October 2020 - Secret Label is a cracking cherry cola. Our top picks. Roaster's rant in the middle.
Date Posted:30 September 2020
“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” — Babe Ruth
Welcome to our subscriber newsletter.
September was an interesting month and not without the inescapable challenges from freight delays and incidents.
Sure, we do make a lot of noise about freight and shipping and we might sound like attack dogs against freight companies......... but it’s because we care and mostly we are trying to inform our customers of situations with so many consumers buying a lot of goods online, not just coffee, the same rules apply.
I would have much preferred to say that it's slowly improving, but in reality it's not - although we should qualify by saying parcel receivers in Melbourne are still suffering badly, particularly AusPost recipients. Interstate seems to work well.
For this reason, we re-affirm our earlier guidance to AVOID AusPost if you are in Melbourne and instead choose Sendle - even AusPost Express remains seriously broken. The delays we see in Melbourne are the "last leg" where parcels sit forever waiting to be delivered from those pop-up Bermuda Triangle dark warehouses.
Ironically it seems that AusPost deliver about 75% of their parcels on weekends here in Melbourne, when drivers are on attractive overtime penalty rates and for some rather strange reason they must be unable to work normally during the weekdays – maybe it’s a lot easier to sit in vans parked on the street weekday afternoons.
I’m sure you can read into that statement plenty of reasons why delays are still happening and the entire Melbourne metro region continues to be held to ransom from crap parcel network performance more than 7 weeks after the peak chaos of early August – they have a convenient excuse to hide behind at the moment but soon that will disappear.
We can see what’s going on, AusPost have not appeared busy for many weeks now – vans are empty, drivers are punctual, turning up earlier and earlier every afternoon. Really makes you wonder why there is still so much frozen, stalled, hidden freight weekdays then big pushes every weekend.
Moving onto to more positive news, we have scribbled down a brief list of what's floating our boat at the moment hoping it might inspire you to take a punt on a coffee that you may never have considered previously.
Roaster's Rant this month looks at the philosophical influences that help shape our coffee products. Sounds deep and meaningful, probably is and might be best enjoyed with a glass of red wine.
Secret Label. OK, it's getting harder to keep raising the bar and building a rock star coffee for about half the price of our competitors, but we think this month is rather special and no doubt you might be sick of hearing that every month. But listen, the hero element in this month's Secret Label is cherry cola – bet that got your attention!.
If you haven't encountered cherry cola in a coffee before then you are missing out on one of life's great coffee pleasures, especially in milk - it's flavour with a capital F. Cherry cola does not come around too often, so take the opportunity when it's available.
The last time we had a coffee with this sort of cherry cola was the stunning Fairtrade lots last year. To balance out this wildly addictive cherry cola we added some syrupy toffee, almond, milk chocolate, salted caramel and a hint of peach. Sounds weird, almost like a degustation menu, but it works remarkably well.
Last week AusPost released their Xmas guidelines a month earlier than usual. It comes as no surprise they are urging retailers to inform customers to have their parcels shipped before the 11th December so as to avoid missing Xmas arrival - so that's it.......2 weeks is what they are saying will be a safe standard lead time just before Xmas.
We will remind you again in December, but please take this notice as a "heads up" to get your Xmas shopping done early as parcel networks are expected to remain congested now that we are in the peak freight season which runs until the end of January and of course we don't know what might happen with further restrictions.
The big takeaway from what we are seeing in the parcel networks is that AusPost seem to believe that 2 weeks waiting for a parcel is now some form of accepted condition - with or without restrictions. We find this a rather disturbing observation.
October 2020 Secret Label
Our September 2020 Secret Label is now available for a limited time in 1kg packs of whole beans (default), or you can select your preferred grind setting to be ground for you from freshly roasted coffee beans.
The hero element this month is cherry cola. If you have never encountered cherry cola in a coffee before then you are missing out on one of life's great coffee pleasures, especially in milk - it's flavour with a capital F.
The cherry gives up a powerful, intense sweetness that's just divine.
The last time we had a coffee with this sort of cherry cola was the stunning Fairtrade lots last year.
To balance out this wildly addictive cherry cola we added some other coffees with delicious syrupy toffee, almond, milk chocolate, caramel and a hint of peach.
Rounded, bold, distinctive with sweet notes of chocolate in a long, complex finish.
In milk this coffee is like a hot knife through butter, just wonderful with smooth and creamy flavours and the stickiest of caramels of chocolates in the long finish.
AROMA - Almond, stone fruits, cocoa.
