You’ve now got three cafés?
Yeah, we’ve got three cafés. One in Woolloomooloo, which we opened four years ago, that’s where the espresso school is. There’s a roaster there and an espresso bar and the main office. And then a little hole-in-the-wall café in Potts Point, and a new café and our new production warehouse in Chippendale. There we have a much larger space and it’s quite a good showroom for the wholesale customers to come and see our product and what we do. We’ve put a tea emporium in there. We’ve always had teas alongside the coffee, but the tea we import direct from the farm and pack it.
Is that enough shops for now?
That’s it, yeah. No more.
How much does the espresso school rely on you?
I guess I’ve got an incredible staff, they’re very knowledgeable and they’re very capable in their roles. So if I disappeared to Brazil again, I don’t think it would be the end of Toby’s Estate. In saying that, I guess I have a role in which direction and what it is to be, and what it is to become – that’s what I want to be doing. When I started it, in the first couple of years I was roasting, and packing, and delivering, and training, and doing tastings, and doing everything I really enjoyed about the coffee, but then it’s become a business and then you’re developing a business which is exciting and great.
Do you think you’re a natural businessman? Do you enjoy that side of it?
I guess… We’ve got this far, so I must be doing something right! But, I don’t know, the expanse of skills needed to run a business and a growing business, you need other people to help you. I’ve got some strengths but I’m not really good at a lot of other things.
What do you think are some of the smarter decisions you made along the way?
I think the decision just to stay true to coffee and keep the focus on the product… You know, in the early days people would go, “You’ll never make it in the business because you don’t give [espresso] machines away”, but I guess by sticking to the belief that no, it is the product, and finally breaking through that, it proves that there is another way. Marketing in coffee is huge, there’s a lot of advertising, and there’s a lot at point of sale and there’s a lot of money going into that, into the cost of the coffee. We had to convince people that nothing’s for free, you pay for it in coffee so why don’t you just pay for better coffee? I think that the school, concentrating on the education and spending time with the public doing a tasting, you’re letting people understand what coffee is, demystifying it to cafés and getting them in control of the product. We’ve stuck to the idea that if we have a school then café owners will come because the results will show and they will have a small successful business themselves. Sure, early on you’re just doing it because that’s what you love doing. You’re passionate about it, and you want to share your passion, and people like passion. It’s attractive and it’s fun and it’s great to hear people be passionate about something. So then to other people it becomes addictive as well.
You are very passionate about coffee.
People are passionate about coffee. Seriously. Some of our customers are so passionate about it that if we don’t have other flavours to develop through the roasting practice. I felt most people I was roasting with weren’t really focussing on that at all.
Can you blind taste the difference between a bean from Timor and a bean from Brazil?
Yeah. I guess. Your brain’s an amazing thing and you learn a huge amount of flavours, and they’re stored somewhere in your brain and identifying certain coffees… If I was to drink 20 of these coffees every day for a week, at the end of the week, sure, I’d be able to recognise them, if they were being brewed and roasted in the same way. There are certain flavours in certain coffees in certain regions you can identify quite easily, and even to a point where you know how something’s been roasted and if it’s roasted too light or needs more this, or more that. Your brain works in a funny way and it really is quite clever at picking up those things straight away.
It’s only your brain, my brain wouldn’t.
Everyone can taste. Sure, some people might have a little bit of a genetic disadvantage. We’ve got the largest range of coffee beans in the country, I’d say. We’ve got a ridiculous amount, it’s silly. You can end up telling the difference by the look of them, you know, when they’re green – the bean starts green – to then when it’s roasted. And people go, “God, you can tell just by looking at it that it’s…” Well, if you have your head stuck in beans for that long you tend to work out what it is, you know.