Three Pence Coffee Roasters: Worth every penny

three pence coffee roasters

Three Pence Coffee Roasters talks to BeanScene about taking the leap to Imf roasting equipment and the value in staying connected to its customers.

There’s an obvious sign when it’s time to take the next step in growing a business. It could be high volume of sales or the need to employ more staff. For Anthony Preston of Three Pence Roasters, however, it was when his wife took one look at the family garage filled with palates of green beans and said, “enough is enough”.

Anthony started his journey in the coffee industry around 15 years ago with school friend and now business partner Mark Gentle. They opened their first café called Miami Ice, “back in the day when Italian imported coffee was King”, and years before the specialty coffee industry as we know it took off. At the height of their café success, the boys owned and operated eight cafés at any one time with 110 staff.

“Those early days working in cafés is where our love for the industry comes from. We learned a lot from that experience,” Anthony says.

In 2005, the boys saw a shift in roasting standards and a higher consideration in sourcing, traceability, sustainability, and flavour experimentation.

“There was a clear difference in the quality of commodity coffee we were serving and the fresh, specialty roasted coffee appearing on the market. It was a movement we wanted to be part of,” Anthony says.

three pence coffee roasters
Three Pence Roasters’ Dark Carnival won an Australian International Coffee Award in the Cappuccino category.

As such, in 2015, Anthony and Mark invested in a 10-kilogram Roastmax roaster from company Owner Will Notaras after meeting at an industry tradeshow.

The new investment – a standard drum roaster with gas modulation – made its home in Anthony’s Cronulla garage in New South Wales. It didn’t take long before Anthony was supplying each of his cafés with his own roasted coffee, and outside interest followed.

After one year in the garage and feeling the pressure of needing more space, Anthony and Mark relocated his 10-kilogram Roastmax roaster to a much larger premises in the suburb of Caringbah.

“We were roasting a tonne to 1200 kilograms of coffee a week on our 10-kilogram Roastmax roaster, seven days and two nights a week,” Anthony says.

With a growing portfolio of wholesale customers, Anthony and Mark made the decision to upgrade their roaster and started doing their homework on the myriad of models on the market.

“Thankfully, Will is such a knowledgeable guy and explained how advanced the technology in today’s selection of roasters are,” Anthony says.

Thanks to expert insight, Anthony and Mark bought a 60-kilogram Imf industrial drum roaster from Italy. Getting the machine into the Three Pence warehouse was the next step. The Imf roaster arrived fully assembled. All they had to do was hire a crane to lift the roaster off the back of a flatbed truck, and forklift the machine into position.

“Within a week of the roaster sitting on the floor we were test roasting coffee,” Anthony says. “It’s a very slick set up. The support from Imf has been incredible – the roaster is connected to Wi-Fi so Imf-trained technicians can see what I’m doing and visually check at any time if I have issues, which is really reassuring. But here on the ground Will’s roasting knowledge is just as invaluable – and he always answers his phone, which is a bonus.”

Unlike conventional roasters that use an afterburner, Imf roasters use only one burner chamber that sits to the side of the roaster. As the coffee is roasted, the emissions leave the roaster via a steel duct into the burner chamber to incinerate the emissions. Some of the clean heat in the burner chamber is instead re-circulated via a stainless-steel duct back into the roaster. It’s recirculating heat technology further reduces gas consumption by up to 47 per cent.

three pence coffee roasters
At the height of their café success, Anthony Preston and Mark Gentle owned eight cafés.

“The energy efficiency is amazing. It runs at about 550°C and sucks air from the electronic vortex system, which manages accurately how much hot air mixes with cold air to go into the drum,” Anthony says. “It’s more convective than conductive energy. It’s a whole new learning experience, but once you get your head around that it’s really a ‘wow’ of a machine – and the coffee is bang on all the time.”

Imf’s equaliser ensures the same volume of air enters the roaster, giving even heat distribution across the entire surface of the coffee beans. This eliminates any temperature fluctuations inside the drum so that the coffee is evenly developed and consistent.

“The main difference I’ve noticed is the clarity and cleanliness of the coffee. The acidity rises a lot so you need to balance that out, but you can pick the flavours of every coffee a part easily. If you want to taste caramel, you get caramel,” Anthony says.

He adds that the roaster can be programmed to where the heat needs to be at certain times, with bean and air temperature, and airflow and drum speed easily adjusted at every point of the 12-step profile.

“No matter how technical roasters are, it’s important to still monitor your coffee visually, and assess the environment and humidity constantly. When you’re starting out in the industry there’s huge value in learning on a smaller model and understanding the fundamentals,” Anthony says.

The proof was in the pudding when Three Pence Roasters was awarded one silver and three bronze medals in this year’s Australian International Coffee Awards.

“There’s definitely a bit of pride in what we’ve achieved, especially when the accolade comes from your industry peers who have said “good job”, in a way. Behind the scenes we’ve worked hard to create sustainable, consistent blends with constant cuppings to perfect our coffees,” Anthony says. “To be rewarded like this makes everything worthwhile and gives you a happy flutter in your heart when you stand next to the roaster for five hours every day.”

The award-winning coffees include Three Pence Roasters’ Kenyan Barichu in the Espresso Single Origin category, known for its black currant and toffee notes; Switch Foot Blend in the Espresso class; and Parmour Blend and Dark Carnival Blend in the Cappuccino, Milk Based category. The Dark Carnival was the first blend Three Pence Roasters developed for its wholesale customers, known as “the people’s choice” for its popularity.

“We went through a trend of chasing light, brighter roasts and now we can see Sydney roasts coming back to strong flavour hits with winey, chocolatey notes that pack a punch,” Anthony says.

The Three Pence customer base agrees, with distribution to cafés now ranging from the Central Coast of Sydney, to the CBD and the foothills of the Blue Mountains.

“We know there are roasters and cafés doing it tough at the moment but on a positive note, we’ve seen our suburban customers jump in sales by 10 to 15 per cent,” Anthony says.

Anthony and Mark have ambitions to expand Three Pence Coffee Roasters, grow the business with their customers, and continue to celebrate Australia’s unique café scene.

“We’re stoked with how its progressing and what we’re putting out there. We’ve built the roastery around the knowledge of people and cafés – that’s where our love affair with the industry started,” Anthony says. “For us, it didn’t just start with coffee, it started with showing up at cafés, and experiencing the vibe and attitude. That’s what we love and don’t want to lose sight of.”

As for Anthony’s wife, she’s much happier now that there are four tonnes of green coffee stacked up in the warehouse and not in their garage: “The car’s back in its proper home now – happy life, happy wife.”

This article appears in the June 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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