Announced on Monday morning, The Grounds will be opening a coffee-focused venue in Eveleigh South in mid to late 2020. Perhaps unfairly maligned for the hordes of Instagram-focused customers, The Grounds is now signaling its intentions to be a driving force in Sydney coffee, bringing its in-house ethos to all things coffee.
While single origins have always been roasted at the on-display roaster in the Alexandria site, after the relationship with their off-site roasting partner broke down, The Grounds have brought their entire coffee roasting operation in house. Operating from a converted warehouse in the backstreets of St Peters, head roaster and Q grader Nick Ferguson has been able to immerse himself in every step of the coffee process.
“[Having] everything in house, I've been able to look at every single tiny detail, like having all the green [beans] here, seeing everything that's coming in, every single roast.” Being at the coalface of roasting the coffee that is almost synonymous with Sydney, and has inspired countless cafes since, means that Ferguson must be at the top of his game, making sure each bean that goes out is consistent with the signature flavor locked in.
“It's so much easier for me to tweak and change profiles and I'm tasting it every day,” described Ferguson. “I know exactly what's going on.”
In designing the new roasting space, Ferguson selected the Loring coffee roaster. A small footprint machine which emits 80 per cent less smoke and smell than other roasters, the roaster keeps the neighbours happy and Ferguson too, with greater efficiency and energy savings. The roaster was central to the roaster as a whole.
“Basically I selected the machine first and then we designed the roastery around it,” recalled Ferguson.
While light and dark are the words rolling off other roasters tongues as they describe the new wave of coffee beans which accentuate flavor and aroma over body and strength, Ferguson prefers to speak about ‘development’
“We've been able to achieve higher development in the roasts and particularly with the light roast coffees, we can roast even lighter and have more development; they act like dark roast coffees.”
For a café such as The Grounds, which has a broad appeal, just pumping out bright, fruity flavor profiles designed for black or filter brews, would miss the mark, as Ferguson is only too aware.
“[Our] blend needs to be cupped through an eight ounce cup of milk. 95 per cent of people are drinking milk coffees and the blend is basically our bread and butter but it's also the crowd pleaser. A blend needs to be able to carry through a cup of milk at the end of the day.”
This leads to a particular roast profile, and one that cafes across Sydney and NSW are serving as wholesale customers of the Grounds.
“The roast profile for the blends would be a really well developed coffee, huge body, maximum sweetness,” noted Ferguson.
This approach to coffee is one that is informed by a connection to origin. This year, Ferguson has visited Ethiopia to follow on from visiting Brazil the year before, and Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia before that. For, as much as one can understand coffee at the point of its consumption, it’s only by tracing back the story to the place of production that the full picture comes into focus.
“I read as many books as I can and go to as many lectures as I can [but] it doesn't really hit home until you actually go to a coffee producing country and see it with your own eyes,” described Ferguson. All the dots start to connect and everything starts to make sense and one of the big take homes is it's quite humbling; you see people picking and how much care and effort goes into coffee and I'm kind of just lobbing 60 kilo bags into the roaster.”
Returning to origins that the Grounds have consistently worked with builds up a relationship that leads to a consistent blend, as well as increasingly unique and rare single origins. Spending time in Ethiopia, Ferguson was able to visit the village where the legendary geisha coffee varietal was first discovered in the wild, and in Colombia, Ferguson is partnering with farmers who ferment their coffees for up to 150 hours.
Taking these experiences and putting the knowledge learned from them into practice in the roaster, Ferguson sees the process as akin to the work that occurs in the finest of diners.
“A good chef will take a good ingredient and do as little as possible to it. Coffee is kind of similar; you start with a good product and you do to it as little as possible, or you push it as far as you can without ruining those particular beautiful flavours.”
Tomorrow, Ferguson, along with training manager Andrew Hunt and The Grounds founder Ramzey Choker, will lead an open to the public masterclass on growing your coffee business. Tickets are $15 and all details can be found here: https://events.humanitix.com.au/cafe-masterclass-an-exclusive-evening-with-the-grounds-founder-ramzey-choker.
Assembling this trio in one location speaks to the commitment that The Grounds is now putting into the coffee side of their business, one that is the product of more than a few years in the industry. As Ferguson puts it:
“I don't know what would be a long time, but we've been doing it for quite a while and we know what works and what doesn't work. We're always trying to improve where we can without drastically changing or following the fashions and trends. It's what we know, and we know what works.”