FLAVOUR - Cherry cola, almond, peach, toffee, caramel and milk chocolate.
ACIDITY - Nippy, citrus, balanced.
BODY - Rich, full, syrupy with outstanding viscosity.
BALANCE - Excellent.
AFTERTASTE - Chocolate, caramel and cocoa.
OVERALL - A bold cup that stands up well with sweet flavours and plenty of rich chocolate finish.
For a limited time only - ending when the allotment has run out which may occur before the end of the month.
Sorry, no 500g packs available.
Grab it here - October 2020 Secret Label
what's floating our boat right now
With so many new coffees arriving into our warehouse over the last 2 months, our heads are still spinning trying to get our minds around the standouts.
We have some awesome new Colombians lined up, one of them (Excelso) has seriously stolen my heart for a short time and those who take a punt on this month's Secret Label will get a taste for what's in store - it's a cracker. All up there are 5 new Colombian lots and it's like a lolly shop after school with so many tasty choices.
New Guatemala Huehuetenango has arrived and it will be another few more days, or maybe a full week before we can stage that puppy into production. Like last season, we hand-pick the super fruity lot with jaw-dropping dark chocolate and everything we love about crisp, sweet and punchy Guats.
New season Burundi is also now on the floor - sublime brown sugar sweetness, green apple and thick toffee. Again, it's going to be 2 or 3 days before we can showcase in production as we tune the new roast profile.
Centre Way blend has been undergoing a few tweaks to incorporate my love affair with the new Colombian lots and I've flipped and flopped a bit hunting around for the right balance and like all tinkerers, I'm never going to be totally happy.
Espresso blend has some elevated juiciness courtesy of the recent El Salvador arrival providing syrupy toffee and caramel notes. It's now a remarkably different coffee to what we were offering just a few months ago - we keep pushing into a special quadrant with this coffee and it's pleasing to see the feedback.
Just like the Espresso renovation, our Redemption of the Spro has take a decidedly fruity turn over the last few weeks to satisfy the desires of black coffee drinkers for a refined, balanced and drinkable coffee without the need to add milk or sugar.
Guatemala Todosanterita, a stunning coffee we featured in July that has proved a crowd favorite is almost out and for fans of this truly wonderful coffee there won't be any more coming in to replace it this season, so when it's gone, it's gone. Lush hazelnut and rich Swiss Chocolate.
The new lot of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe presents with a traditional, classic Yirgy cup reminiscent of everything we have loved about the "King of Coffees". For a washed coffee, it's generating great levels of florals with a toblerone-like honeyed chocolate. Yum. We like it so much it may also be offered as a filter roast soon.
We sneaked in a plug for the Costa Rica Jaguar a couple of months back and it's still ranked as a "stand out" coffee we absolutely love. This is a perfect example for what Costa Rica does best - incredibly sweet and tantalizing acids dancing on your palate.
Suuweet blend continues to be our top selling coffee with over a ton every week heading out the door - balance and poise remain the hallmarks of this beautiful all-rounder and our cherished signature offering that punches out coffees sold for twice it's price.
roaster's rant - staying happy in the centre
It's no surprise there are often many parallels drawn between wine and coffee - both are incredibly reliant upon either the skill, strategy or policy of the manufacturer and both are at the mercy of mother nature's impact on ingredients.
Around a decade ago when specialty was emerging as a new segment of the coffee industry, many commentators at the time were claiming that coffee had always followed wine, albeit almost 20 years behind.
Whether that's indeed the case I'm not so sure as the wine industry has recently borrowed many well developed coffee concepts over the last few seasons - particularly around single estates, traceability, etc. so we expect some ongoing inter-change of ideas as both markets further mature and suppliers seek more distinct points of difference.
Winemakers have always demonstrated a clear supremacy over coffee roaster's when it came to taste notes and it's still the case today. As an avid wine enthusiast who consumes far too much of the red stuff, I thoroughly enjoy reading the descriptors available on bottles of wines and yet I fail dismally to incorporate these inspirations - maybe we just like to keep it simple as coffee isn't always savored in the same slow moments as wine.
Most coffee roasters, myself included, don't spend enough time clearly articulating the taste or flavour attributes - excuses aside, a typical coffee roaster has to juggle literally hundreds of tasks each day as the demands upon our time is always challenged by working on product lifecycles measured in just minutes or hours versus the weeks and months for wine.
But there's also a noise that coffee roasters must endure - an ever present feedback loop. It's sometimes loud and it's also capable of bending the weak minded if you don't have the right structure around your business and your processes. Maybe winemakers also have to deal with this noise, I just don't know.
