From the automatic Ubermilk nanofoamer to the boilerless Tone brewer, Barista Group has made a name for itself in the Australian coffee industry for innovating café workflow efficiency.
With every innovative product that Barista Group imports to Australia, General Manager Joe Chalhoub asks one simple question, ‘would I use it in my own café?’
“Our focus is on providing equipment that is engineered with precision, improves workflow, and ultimately saves precious time,” Joe says.
“It all comes down to workflow efficiency. Every product we bring in improves the way baristas work or increases productivity in the café. If I can’t see how a piece of equipment would do that, then I wouldn’t use it in a café of my own and wouldn’t expect others to either.”
While Joe has more than two decades of experience in coffee roasting, Barista Group has a much shorter legacy, celebrating its fifth anniversary in 2022.
“I started Socratic Coffee as a hobby in 2015 to test and delve deeper into the coffee machines and equipment we were working with as coffee roasters and wholesalers. Up until that point, the equipment has been an afterthought to me when it came to coffee, but Socratic Coffee gave me a love for it,” Joe says.
“Socratic Coffee’s experiments began getting some attention and gave me a platform to speak with various suppliers and manufacturers. They would introduce us to their latest gadgets and ask us to test them. There were these phenomenal products that didn’t have Australian importers or resellers, so that became our natural next step.”
Some of the longstanding products in Barista Group’s portfolio include a range of flat burrs from SSP Grinding Solutions, the Syncfo 4 in 1 coffee analyser, and the adjustable pressure punch Force Tamper.
Joe says Barista Group saw slow and steady growth in its first few years, which rocketed towards the end of 2018 after its now flagship product, the Ubermilk automatic nanofoamer, reached Australian shores.
“The first shipment of Ubermilk landed on 2017, but we didn’t start rolling it out until mid-2018. Even then, it was only limited to a few people, but that helped spread the world and created awareness of the product, which helped things really take off,” Joe says.
“A lot of people were sceptical about the Ubermilk at first. Milk is tough to handle properly and people can be hesitant when it comes to automation, but the technology was way ahead of its time. The reason it connected with everyone was that it delivered the quality, consistency, reliability, and efficiency every café or organisation needs.”
Following the success of Ubermilk, Barista Group continued its focus on efficiency and automation with the Markibar Izaga coffee grinder. Built for speed and consistency, Joe says the volumetric Markibar Izaga grinder is ideal for high-volume cafés and sits perfectly on the other side of the coffee machine to the Ubermilk.
“I started thinking about what else we can bring to the market, to provide another high-end product that offers something new to cafés. I realised we didn’t have anything in coffee brewing and that became a focus for me,” Joe says.
Joe travelled to Italy for Host Milan in 2019 where he met Holger Wels, the CEO of boilerless coffee brewing technology Tone. The Tone 03 brewer connects directly to the water source and uses an electronic continuous slow heating system to ensure water is at the right temperature as it leaves the machine, making a traditional boiler obsolete. Joe says Tone left an impression on him, which only grew as he spoke more with the company.
“I really connected with Tone because of the company’s philosophy. Their aim is to reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions and the boiler is a large contributor in the café. The technology also has an edge over mainstream brewers, being able to control many variables throughout the extraction process,” he says, adding Tone, like Ubermilk and Markibar, represents the ideal partner Barista Group tries to work with.
“When we speak to a manufacturer, they usually ask one of two questions. The first is ‘how many units can you sell in a year?’ We try to avoid these people, even if they have amazing products because we find they can be impatient. Brands are not created overnight, they have to be built, starting with awareness. You need to focus on the wants and needs of the industry, the quality of your product, and how it meets their demands, then the sales come naturally,” Joe explains.
“We prefer to work with people who ask ‘how can we improve our product?’ They’re more open to feedback, sharing intellectual property, and really building something together, which we’ve successfully done with Ubermilk, Markibar, Tone, and many others.”
Over only a few years, Barista Group had built a portfolio of products that streamlined many elements of coffee making, from grinding and tamping to brewing and steaming milk. But cleaning was still a crucial element of coffee service that had to be performed manually. Joe was looking for a solution that would make this step of the process more efficient when a British company called Quinspin reached out to Barista Group to test its automatic portafilter cleaner. Built straight into the coffee bar, the Quinspin works similarly to a milk jug rinser. The barista gently pushes the portafilter into the drill head on the right, which spins out the majority of the spent coffee grinds. A small spinning brush head on the left takes care of the rest.
“We deployed about 50 units in the marketplace for successful tests in 2021. We received a lot of interest, but had to be conservative until the product was ready and an upgraded version with the latest electrical components will be ready for a large-scale launch in 2022,” Joe says.
Another company recently joining Barista Group’s staple is the Liechtenstein-based grinder manufacturer Etzinger. Joe says the revolutionary etzMax volumetric comical burr grinders from Etzinger provides new levels of consistency and quality to small-to-medium sized venues and the growing home market.
“We wanted to introduce another grinder to our portfolio, but it needed to have a point of difference so it wasn’t in competition to the Markibar. The two grinders complement each other – Markibar has flat burrs and fulfils the needs of high-volume cafés, while Etzinger is designed for a smaller throughput and has conical burrs,” Joe explains.
Although Barista Group’s focus is on workflow efficiency in the café, Joe says the company is seeing increasing interest from at-home coffee drinkers, inspiring him to look more into solutions for the at-home market. These will be introduced to the market under a new sister brand Brew & Berry, launching in 2022.
“Brew & Berry will focus on coffee brewing solutions for the home user – this is a growing market and we want to be able to cater to it. At the same time, we don’t want to dilute the Barista Group brand, which is still very much focused on workflow efficiency in the café,” Joe says.
The past two years have been unlike any others for the Australian coffee industry, but Joe says it’s the innovators who will continue to succeed.
“While some cafés in Sydney closed down during lockdown, some of our best partners were scouting and planning new locations, which they had plenty of time to negotiate,” he says.
“It’s hard to predict what will happen in 2022, but it’s the businesses that are proactive and in control of their margins that are going to succeed.”
For more information, visit www.baristagroup.com.au
This article appears in the February 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.