Suntory Coffee’s Jared Chapman on celebrating mainstream

One of my favourite things to do on the weekend is to go exploring to find a café I haven’t visited before. While I like visiting specialty coffee cafés for my morning coffee fix, specialty is not my criteria, just good coffee and good service.

Sometimes I’ll walk into a café and have no idea who roasts the coffee they’re serving. Other times, I’ll walk into a well known café chain such as McCafé for a takeaway cup, and that’s OK. It’s always interesting to try something new and indulge in new experiences.

Australia is fortunate to have such an incredible specialty coffee culture that so many people want to be a part of it. As a result, there’s still a large influx of individuals trying their hand at different facets of the industry like café ownership and roasting. The reality is that these businesses actually make up the minority in the Australian coffee industry. The mainstream industry is thriving and has arguably made just as big an impact on our coffee culture.

I don’t know about you, but when I catch up with a group of friends, the conversation will often turn to the café people visited on the weekend. On my way home, I’ll see a video promotion for another mainstream coffee company at the train station, or a billboard on the street promoting “Australia’s favourite coffee” available at McCafé.

While it’s not a promotion to support the growth of specialty coffee, it’s still a promotion for Australia’s coffee culture and our drive towards a quality product. Who knows, maybe in the future we’ll see a billboard sign promoting the latest Panama Geisha coffee now available McCafé, but for the moment, it’s the mainstream coffee messages influencing the market. The key then, is for the mainstream venues to deliver, and they’re trying, probably more than ever before.

Starbucks is a great example of Australians making a statement about the quality they expect from chains. When it made its debut in 2000, Starbucks didn’t adapt its coffee to the Australian market or move with the times in terms of quality, and as a result they had to close many of their stores. That spoke volumes about the quality discerning Australian coffee drinkers expect.

So what do I mean when I say mainstream? Here, I’m talking about large coffee roasters, coffee chains, and other large business suppliers in the industry. And I’m not excluding those that call themselves specialty. Although some businesses shy away from being seen as mainstream, there are definitely roasters in Australia I would consider to be “mainstream specialty” because of their size and brand recognition. Many of these businesses have been around a long time and have helped to shape the industry to become what it is today.

That said, there seem to be some myths out there about these mainstream businesses that I would like to tackle here.

Myth #1 – Mainstream means worse quality
There is a common misperception that as a business expands, there are shortcuts to save costs and quality decreases.

While this may sometimes be the case, in actual fact, large coffee roasters have usually invested in some pretty serious technology to make their coffee as good as it can be. This tech is there to ensure that strict quality measures such as moisture levels, roast colour, blend makeup, and bean cleanliness are maintained. Usually, because of this, the standards for consistency in these areas are much stricter than smaller counterparts, meaning you know what you are going to get in the bag every time.

Myth #2 – Coffee chains don’t actually understand coffee
Unfortunately, even though consumers are spoilt for choice for great coffee in Australia, there are still plenty of cafés where you will get a bad cup of coffee. Coffee chains are no exception to this rule – you could get a great coffee one day, and go to another store and have a bad experience.

Having said that, coffee chains have come an incredibly long way over the past five years, and as Australians get fussier with their coffee, quality at chains has become a big focus. There are now passionate and proud baristas working in coffee chains learning the craft. I’ve had the privilege of coaching and judging competitors for some coffee chains’ internal barista competitions, and the standard of skill, passion and knowledge is exciting to see. Another great example of this is the ongoing success of the Monin Coffee Chain Challenge, which is taking place later in the year. This team-based competition continues to showcase the best baristas from coffee chains, testing the team’s ability to produce quality and creative coffees in a high-stress environment.

What is really exciting about this is that chains are instilling passion for coffee into so many baristas. Take a chain with 300 stores as an example. Let’s say there are 10 baristas at each store. That’s 3000 baristas getting excited about coffee through these types of competitions, just for one chain.

Myth #3 – Mainstream businesses aren’t concerned with sustainability
At Mocopan, we are lucky enough to have some incredibly passionate coffee people in our business, but we also have people who are just as passionate about sustainability. Our Manufacturing Team Leader Aileen Ferella has made some huge progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, water usage, and waste to landfill over the past four years, driven by a passion for positive change. Given large roasters can roast thousands of tonnes of coffee every year, you can imagine how big an impact these types of initiatives actually have on the environment.

Another great example is the cup recycling initiative being launched by 7-Eleven in 2018. In partnership with Simply Cups, the chain will be placing collection bins in many of their sites. These bins will not only collect coffee cups sold at 7-Eleven stores but will be able to be used for competitors coffee cups too. Again, this is a great example of a large business having a significant impact on the sustainability of the industry. Through this new program, 7-Eleven hopes to prevent 70 million cups a year going to landfill – no small feat. To achieve this same impact, more than 1000 independent cafés going through 20 kilograms of coffee per week would need to collaborate to recycle 100 per cent of their cups.

Having learnt to make coffee in a chain over 10 years ago, what excites me most is that many of these businesses are breeding the next generation of coffee professionals. As they lift their own standards and continue to push the envelope on quality, consistency and sustainability, it means the specialty coffee industry needs to work hard to stay a step ahead. This, in turn, pushes the whole industry in the right direction.

By Jared Chapman, National Account Manager McDonald’s ANZ, Suntory Coffee ANZ.

This article features in the February 2018 edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe here today: www.beanscenemag.com.au/subscribe