Simon Cunliffe-Jones roaster

Who is the man behind the machine at Espressology?

Roasters are often quiet achievers left to do a solitary job, but Espressology Head Roaster Simon Cunliffe-Jones explains why he’s proud to be a hands-on influence in his customer’s decision-making process.

There’s nothing like being thrown in the deep end to test a person’s strength and resilience.

For Espressology Head Roaster Simon Cunliffe-Jones, that moment came on a trip to Cambodia when he and his wife Zoe connected with an Australian couple running a café and roastery in the riverside town of Kampot. Simon struck up friendship with Angus, one of the owners, and started selling his coffee to local cafés in the town of Siem Reap where he and Zoe were living.

What he didn’t expect however, was to be asked to run the café and roastery while the owners returned to Australia to visit family.

“While I loved making coffee and was interested in roasting, I had no roasting experience,” Simon says. “But I was optimistic. I thought, ‘it can’t be that hard, can it?’”

Simon was shown how to operate the five-kilogram roaster and got to work serving Australian expats and tourists their daily coffee on the edge of the Preaek Tuek Chhu River.

“I was a young and passionate coffee person who had always taken a lot of pride in the product I served to customers, so I was confident I could deliver a quality product,” Simon says.

“But there wasn’t any technology to map the roast. I had a stopwatch, pen and paper, and my eyesight to record and track the temperature each minute. I had to constantly look at the previous roast to see if I could replicate the same time and temperature. There were none of the colour tracking devices or Cropster technology we use today for ultimate roasting control and consistency. I was roasting about 10 kilograms per week, and if we got low on volume, I’d simply roast some more.”

When the café owners returned, they were more than happy with Simon’s efforts, giving him the confidence to turn a month’s work into a new career prospect.

Simon Cunliffe-Jones helps private-label customers develop new blends.

It wasn’t the first time Cambodia had inspired Simon’s interest for coffee. On his first trip in 2012 while teaching English to school children, he serendipitously stumbled upon the Cambodian Barista Championships in the capital city Phnom Penh. There, Simon befriended the winner Untac Nem and they struck up a friendship. In between Simon’s teaching commitments, he would take a three-hour bus ride on the weekend to Battambang to train with Untac at a social enterprise café run by Australian expats.

“We both had a passion for making good coffee and we learned from each other,” Simon says.

When Simon returned to Australia, he spent the next two years working with the Circa group in Parramatta honing his barista skills.

And once again, on Simon’s second return trip from Cambodia, he was motivated to explore more opportunities in coffee. On the day he arrived back in Australia – Zoe was six months pregnant with no ongoing work lined up – he rang a friend who now owns Short Street Coffee Roasters to inquire about a job. It just so happened there was a staff shortage and Simon started work the next day.

“I kept working hard and impressing the people above me. I went from packaging coffee on shelves to becoming a roaster’s assistant, and training to become a coffee roaster. Then-company owner and founder Scott Jones passed on all his roasting knowledge and skills to get me to the next level,” Simon says. “And after a year of hard work, an opportunity opened for me to become Head Roaster.”

At the end of 2019, Simon’s talent started attracting attention. He began contract roasting and taking on new client work until Espressology Founder Instaurator got in touch. He was looking for another roaster to add to his growing business.

“Espressology showed me that there can be a wonderful career path within the coffee industry. There’ve been times in my life I’ve looked at other alternative work, but I know roasting is where I want to be and I’m really happy where I’ve landed,” Simon says.

“I know there’s a lot of people out there doing it hard right now, with lots of people stuck at home or out of work. I’m just so thankful that I get to come to my office each day – the roastery – and roast.”

At Espressology, Simon works with a dedicated team to guide private label customers through the process of developing a new blend or bringing a single origin coffee to life.

“Coffee and relationships have always been important to me. In my role at Espressology, I’m not just stuck behind a roaster for eight hours. I get to embrace the best of both worlds and really engage with the customer to talk about what they want to see from their coffee. Then I try to make it happen,” Simon says.

Sometimes existing customers want to re-evaluate their blend, and new or prospective customers want to experiment with options. In all cases, Simon’s creativity is put to the test. He sample roasts before cupping, evaluating, and roasting different coffees and volumes based on client feedback and profile preferences, and his own expertise.

“The key to creating a good blend is understanding what the customer is looking for. You can’t have too much of one thing and not enough of something else. It’s about achieving harmony in the cup,” Simon says. “It normally involves lots of trial and error. I will roast a bunch of different coffees at different percentages of weight, then taste, and keep trying until I get the balance right. You know you’ve nailed it when a customer finally signs off on the coffee and I get to work on producing the roast in mass volume.”

“Just recently, a customer put an order in for the first 50 kilograms of a new blend for a business they’re trying to get off the ground. They anticipate they’ll soon be doing 500 kilograms a week. That’s the growth we love seeing, and to be involved in that process is really rewarding.”

Simon enjoys roasting on Espressology’s 120-kilogram Probat machine, and five-kilogram Renegade for smaller single origin coffees. He’s also excited to start using the new 22-kilogram Phantom roaster from Coffee Roasters Australia for more custom blends.

“We’ve got the flexibility in our line-up of roasters to do five pallets a week down to really small volumes,” Simon says. “Regardless of whether you’re looking to roast 500 kilograms to five kilograms, the team at Espressology is passionate about producing good coffee. We bring different skills to the table, all with the common purpose to support our customer’s vision.”

Over the years, Simon has seen customer preferences for roasts fluctuate between lighter filter roasts to darker, more full-bodied roasts that suit milk-based beverages. Whatever the preference, Simon is always focused on producing a quality and consistent product.

“Those two qualities have never been so important. With cafés struggling in lockdowns, it’s important that customers can rely on their regular cafés to deliver the quality they expect each time, and that starts with the consistency of the roast,” he says.

Most recently, Simon has been fortunate to roast some “tasty Burundi” coffee through Espressology’s single origin program. He’s also excited about a “super vibrant” lot from Guatemala he’s roasting for espresso thanks to a new supplier Scion and some delicious Papua New Guinea coffee he’s using in blends and as single origins. Despite getting his hands on so many interesting coffees, Simon is yet to visit a coffee farm himself – something on his bucket list post-COVID-19.

“I’d love to visit some of our ‘local’ coffee origins one day, such as PNG and Indonesia,” he says.

In the meantime, Simon is passionate about helping his clients grow and excel their businesses with Espressology.

“The first community café I worked at showed me how a simple beverage can help build community and facilitate relationships,” he says. “It’s been an important value I’ve embraced all throughout my experiences in coffee, but especially at Espressology where it’s all about delivering a great product and fostering this idea of community.”

For more information, visit www.espressology.com.

This article appeared in the October 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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