at its Richmond roastery. They include Minas Hill, Southland Merchants, Cofinet, 3Brothers, Condesa Coffee Lab, and Kerio Valley Project.
“We are building a community, opening Clark St up as a space where importers, café owners, and even other roasters can discover different coffees,” Melissa says.
“These cupping nights are great because at the end of the day, it’s about education. Growers, farmers, and importers can connect with roasters, baristas, and coffee enthusiasts to offer more specific information about their coffee.”
One of these cupping sessions in early February 2020 highlighted the nano lots of the Kerio Valley Project from Kenya.
“Abdy from the project asked us to help them share their coffees with roasters through a cupping event. We tasted the coffees and they were of a really high quality,” Melissa says. “The Kerio Valley Project has gained a lot of interest through this event.
“The laws have changed in Kenya and farmers can now deal directly to export their coffees. For the first time, we heard the producers’ names instead of just the cooperatives. We want to facilitate others to work with importers and growers like this who are striving to do something special. It’s an opportunity for roasters and us as a community to buy coffees knowing that a fair proportion of the proceeds are going to the farmers that grew it.”
Other coffees presented across these cupping nights have included winning lots from the 2019 Cup of Excellence thanks to Minas Hill and Southland Merchants and others processed using new or unique methods.
“The people presenting these coffees come from families who have farms and work very closely with the coffees. They’re the ones at the forefront of experimentation and fermentation, which is a key industry development at the moment,” Melissa says.
“To have those concepts explained and then to taste the coffees is a great way to learn how, for example, fermentation affects coffee quality, flavour, and cup profiles.”
These cupping sessions also serve as an introduction to Clark St’s collaborative roasting program, Kit Collective. Kit Collective facilitates cafés in the curation, development, roasting, and branding of their coffee.
“A lot of café owners want to have control or creative input into their coffee. They know what they want, perhaps they’ve used a couple of coffee brands, and they would like to be more involved. There’s also an opportunity for them to create their own brand or label,” Melissa says.
“Through the cupping sessions, they can figure out if they prefer pulped natural coffees from Brazil or washed coffees from Ethiopia, for example. If they are looking to create their own label, this helps them find a higher quality solution and empowers them to benefit from our knowledge and experience.”
Melissa says this process provides cafés with a diverse selection of coffees without compromising on quality.
“There is a transparency to the coffees we’re curating,” she says. “The farms and importers we’re introducing people to have good practices and embrace sustainability. The focus on quality and processing means the coffee will be good year after year.”
Once the coffee is curated, Kit Collective customers can take part in quality control, blend development, and roast profiling.
“We cup the coffees in our QC lab, take notes collaboratively, then can tweak roasts as needed. Once we’re satisfied with the quality and cup profile, our roasting software captures the data and we can repeat those roast curves,” Melissa says.
“Especially at the start, it’s really important to get those blend components spot on. From there, it’s easier to maintain the consistency of the flavour profile you’ve created. With coffees of that quality, there are smaller lots so there is a frequent process of changing and updating blends seasonally.”
Kit Collective then provides its customers with access to packaging alternatives including the compostable bags Clark St uses, and its organic waste collection service.
“We’ve found these solutions and turned them into an offering. Now we’re providing people the opportunity to come in and learn about how they can reduce waste across the coffee supply chain, from green bean to roasted coffee,” Melissa says.
“There’s also a professional development element. Café owners can send baristas who want to take on a larger role to be part of blend creation and quality control.”
Though Melissa says there will always be a large place for coffee brands in the industry – particularly for those with strong values – Kit Collective caters to people who want to make a name of their own.
“When you’ve got one or two really successful cafés and people love that brand, it’s something you want to try and establish even further. We have learned so much about sustainability in the coffee supply chain and it’s something we want to share,” Melissa says. “We want to change the way the industry operates, and we feel as if we have something to offer: a level of education to provide and passion to share as part of the coffee industry.”