Stories & Interviews
Once upon a time, the methodology behind making coffee was a mysterious art. Roasteries were hidden away in dark industrial backrooms, and baristas were concealed behind the formidable bulk of their commercial espresso machines. Industry Beans have long been part of the zeitgeist that has transformed the way specialty coffee is enjoyed in Australia by shining a light on the roasting and coffee-making process. Their newest roastery café in Melbourne’s inner-North epitomises this vision, by creating an environment of transparency and accessibility.
“We want to create a welcoming environment, where the roastery is in full view, and the Modbar coffee machine creates an open space between customers and baristas, inviting them to talk to the baristas,” explains Alex Lees, who is Wholesale Operations Manager for Industry Beans. “All of us here are very hands-on and want to share our love and passion for coffee. In fact, we encourage customers to ask questions because we want to make the coffee experience as immersive for them as possible.”
Industry Beans’ new address in Fitzroy is a mere few hundred metres from their first coffee roastery and brew bar which founding brothers Steven and Trevor Simmons opened in 2013. Since then, the business has grown at an impressive pace, with additional cafés and roasting venues in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
“This venue is a reflection of where we’ve grown to and also of our spiritual home, which is in the community of Fitzroy,” says Alex. “Steve and Trevor always knew that their original site had a time limit built into the lease, and as that drew near it was important for us to headquarter in Fitzroy, and we were stoked when the opportunity for this space arose. It allows us to stay closely engaged with our roots, and with our regular customers, who’ve helped shape our business and been intrinsic to our growth.”
While allowing them to keep their roots in Fitzroy, the new facility has significantly more capacity, particularly on the roasting and wholesale side of the operations. This was essential, as they supply to metropolitan and greater Melbourne, including key accounts out to the west on Victoria’s surf coast, and to the east side of Port Phillip Bay on Mornington Peninsula.
“From the coffee side, this purpose-build roastery perfectly suits our needs. After more than a decade of wholesaling and roasting coffee, we’ve learnt a lot and have applied it to this new space. For example, we have a brand-new coffee roaster, a Loring, which brings all our venues in line so that we’re on the same platform,” Alex elaborates. “At the original Fitzroy venue, we had a Probat which served us well, but the Loring gives us a whole new level of consistency. It produces outstanding clean, evenly roasted coffee, that streamlines our production across all three roasting venues. This ensures we’re achieving our critical quality points and our customers are getting a consistently great coffee tasting experience.”
Investing in roasting technology is key to Industry Beans delivering on their consistency of quality – along with their investment in people.
“The roaster itself is a good tool for us to build on that level of consistency, as is the robust quality control process we have in place” says Alex. “This allows us to monitor and check that we’re achieving those critical goals with each roast, but we still do our assessment cuppings as well. It’s a combination of science and art – there’s a lot of human input as to how the coffee tastes and building up that bank of knowledge and profile, but there’s also the science and technology side which can allow us to achieve accuracy once we’ve established the profile.”
A self-confessed coffee nerd, Alex has been with Industry Beans for the past three years, originally working as both barista and coffee roaster, and now oversees all coffee roasting production across their three roasting sites.
“Getting to work hands-on with a product that I’m so passionate about – and also to share that love and knowledge with colleagues and customers – is continually motivating,” enthuses Alex. “Industry Beans is such an energetic, fun, passionate place to work it feeds into my and the whole team’s energy as well. We have a very customer-first approach, and we love that, because it means we’re talking with our customers all the time, whether it’s wholesale or retail, and finding out about their coffee journey and how we fit into that journey and can enhance that. For me personally, being able to source fantastic coffees, take them to the community, and then engage and get feedback from that coffee community – that’s incredibly rewarding.”
The roasting journey at Industry Beans starts in the training room, which is where they both conduct training as well as do cupping sessions for quality assessment and procurement. As a certified Q grader, Alex is instrumental to the procurement tastings.
“If we’re looking to source a new coffee, we will taste it in there, and if it’s amazing and we decide that we want to proceed, it’s gets delivered into the roastery and gets roasted,” he explains. “Then it gets hand-packed at our packaging station, before going into an itemised tub ready for dispatch. We roast everything to order so it’s fresh, and so outside of the stock we deliver on a daily basis, the shelves will be empty.”
The Fitzroy facility roasts five days a week, Monday to Friday. With their online automated dispatch, they have very fast turnarounds, which includes postal, courier and their own delivery van service.
“We try to meet customer expectations around delivery, because it keeps the coffee fresh and gives them a positive experience,” explains Alex. “Also, our roasting team deliver direct our key Melbourne wholesale accounts – as said, we’re hands-on, and that includes getting out and delivering the coffee and having a chat with our customers about their business.”
Alex recognises that feedback is vital to Industry Beans’ growth.
“We are genuine about understanding what our customer’s business needs are and then putting these at the forefront of what we provide them. You know, we grow by helping them grow,” he says. “Also, while we have six venues, we’re far from being in every corner of the market. By actively listening to our customers, we also get a better idea of how the market is changing and evolving in different areas of the country and what we can do to support that.”
Equally important to the business is Industry Beans’ partnerships with suppliers to secure their key-selling products as well as discovering new green beans.
“We have our staples on the menu, such as the washed Ethiopian coffees – everybody loves them! As well as the Kenyans and Columbians. But we never close ourselves off to anything, because as a roaster it’s so important we keep exploring and trying new things,” Alex says. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to our key relationships with our suppliers, whether they be farmers or importers, and building our long-term relationships with them, which in turn brings us opportunities to try new coffees.”
Likewise, Industry Beans is committed to consumer coffee education. They’re also aware that for many people, buying an espresso machine for the home can be a sizable expense, so they’ve come up with a package that includes a coffee subscription and a machine that is paid off incrementally.
“We created a membership programme called ‘The Espresso Club™’. Those who sign up get a De’Longhi La Specialista Prestigio machine as well as a delivery of our fresh beans each month – the packages start at $29 per week, and basically after 12 months of membership the person owns the machine,” explains Alex. “It’s a great option for those who want to start making their own coffee at home but are turned off by the expense of buying an espresso machine upfront. We provide training sessions so they can learn how to use the machine, and how to explore and get the best experience out of their beans.”
Alex reiterates that coffee is an ongoing learning process for professionals and amateur enthusiasts alike.
“There’s always a thirst to learn, and I think that is also driven by a part of the coffee-producing world that wants to push the boundaries with new processes and technology. For example, the last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of focus on anaerobic fermentation, and the quality improvements to that process have been amazing – it’s hard not to source those coffees because they’re so delicious!” he says. “I can’t wait to see what’s next, and that’s what’s exciting because it’s a perpetual journey of discovery.”
For Industry Beans that has also meant expanding their product portfolio. Besides an impressive selection of single origins and espresso blends, they’ve also become recognised for their cold brew – a trend that we will continue to see throughout 2022.
“We are on innovation in coffee, and I think that’s important because our industry is never stagnant, it’s always evolving, and as a business we need to do that. From our incredible cold brew cans, to our cold brew coffee concentrate and of course The Espresso Club™ subscription, we keep pushing until we find the perfect meeting place of quality, accessibility and delight. However, our key focus – which is on the customer and the customer’s experience – will not change, and that’s what drives our business forward,” Alex concludes. “The new Fitzroy venue exemplifies our approach to creating an environment that is inviting, accessible and encouraging. One that nurtures a desire to learn more and enjoy more from the coffee experience.”
To learn more about The Espresso Club™, see here.