Unlike most other fields, there’s no definitive source of knowledge in coffee. There’s no bachelor of coffee, or even a diploma. While short courses abound in the area of barista training or hospitality skills, these are focused on the process of making coffee in its final step, and ensuring legal hygiene standards are met.
Understanding everything behind the bean can be a mystery, and until recently, knowledge was secretly guarded in corporations which did not share innovations or advances. Not only did this mean the standard of coffee was low, but the barriers for entry, whether for part-time enthusiasts or those wishing to climb the career chain, were high. However, as information is now flowing via the internet and through independent media, the coffee landscape is becoming democratised, and Nawar Adra and Collective Roasting Solutions are the product of this radical shift in the way coffee is understood.
“There's a lot of walls breaking down with the transition to transparency and traceability,” highlighted Adra. “You're getting less and less of that hold off of information anymore, there's a few books about roasting, there's a few books about machinery, there's roasters now giving online free YouTube introductions to things.”
With information now accessible, the potential for individuals and groups to come together to try to make coffee and experiment for their own palettes, has become a possibility. In two facilities in Alexandria and St Peters, Adra is helping those who are wanting to ride this new wave of coffee. Here, individuals can hire the roasters Adra has built, and start their own coffee brand, but not only are they getting access to the space and the equipment, but the individuals become part of a collective atmosphere, one that seems a long ways away from the prorpritary nature of the rest of the coffee industry. For Adra, his own background and the realities of the current coffee landscape necessitate this shift.
“I really like community because I come from a collective culture, I'm Lebanese originally, so I love having friends, not just you.”
While this means successes are shared, the group must also shoulder the burden, however, this makes for a positive, and responsive environment.
“Here when we make a mistake everyone knows about it. If a roaster brakes down, everyone knows about it. So we are in a very vulnerable [but] at the same time really good position as well, because at other places because nobody talks. Here we all understand each other. The idea was more about how can I build a community around coffee.”
Since launching in 2015, the roastery has enabled the growth of independent coffee roasting, as smaller operations don’t need the massive investment of knowledge and funds that comes with opening a private roastery.
“Because we've started a roastery from scratch when I was at Circa, and I've seen how hard it is to set it all up.”
For those without a strong background in coffee, Adra and the collective provide mentoring and educative opportunities, but these don’t stop once someone starts roasting. While many come to roasting as a passion-project, there are some serious wholesale businesses such as Adra’s own Stitch Coffee that use the spaces, and would otherwise be competitors, were it not for the collective approach.
“When it comes to wholesalers we are pretty open as well. We tell each other, ‘look there's a situation, what do you want to do about it?’ Some of us are accepting. A few of my clients, they took Stitch Coffee clients but it's ok, that's the rule of the game. I have to have done something wrong, so I would rather learn from that mistake. It is a competitive market, no doubt about it, [but] the good thing is that we don't need to crush each other.”
The strength of the community was seen in 2017, when Collective Roasting Solutions opened its doors to the public. Opening a pop up in Enmore, many of the coffee brands that use the spaces were selling their coffees side by side.
“We started getting people, little by little, through coffee cuppings, and then I decided how can we get people to acknowledge that we exist?” recalled Adra. “So I opened the pop up store in Enmore. I spent a lot of money on PR but I only had it for four months, I needed to get the voice out there, so that moment where people say hey where do you roast, it's like oh we roast at the Collective, CRS, in St Peters.”
In the years since, the Collective has continued to grow, and through May and June 2019 has been holding the Roaster Smackdown where the industry and public can come together to learn about coffee through talks, workshops and competitions. On June 29, the roasters that share their equipment will compete in front of an industry panel and for the people’s choice, showcasing the collaborative yet passionate ethos that has developed around this community.
“There's so much work to be done when you open a collective and a community in an individualistic society, because it's not just you, it's the whole industry and the society itself, being in a competitive mode all the time,” highlighted Adra.
For more information on the Roaster Smackdown and Collective Roasting Solutions, head here: https://crs.business/.