In a newly created laneway between Clarence and Barrack streets in Sydney’s CBD, St Dreux Coffee Roasters are counselling the rest of the coffee industry that what customers want and what the industry is offering are not always one and the same.
Co-founder Rafael Bartkowski, formerly of Campos, noted that while “the standard of Australian coffee is quite high, … at the same time I believe that the industry has gone a little bit too far in some ways.”
Surrounding us as we chat in the heart of the city’s CBD are harried office workers with little time, yet many of them are willing to wait in the —rapidly moving— line for their cup of coffee. These brews are pulled from a Slayer espresso machine, two grinders and other batch brewing paraphernalia. While the stripped back design of the café, more akin to the white cube of a gallery, fits within the ultra-modern architecture of its setting, there’s a familiar smile on the face of the coffee drinkers who walk away, hands clasped around a cup marked with the line of the St Dreux silhouette. Bartkowski is energised when tapping into this almost elemental love for coffee.
Unusually for the owner of a coffee roasting company with over 35 wholesale customers, in addition to the CBD espresso bar and Western-Sydney located roaster, Bartkowski jumps behind the machine each week to be a part of the daily whirl at the espresso bar. During these interactions, Bartkowski realised that there was a gap between what his industry was talking about, and what his customers were looking for.
“Even though we have a lot of coffee drinkers, a lot of customers that know their coffee, there's still a huge part of the coffee drinking population that doesn't know coffee as much they enjoy drinking coffee.”
Communicating the many flavours that specialty coffee can elicit, while not forgetting that customers are in a hurry and don’t have time for a lecture on provenance, processing techniques and roast profiles when grapping a takeaway flat white, St Dreux has taken a simpler approach to their tasting notes to get their message across.
“When [coffee drinkers] get a cup of coffee [and] a flavour profile like gummy bears or honeycomb or burnt vanilla and fig jam, … they're going to say, ‘When was the last time I had a gummy bear?’” pointed out Bartkowski.
“My point is it's all fine for us who know coffee well and who can describe coffee that way, [but] we really need to take a step back and understand even though we know coffee we can't be too wanky about it, we need to say, ‘To me that does taste like strawberries a little, or smells like citrus,’ and [coffee drinkers will agree].”
In the mean-time, Bartkowski and the St Dreux team have focused on getting back to customer service basics. Remembering daily coffee orders of regular customers and welcoming in new faces while not dropping the time that it takes to serve up a cup meant that during the thirty minutes we spent with Bartkowski, during a weekday mid-morning the lines fluctuated, but never dissipated.
“The customers love to come here because we're quick at what we do but at the same time we can serve them a really damn good cup of coffee and they're not going to have to wait 8-10 minutes,” noted Bartkowski.
The other side of the St Dreux business is its roasting operations and wholesale relationships. Working from a roasting facility in Prestons, in south-western Sydney, St Dreux supplies to cafés across Sydney. The focus here follows the same philosophy that animates the espresso bar. While offering three house blends as well as single origins, Bartkowski utilises his experience running successful cafes to help wholesale customers succeed.
“Wholesale customers are after relationship. They really need to feel and they're being looked after they're being understood, and supported, because that's what this whole business is about.”
Noting that running a café in Sydney can be a tricky business, with high overheads and a competitive landscape, Bartkowski similarly highlights that choices around efficiency, while not sacrificing quality can make all the difference.
The front-person for all of this is the barista, a position that Bartkowski empathises with.
“Being a barista is a tough gig; you're standing, you're smiling, you're talking. They can't just make coffee, you expect them to strike up a conversation with customers, [as] quite often walking into the café will be the first contact with a human being, and that will often set your mood for [the day]. If you see a grumpy barista, you become a grumpy person on your way to work, but if you're welcomed with a smile on your face it changes everything.”
Such a fundamental emphasis, the smile on a barista’s face, can here make all the difference, and that’s why St Dreux is returning to the fundamentals in specialty coffee.
151 Clarence St
Mon – Thurs, 7am – 4pm
Fri, 7am – 3pm