Getting a glimpse into the back end of the coffee industry isn’t as simple as leaning over the counter to see the barista’s hands working the machine. The many inputs that go into a cup of coffee, from the café, roaster, equipment supplier and individual staff members can present a multi-tiered maze for the casual observer, let alone someone interested in opening a café. Having had the chance to see the individual images that make up this coffee kaleidoscope, Caleb Holstein of Specialty Coffee Curators is hoping to refocus the specialty coffee industry.
Holstein came into the coffee industry at the tender age of fifteen, after his mother, who he describes as a “serial entrepreneur”, left her café business to Holstein and his five siblings. Acknowledging the privilege this chance gave him, Holstein hopes to share with others the path that he took to navigate this labyrinth.
After taking a closer look at the coffee that was coming into the family café, Holstein ran up against walls of intellectual property and commercial confidentiality which left him, and his customers, bereft of information about the provenance of the coffee they were drinking.
“I had a lot of questions but I kept asking our industry for help and asking for advice and [I] was getting a lot of closed doors in our face.”
These obstacles also led Holstein to reflect on the hurdles that café owners such as himself were setting for others keen to enter into the world of coffee, and specialty coffee in particular.
“Café owners — and I was one of them — would advertise [positions requiring] three years’ experience, [but] they don't give people the ability to get experienced. [Most] cafes close after three years, well why is that, why can't we make it more sustainable, more supportive and more long lasting?”
Not only working as a café owner, Holstein also did a stint as a roaster, before taking the leap to help others overcome the issues he saw the coffee industry as facing.
“I had this moment where I realised I was part of an industry that wasn't actually supporting anyone else; we weren't helping people come and enter specialty coffee or understand it. Specialty coffee is never going to grow if it's got all these barriers up, so I just started building a concept around how I could break some of these barriers down.”
While this concept began as a communal roasting facility, today Holstein describes his business, Specialty Coffee Curators, as “a marketplace for the coffee industry.”
In one corner of a converted Marrickville warehouse stand espresso machines, each from different manufacturer, while another wall has all manner of filter and pour-over paraphernalia. By the door are desks set up as a co-working space. Clients can use each of these facilities to get an understanding of the coffee industry, before taking the leap into opening or expanding a café.
“What I'm hoping to do is provide the education, tools and the inspiration for the next generation,” described Holstein.
So far, demand has been strong, with over 1200 people using the site and 450 students taught in the training facility, even before the building as a whole is completed. Holstein has tapped into a unique feature of the specialty coffee market, and in particular the way in which it operates in Australia.
Unlike other markets where large chains dominate, most cafes in Australia are owned and run by individual operators, limiting the economies of scale that can be achieved for purchasing equipment and raw products. While this makes for a wealth of variety from the consumer’s point of view, with no café being the same, suppliers prefer to work with those who can order in large quantities, and avoid smaller operations.
Holstein hopes that by bringing individual café owners together at the Specialty Coffee Curators with suppliers, he can ensure that Australia’s café scene remains diverse, yet successful: “Just working on that community sense of not working against each other but working with each other.”
The end goal, for Holstein, is even more egalitarian, and is about getting more people converted to the specialty coffee gospel, whether that is a coffee drinker who prefers a cappuccino with two sugars, or the community-focused café owner that is unsure about getting into roasting. Showing appreciation for the product is what Holstein is ultimately aiming for.
Keep up to date with Specialty Coffee Curators here: https://specialtycoffeecurators.com.au/