St Ali brings specialty coffee to the office market

St Ali

Corporate coffee is on the move. St Ali says the time is right to put average instant coffee aside and lift office coffee standards because there’s really no place for bad coffee.

When COVID-19 first hit, many employees had little choice but to recluse at home and leave the peak hour traffic, shared working spaces, and sub-par office coffee machine behind.

Fast-forward out of the pandemic darkness and into the light, and there’s an obvious movement of city workers creeping back into the office for social, ritual, and productivity gains. But there’s an added incentive being used to lure workers back – a quality coffee offering – and St Ali is all over its potential.

“We’ve been watching on the sidelines over the last couple of years and have seen the technology in the super automatic coffee space come a long way. We’ve seen that change roll into coffee shops such as Blank Street in the United States and Europe [using super automatic machines], and now in the office space too,” says Lachlan Ward, CEO of St Ali Coffee Roasters.

“Historically, it’s been a space that we’ve steered well clear of because we’ve been passionate about getting the best cup of coffee in our customer’s hands. We did a tasting at a super automatic manufacturer and were blown away with what can now be produced at the touch of a button. It gave us a bit of confidence and sparked some intrigue.”

St Ali started looking into the corporate coffee space around and during COVID, and parked its involvement until the market settled. But what’s emerged out of the pandemic, Lachlan says, is a demographic of coffee drinkers who want what they want, when they want it.

“The great thing about living in this day and age is that technology exists where you can get what you want on demand. How often do you watch live TV these days? You can get whatever you want, when you want. With that in mind, we decided, with people pushing back to the office last year and particularly this year, that the time was right to get into the office coffee space,” Lachlan says.

“We’ve always been passionate about trying to bring specialty coffee to weird and wonderful places, and the office should be no different.

“Previously, office coffee has been solutions-driven and not roaster-led. We saw a gap in the market. There’s a loyalty with coffee roaster brands, which gave us the confidence to really take a step forward into this space.”

St Ali embarked on a “painstaking” testing and trialling process with different super-automatic manufacturers to see how their coffee offering would be best adapted.

“Finding the right equipment partner and solution was really important. We needed to develop a coffee where the average Joe could press a button and still receive a quality coffee. That’s where the journey started,” Lachlan says.

“In terms of the coffee, we had to swallow our pride a bit and work out which of our blends do and don’t work in those machines, as the technology is very different [to an espresso machine]. What we usually suggest a café to use, isn’t necessarily right within the office environment.”

Due to the machine’s typically smaller doses, baskets and faster extraction time, St Ali adapted its current blends to be slightly more developed with richer-tasting notes.

“The thing that was lacking in a lot of the cases was body and richness, which we had to spend more time developing. In some cases, it meant using or adding another Brazil or Colombian coffee to make it a bit more robust,” Lachlan says.

“We’re really proud of the result. It’s about having the confidence in our products and their taste, and that’s the only way you’re going to get people to buy into this space.”

St Ali worked with its corporate partners to trial its adapted office offering to see what worked and what didn’t with their office equipment set-up, which Lachlan says sped- up the learning curve.

He says there’s a time and place for different types of coffee consumption. Workers are still going to frequent a café for a cup of barista-made coffee, to get away from their desk, and a social catchup. On the other hand, they’re conscious of spending habits with rising inflation and cost of living.

“If they’re looking for a second, third, or fourth cup, you want to think about having that option available in the office where you can also keep your staff productive and on task without leaving the building, so an office coffee solution is a no-brainer,” Lachlan says.

“The standard office kitchenette with a jar of instant coffee next to the water cooler and urn is not really going to cut the mustard anymore. Coffee has come a long way, and we’re really proud to offer a great coffee product that’s accessible.

“We’re not trying to be a cheap office coffee solution. We’re for the office that is happy to pay a premium for an excellent tasting coffee that is ethically sourced and has the equipment that goes along with that.”

While the office environment has had a shake-up over the past few years, what’s also evolved is customers’ expectations of high quality coffee.

“Great coffee has never been more accessible in Australia. You can’t afford to give people a bad experience,” Lachlan says.

St Ali office coffee solutions are now available, with the team working with office managers to assess each office’s coffee needs. “It’s a very different space to working with café operators, but what’s exciting is that there’s a lot of enthusiasm in the corporate space about finding great coffee solutions for their team. To be perfectly honest, we’ve been blown away with how much inbound interest there’s been,” Lachlan says.

With café, office and retail coffee now ticked off St Ali’s bucket list, Lachlan has his eyes on other types of convenient coffee products with the company’s mission “to get specialty coffee into the hands of as many people as possible”. But for now, he’s happy to take St Ali into the hands of as many office workers as possible.

“I think the timing is just right,” he says. “There’s going to be employees that retain a level of flexibility in working arrangements, but I think the pendulum is definitely swinging back the other way now, and people are trying to find ways to make the office space a nicer place to be.”

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This article appears in the June 2023 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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