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Cafe Journals

Andrew Kelly Journal Entry

Works about to begin by Andrew Kelly

My previous projects, Auction Rooms notably, have been executed in a fairly loose and evolutionary fashion: sure, there were many revisions of sketches using a dodgy domestic quality drafting software, but however much was prepared, there was always modifications up the 11th hour. I was there with the carpenters, or sparkie or plumber, working through details, right to the end.

This project is different (and will remain so, fingers crossed).

Pretty much every detail, and you'd be amazed how many there are, needs to be figured out NOW, so that the myriad cascading events unfold in the right way over the build. Plumbing core holes to the below ground need to be in the right spot, now, every single element of coffee equipment and fit out similarly needs to be conveyed and accommodated, right now, and even things like merchandising and menu communication needs to be figured out... right now.

No, there's not much to see yet for all these labours on site. So far in fact only scoping works have been undertaken. Soon though, the site preparation proper will commence, and then we can truly start going backwards in order to be able to go forwards.

Meanwhile, the gentleman furniture maker has started ordering materials for the construction of the bar, and work will soon commence in his facility. Still little evidence of work will be seen on site until his completed work starts arriving in March for assembly.

I'm hoping for a reprieve from all the stuff that hurts my brain once the design is signed off, and the final details are locked down. Let's hope that's soon, and then the specialists in their respective areas can do their expert things, and I can get back to my roast profile tastings, my trial brewing, and my other projects!

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Andrew Kelly Journal Entry

Coffee tripping by Andrew Kelly

We all know now that coffee as we know it is the seed of a fruit that is sometimes called a cherry, and it grows on trees, right? Right.

Unlike the can of Nescafe always sitting there ready (if not to be consumed then to demonstrate that it can survive a nuclear disaster) the kind of coffee we deal in has distinct zones of freshness and slow decline – it has a shelf life not measurable in half-life. And this is before roasting, not after roasting.

Happily, this seasonality thing means frequent trips to purchase fresh product, visiting and tasting with the producers. Colombia is the source of more trips for us than the other countries we buy from simply because there is a greater diversity of seasons of floration, maturation, harvest, and processing there. That is, one can get fresh crop coffee from Colombia for two-thirds of the year, and opposed to one distinct season in most other countries.

And that is why, in January this year I found myself there for 4 days.

We don't go to schmooze, and certainly not to haggle over the price. We go to taste coffee in a controlled lab-like environment (a process called cupping) – closest to its source – in order to be able to select our purchases. We like to buy from particular producers season after season (Lucio Delgado, Esneider Lasso, Elias Roa to name a few), but we also reserve some of our buying for wildcard goodness: coffees that seduce us on the cupping table and demand attention.

This visit was one of our most fruitful ever, whether by virtue of our visit's timing, the weather gods smiling, more producers caring about their work, better selection of samples by the logistics peeps, or other reasons. This wildcard side of things – this chasing of god in a cup – is what keeps so many peeps doing their thing in coffee.

We are chasing elusive characteristics that will delight and excite, and challenge the notions of what can be considered "coffee" flavour. That these characteristics remain a little uncontrolled or unrepeatable is one of the pleasures: that can at least be reliably identified on the cupping table, and then we can talk to the producers to see what they did (differently perhaps) to produce such flavours. The enquiry helps us in our long term establishment of a data pool that enables us to make suggestions to other producers ("we saw that Lucio ferments the seeds for 15 hours and then soaks before dying under shade, and this seemed to work fabulously for preserving the juicy acidity and sparkling mouthfeel in his coffee"). This way the knowledge pool expands and we also have a chance to demonstrate to producers our deepest commitment (backed up through price premiums paid) to their pursuit of quality. We pay over double the going market price for coffee right now, and rightly so – we buy the best of the best, microlots only, and we need to cover the producer's higher costs of quality production and ensure they want to stay in the game.

In January in Huila (and subsequently in our North Melbourne lab where the chosen samples were taken for further scrutiny) – we found more coffees with super exotic flavours (lychee, vanilla, tropical fruits, sugar-candy, etc) than ever before.

The exporter is preparing these coffees for us now: let's pray they arrive by opening time!

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Behind the scenes of Andrew Kelly's new café

By Andrew Kelly

This week has been quite a big week. To start with, we finally had conclusion of the lease negotiations at the new space. It wasn't like we were doing hard negotiations either; it was more that the guy we were dealing with came back and said, "sure, no worries!"

Secondly, we've chosen a design firm to help us with the physical design of the venue. We've got a really tight timeframe, a tight budget, and a really interesting concept that we need really high-level execution of. We needed a group of designers that would get on board with that. I can announce it's Design Office.

We've also appointed The Hungry Workshop as the graphic designers of our merchandising and everything else like that – the soft design. We needed to make both those appointments at the same time because we can't figure out what the space will look like until those decisions are made. The concept and the physicality go hand in hand.

We realise there's going to be a very strong visual merchandising need, because we'll be selling coffee beans, filter coffee beverages, espresso coffee beverages and of course, the Smorrebrod. We're trying to wrap it up in one site that has a high trade custom and a fast flow. It's complicated and I did not want to do that alone.

This is the first time I've had the luxury of choosing real professionals to do these tasks, instead of doing it all myself. We've also made contact with a builder who should have men available in January to help start preparing the site. It's full speed ahead.

The other background stuff that's happening is constant tinkering with filter coffee brewing methods, plus the other stuff we do in the roastery on a daily basis like blend new coffees, adjust roast profiles and do a whole bunch of tastings. Everything's been going on nicely.

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Behind the scenes of Andrew Kelly's new café

It's been five years since Andrew Kelly opened Auction Rooms, the North Melbourne café that has become renowned for its commitment to specialised brewing methods and creative food offerings. He's also the driving force behind Small Batch, the boutique roastery around the corner, as well as Counter, a standing-room-only coffee bar over the road.

In 2014, he's taking his next step by opening a new space in the CBD. Shifting away from the tried-and-true, yet ultimately saturated standard café model, Kelly is focusing on filter coffee at the new café, as well as smorrebrod, a Scandinavian variety of open sandwich. "Filter coffee can be fast, it can be every day and it can be appreciated by everyone," says Kelly. "We've got a team of people champing at the bit here to get the next project off the ground."