It is no stretch to say that coffee can be good, but taking the next step and making coffee do good is a whole other thing. While many coffee companies tout their impact on the communities they source beans from or their efforts to give back to the communities they serve, most still run as for-profit enterprises.
Darcy St Project is a bit different. A profit-for-purpose organisation, the roaster, espresso bar and training school operates out of a soon to open site in Macquarie Street in Parramatta, and graduates now staff an outlet in Pitt Street in the Sydney CBD, in partnership with Suncorp. Run by John Cafferatta, the project trains disadvantaged individuals not only how to make a coffee, but how to be a part of their community.
The project began with Cafferatta’s personal love of coffee, and desire to share that with others. Having begun roasting in his own backyard, Cafferatta saw the potential of coffee to extend his work in the vocational education and training sector.
“Back in the early 2000s, coffee culture wasn't as prominent because [with] roasters being in the background, it was a very hidden industry. Exploring a little bit and tasting different coffees, I figured this would be absolutely perfect to help people.”
At the time, training opportunities in the food and beverage sector were focused on a mechanical, standardised style of service, common at large coffee chains. With the first flourishes of the specialty coffee market, Cafferatta perceived a gap between what was being taught and where coffee was going.
“We mainly focused on very old styles of providing coffees, something you would see in a lot of franchises — say Starbucks, Gloria Jeans — very systematic, very robotic; ‘Here's how you make a coffee and whatever you do, don't dial in the grinder because you'll screw it up, only the roaster can do that.’ I feel that that was probably a false approach to providing coffees because, as we know nowadays, coffee has thousands of different varietals, thousands of flavours, grown in different types of climates, that affects the flavour in a natural way.”
Taking this knowledge and putting it into practice required a new model, and one that was pioneered next to Parramatta train station. While social enterprise cafés existed at the time, and were run akin to a charity or as an extension of a charitable organisation, Darcy St Project took a different approach.
“It was really important for us to stand up on our own two feet to provide a product that people appreciate,” highlighted Cafferatta. “With those profits we do good with it, so it's not a matter of waiting to receive funds or waiting to make money first, we are actually making money doing good at the same time.”
While Darcy St Project roasts its own beans, they also feature guest roasters whose beans are used by the trainees to pull shots for the customers. You’ll also find Darcy St Project’s coffee carts at corporate and community events, providing a step up from sachets of Nescafe Blend 43. The heart and soul of the operation, however, remains in Parramatta, where the espresso bar is currently undergoing renovations having moved from its original location to Macquarie Street. With a focus on showcasing a range of origins and varietals, as well as brew methods, the shop is demonstrating that the forefront of specialty coffee isn’t just in the inner city.
“We started off opening up the brew bar as well as our coffee school was because there's not that many examples out West,” recalled Cafferatta.
Today, Darcy St Project alumni staff the café in the Suncorp Discovery Store on Pitt Street, proving that the ethos of the West is a winner in the inner city as well. For some, this might be the proof of concept for Darcy St Project but for Cafferatta it’s the learning opportunities that come with such an experience that prove its value.
“Growing up in social housing myself, I can laugh with some of those situations that students often talk about but at the end of the day, talking to people over coffee and tea, you can laugh at those moments and learn from it, and then say ‘Ok what's next?’”
Darcy St Project will re-open on Macquarie Street in early June, in the mean-time, find out more here: https://www.darcystproject.com.au/