BeanScene talks to Toby’s Estate about how the established coffee roaster continues to grow and innovate while maintaining its quality and connection to origin.
Not many coffee roasters have the capacity or expertise to produce seven different single origins a month, but Toby’s Estate is one of them.
Equating to more than 80 micro-lots per year, General Manager Jody Leslie says Toby’s Estate’s robust single origin program is “a commitment to quality and really supporting the specialty nature of single origins”.
“To me, the real value comes from our relationship-focused purchasing approach, as well as our green coffee program which holistically integrates different ranges in quality and profiles specific purposes,” Jody says.
“We’re not just going in and taking the cherry off the top. We’re making a real difference through both our volume business – the blends – and single origin programs.”
On the ground, Toby’s Estate runs several programs to improve the lives of its producing partners and their communities. The best-known of these is the Las Nubes Daycare Centre in Guatemala, for which the roaster has raised more than $34,000 to date through its Knowledge Talks series alone. Other programs include raising funds for Misuku Hospital in Malawi to purchase much-needed medical equipment and hospital beds, and many more Jody says will start by the end of the year.
“That is what [green bean buyer Charlotte Malaval] cares about. Throughout the year, she builds and maintains long-term, sustainable relationships with our coffee suppliers around the world,” Jody says.
“She ensures we can have a consistent supply of quality coffee in the future by understanding how we can support our partners in terms of infrastructure or community projects. We want to have a positive impact on people’s lives because this is how we will be sustainable as a business.”
A member of the roasting team joins Charlotte on each trip to origin, ensuring the team shares the same vision and understanding when sourcing and developing its coffee.
“Our quality and consistency come from investment from start to finish. We’re focused on getting the best quality possible from the farm, and ensuring our roasters are aware of what we’re trying to achieve with each coffee,” Jody says.
“Throughout the whole supply chain, there’s a lot of places you can influence quality in the cup. As an industry, we’ve focused a lot on the farm in this regard and are aware of the barista’s ability to get it right or wrong. We don’t, however, bring as much attention to the importance of the roaster.”
To highlight the nuances of roasting, Toby’s Estate released the second volume of its Shift series in September. The Shift series intends to challenge preconceived notions surrounding specialty coffee. Volume 1 was released in early 2018 and aimed to change perceptions of coffee quality from different producing countries, Brazil in particular.
“Shift [Volume 2] is specifically focused around perceptions and preconceived notions of roasting techniques. We work directly with farmers who are continually innovating and experimenting with different processing methods and varieties. But as an industry, are roasting techniques evolving to get the best out of what these coffees have to offer?” Jody says.
Shift Volume 2 includes three bags of the same coffee, sourced from producer Emilio Lopez Diaz of Finca La Cumbre in El Salvador, each roasted to a different profile, and an associated game to challenge how players view the impact that roasting techniques has on the coffee.
“Our roasters are passionate about quality, consistency, and innovation. We want to look at things differently, not only in Shift, but across all our coffee,” Jody says.
With so many coffees passing through its roasteries, Jody says Toby’s Estate is able to maintain its quality and consistency through the passion and expertise of its people. The roaster employs 14 Q Graders across its business, not only in roasting and green bean buying but also sales and finance.
Toby’s shares this experience with its café customers through recipe cards developed specifically for each of its coffees to help baristas consistently achieve the best result possible. These recipes include dosage, grind size, extraction times, and yield dependent on age, and explain how changing these factors will affect the coffee.
“Knowledge and passion for coffee runs deep in our organisation and is in everything we do,” Jody says. “The team lives for coffee and are surrounded by other people who feel the same, which means their ability to work together is quite strong. They all have the same vision and agenda to raise the bar and bring special coffee to the world.”
And that it has. Toby’s Estate has expanded throughout Asia, with operations in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Kuwait. The roaster has further plans for South-east Asia, and within the next 12 months, will open its doors further in the Middle East, with flagships opening in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar.
“This expansion supports our vision to be a global specialty coffee brand and provides opportunities for our people to be exposed to different markets,” Jody says.
At home, Toby’s Estate has focused its expansion on geography, entering new markets instead of consolidating in the same locations.
“Today, you can get a Toby’s coffee almost anywhere, from Albury all the way up to Cairns. While we continue to grow in the cities of Australia, we’re also quite proud to take specialty coffee to some of the wider, underserved regions of Australia,” Jody says.
Toby’s Estate has also increased its presence in Adelaide. “It’s early days, but our Adelaide business is building strongly. We plan to further support different states by adding people and resources where it makes sense,” Jody says.
“Some people think of us as a Sydney roaster, which isn’t necessarily the case. For instance, we have a second roastery in Perth, where we roast for the local market which allows us to get fresher coffee to our customers in Western Australia.”
While Toby’s Estate has grown significantly over the past two decades, so has the wider coffee industry. With more roasters popping up, Jody recognises that the market is becoming saturated.
“I think competition is good for business, but at the moment, the challenge is how it’s affecting pressure on pricing,” she says. “When you’re all selling coffee to the same market, some compete on price and pay for it elsewhere.”
Jody says this can impact quality as less-established roasters try to recoup costs, or they pass the pressure on to the farm level.
“We all know the coffee industry is facing problems with sustainability, and conditions are getting worse. The price paid to farmers should not be going down. If anything, it should be going up,” she says. “We need to protect our industry, or in 30 years there won’t be enough specialty coffee full stop.”
However, Jody says it’s not all negative. With increased competition can come a greater need to innovate and stand out in the market. Toby’s Estate, for instance, has looked at emerging trends in the industry, such as demand for dairy alternatives and cold brew, and found ways to accommodate. In September, the roaster launched a preservative-free, ready-to-drink cold brew highlighting an Ethiopian single origin.
“Consumers are looking for greater convenience and cold brew could be the new kombucha,” Jody says. “The challenge for the industry is to still hold onto that specialty nature of coffee.”
With the Australian coffee industry bigger than ever, and the rest of the world’s also on the rise, Jody says Toby’s Estate will continue to stand out due to its experience, quality, and the passion of its people.
“At the end of the day, customers are looking for consistency and brands they trust. Toby’s has proved it can deliver,” Jody says. “We’ve shown over a number of years that we have integrity and the coffee knowledge we have is unmatched.”
This article appears in the October edition of BeanScene Magazine. Subscribe HERE.
For more information, visit www.tobysestate.com.au