I pass many of them every day. I visit one or two on most days. Since I moved to Australia almost thirteen years ago I have developed a love of coffee and our café culture. And I’ve always known that friends of ours own a café in Erskineville, NSW but we’ve never spent much time talking about it. Lately, I dropped by for brunch and the conversation quickly turned to coffee - their love of it and the passion and history behind their homegrown brand, Joe Bean.
Meet Antoun and Joel. Friends of ours for many years and the owners of Bakerman café in Erskineville and proprietors of Joe Bean.
Antoun’s parents owned a small shop in their village in the north of Lebanon where they used to make their own cakes and sweets, roast their own coffee. The locals would hang out, play cards, drink booze and enjoy copious amounts of fresh coffee. After a couple years Antoun’s father purchased a gas operated espresso machine, which was a first in the area. It transformed the little shop and soon coffee was flowing in the family’s blood. It’s obvious now where the passion for coffee and food came from.
The boys always wanted to roast their own coffee and to move on from the big name coffees they used in the past, but Joel was sure that the punters wanted the “name” and weren’t that interested in having variety and freshly roasted coffee. So to make his point Antoun started roasting on the stove in a pot. He purchased 5kg of green beans online and got roasting. That is, in the middle of summer with the kitchen hitting temperatures above 40C regularly and beans shaking in a heavy pot every fifteen minutes, waiting to crack. Imagine a lather of sweat, bean dust, and more than a few times, “Shit, it’s hot!”
The logical next step was to host a cupping evening with some of Bakerman’s best customers. It was a hit and Joe Bean was off and running. In the heat of the moment the boys rushed off and bought a 1kg coffee roaster – you can still see it sitting, unused, on the counter today…
To roast coffee you need a well-ventilated space with a proper exhaust system attached to the roaster. Well, that’s the normal set up. Let’s just say that the initial system was “makeshift”. It was quite a creation, utilising plumbing pipes, expanded hose and metres of temporary hose running through the false ceiling. While the coffee was showing promise it was a bit disconcerting that customers were “walking into a wall of smoke” (one bit of customer feedback). So they purchased a larger roaster and took on a space in western Sydney that was in an industrial estate with the correct ventilation. They now have two of these operating.
This took a while to arrive from overseas, so they continued to roast on the stove and use the branded coffee they were using, as it was too much work to hand roast 40kg per week. When the new roaster arrived they stopped using the branded coffee and started using their own roast. There were social occasions where Antoun would speak to friends and dream a fresh roast coffee company. The boys were interested in the wholesale side, selling to cafes and they had a friend who was into the retail customers buying for home use. Roast to order was their mantra, ensuring the customer always gets the freshest product.
The original plan was to allow customers to design their own bespoke blends, so they ensured that the system was designed for this – which will be reality when have a higher volume. This is to give the customer control of the beans and the roast, so they can create their own flavour.
The boys have four blends and ten single origin beans. Some are sourced locally, but most are imported as the selection in Australia is very limited, plus the cost is prohibitive. This gives them a great variety of flavours and bean profiles. The importance of freshly roasted coffee, like any other food product is the quality and flavour. Coffee needs to rest for up to seven days after roasting to allow the coffee to degas, but it should always be used within twenty-one days to get the best flavour and crema. Their objective is to have more cafes serving freshly roasted coffee, rather than beans that have been warehoused for months.
They don’t want Joe Bean to become a massive company, as this is where companies lose the ability to roast to order. They will stop taking on more customers if they are not able to roast to order and give the best service. They dream of having Joe Bean coffee in cafes that have well trained staff, who understand the delicate nature of making coffee, not just every cafe. They are not into selling equipment and supplies, even though this is where many large coffee companies make much of their profits. Their ultimate goal? Keep our prices reasonable and keep people drinking great coffee.
Running a café seven days per week is hard enough, let alone trying to grow a coffee brand at the same time. The boys bake their own cakes and pastries, which makes for an all night operation. Time is at a premium. But in the end, coffee is their love. It’s their passion. And Joe Bean is the fruit of their labour. So here’s to you, gents! And we are all looking forward to a warm cup of tasty Joe Bean coffee in our near future.