As a veteran of the coffee roasting game, long ago in my own early days there was always a heavy emphasis to obtain people's feedback or opinions no matter what it was, I wanted to hear it - too dark, too light, not strong enough, too acidic, too fruity, not nutty enough.
On and on it went, often chasing my tail when I could not see the obvious elephants in the room making most of the noise. The loudest voices were in fact the minorities often sitting on the edges of the coffee centre.
Ironically, many of those voices were from specialty cafes owned by passionate coffee enthusiasts which made it even more difficult to adjust to their feedback as you tended to over-trust their senses, which inevitably I learned the hard way was often a mistaken assumption on my part.
You see, as their coffee roaster I was the gateway to the broader coffee universe and they used this channel to indulge in their own coffee journey or fantasies - largely at our expense in terms of excessive time and effort sourcing, roasting and then testing yet another set of new directions in coffee. They would get bored with a coffee after just 2 weeks - make me up something new, something I haven't tasted before, something nobody else has got.
Back then there was also another factor disrupting our common sense - an era I often referred to as the "cafe arms race". Each cafe trying to outdo the other by racing to the top of the coffee temple in some imaginary pursuit they believed would make them successful - Nano-lots, exclusive lots, Cup of Excellence lots, $100/kg Geisha's, etc.
All that mattered to these blinded souls were bragging rights as to "who was doing the best coffee in town". How could they know as nobody was capable or skilled in tasting every cup in town, so it was all just jumping at shadows.
My goodness those days, nights and weekends were tough - frantically searching for an elusive pot of gold at a never-ending rainbow. Of course I shouldn't complain, it was a furious cauldron of hot competition that built up extreme levels of skills and expertise we now leverage every day.
It was only when I switched down the volume of that incessant noise that our roasting stepped up to the next level. Instead of constantly juggling competing demands, we made some tough decisions to focus on a style of coffee that in our opinion was more universally appealing.
We also made a break with wholesale and contract supply long ago to focus all our incredible resources on being the best online and it's been a long journey of continuous improvements as we are in fact one of the original online coffee pioneers from 14 years ago when nobody but the brave bought coffee online.
Playing with coffee for close to 40 years we realized it was clearly not possible to offer something different or unique (despite everyone promising they can) and more importantly it also became patently obvious you can't please everyone.
Take fruity coffees for example - some customers go absolutely nuts for fruity notes, yet others recoil in horror and claim the coffee is defective. There is an old saying - give the same coffee to 7 people and you will receive 7 different types of feedback.
Building a coffee everyone loves is significantly harder than creating something that's different to everything else. Even today, we have people regularly barking at us to roast in different styles because they can't find what they are looking for anywhere else - maybe that's the point, their needs are so unique it's not something that's going to be broadly accepted by the greater majority and hence sitting on the fringe can be dangerous place to hang out.
Coffee has almost 4 times the number of transformations from seed to cup compared to wine. Of course that certainly doesn't mean it is 4 times more complex, it's just that there are an incredible array of variables involved along the way with coffee.
It also means that there are many things that can go wrong when the roasted coffee is in the hands of the end-user as different techniques used in the brew or extraction generally become the cause of disappointment, so it's not as easy as opening a bottle and pouring into a glass.
Finding your place in the coffee spectrum is not as easy as it sounds - the market is dynamic, crowded, saturated, noisy, messy and dysfunctional, ultra competitive, unstructured and consumers tastes shift rapidly without warning.
There's also a lot of loose truths bandied around by companies claiming their coffee is so much better than everyone else, unfortunately, it's an always going to remain an ego-driven industry with way too many false and hollow promises. Today, more than ever newbie coffee marketers seem to think that price a coffee sells for should be used as a reliable indicator of either freshness or quality - how wrong they are.
In many respects, the coffee industry defies the proven logic of business playbooks. According to developed wisdom for those trying to succeed in a crowded market, you must be different or unique, yet when you translate that for coffee you risk missing the majority of your market.
Our coffees will evolve over time, just like the rest of the market. We know the sensible middle might be the safest and also most heavily contested turf, but it's also a place of considerable strength for us because after all it's about playing to the customer need of a smooth, rich, creamy beverage that's not going to offend but yet still delights the senses with enough charisma to satisfy.
We understand the target well and we hit it often with almost all of our coffees within the tolerances allowable for the beans being roasted, yet there will always be some coffees that skirt along the edges because life would be boring if everything was the same and sometimes coffee roasters, just like chefs and many others working with variable ingredients, deserve to have a little bit of self-indulgent fun as well ;-).