The Reformatory Caffeine Lab


Fourth generation Colombian coffee farmer Simon Jaramillo has combined his two biggest passions in his new caffeine lab: Batman and coffee.

“I’m a big Joker fan and superhero nerd, so I had to create a Batman and Joker-themed laboratory,” says Simon, also known to friends as The Mad Professor. 

As daring customers step inside the dark Surry Hills lair, Simon’s serious coffee passion and comic book obsession is evident. There are no windows; instead a customised one-piece 2.6 tonne steel bar and 10-metre-long steel cages. Against the wall lies a comic strip hand drawn by renowned Mongolian-born street artist Heesco. The coffee bar features six grinders and scientific-like instruments sit ready for Simon and his team to create crazy caffeine concotions. Two coffee machines are painted in matt black to blend into the dark comic world, including the GB/5 La Marzocco and manual Strada MP. “I’ve spent a decade manifesting an underworld caffeine lab dedicated to pushing the boundaries of coffee experimentation,” he says.

Born and raised on Curazo coffee farm in Manizales, Central Colombia, Simon explains the 19 years he lived on his parent’s farm were some of the best.

“I was like a little cowboy. I would wake up in the middle of mountains and be surrounded by beautiful coffee trees,” says Simon. “Those years on the farm have helped me understand the flavours of coffee. In fact, I started drinking coffee from a bottle at age one and a half – so I really know coffee.”

Simon’s family has more than 100 years in the coffee trade. His father Marcelo still works on the farm today and was the CEO (Buendia Coffee) of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia for 27 years. “Thanks to my upbringing, I understand where coffee comes from and how to make it shine. When I started roasting I always envisaged opening a serious coffee concept store that would be very specialised with high standards of coffee using unique techniques,” Simon recalls.

After moving to Australia in 2003, it wasn’t long before Simon established El Cafetero, a green bean import business, and La Hacienda, his coffee roasting house. Simon still returns back to Colombia four weeks of the year for intense coffee laboratory training with his father to hone his craft. “I experiment on technical components of coffee that help build my coffee dream, not standard extractions and flavour components of coffee,” he says.

With that knowledge, Simon eventually settled on an empty driveway in Surry Hills turned the space into his dream caffeine lab, which he opened on 2 December 2013. Simon’s passion for coffee bubbles oozes in his veins – and it shows. Simon says he sometimes drinks 30 coffees a day. He also travels twice a year in an effort to source his own high-grade coffee beans. The Reformatory served two signature blends: the Joker and SQAB blends. Both are named after The Mad Professor comic.
The Joker is a complex dry red wine flavored roast that Simon painstakingly developed over the course of a year by testing different types of acidity and profiling during roasting. With coffees from Colombia, India, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Brazil this blend is highly graded and combines five different processes. “It has fruit flavours, tastes of blueberries, pineapple flavours,” says Simon.

SQAB is the perfect milk-based blend with delicate sweet notes of mixed nuts, macadamia and salted caramel. Its origins are from Colombia, Ethiopia, El Salvador and Java. Even Simon’s single origins and blends are what he calls “extremely complex”. “I want people to experience the crazy coffee flavours and drink concepts I’ve developed,” he says. “I want to give customers an experience out of the ordinary.”

And he’s not kidding. Simon has managed to find a way to profile coffees that taste like salted caramel, guava, cherries, berries, even pineapple. But more than that, he’s used Geisha coffee through filter to taste like beer. “Using my filter system, I take the Geisha coffee, add water and carbon dioxide and it tastes like beer,” he says.

Far from his expectations, Simon says the reaction to his caffeine lab has been overwhelming. In just one month after opening, the caffeine lab attracted nearly 5000 Facebook likes. “My laboratory features so many things people wouldn’t be aware of – such as the possibilities of coffee flavours,” he says.

Just like his comic idol, Simon says there are some similarities to himself and Joker.

“I’m very passionate about what I do. I have lots of crazy ideas, but I know what I want to achieve, and like the Joker, nothing will get in my way,” he says. “I want to continue serving quality coffee where everyone who comes here leaves with a big smile on their face.” But perhaps the biggest smile at the moment is on Simon’s face. Just like the Joker.

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