In the last 20 years, as Australia’s cafe and coffee culture has flourished, Mecca Coffee has been at the forefront of the wave, with transparency and uncompromising standards as their beautifully distinct point of difference. Coffee sourcing, roasting and serving has truly become an art, rewarding those with an intimate understanding, ability to work with (rather than against) the origin of the beans and thoughtful experimentation. In a lot of ways, the performance of coffee roasting has become a lot like the innovation we’ve seen in Australian winemaking. We sat down with Head Coffee Roaster, Daniel May, to talk all things coffee and wine.
Dan, thanks for taking the time with us today. How did you find yourself falling in love for coffee and landing head coffee roaster role at Mecca?
Food and drink were the gateway drug from early on, coffee followed, and I began working on ‘the tools’ (barista) at Mecca Alexandria five years ago.
The cafe there is attached to the roastery, it’s HQ so from day one I was cupping and wheesling my way out into the roastery and off the coffee machine. Now I’m focusing on roasting and green coffee buying for Mecca.
Can you tell us a bit about what a day in your role entails?
Roasting, cupping, coffee buying, content writing and more cupping.
Coffee is a seasonal product, and when coffee producing countries are harvesting, we’re continuously evaluating different farmer lots and making buying decisions.
That's the bigger picture, on a day-to-day basis we’re focusing on the coffees we have on our menu. We’re tasting every roast we do, taking that information and transferring it onto the roasters to make the end product better.
It seems like the entire coffee industry, from growers, to importers, roasters and baristas continues to transform. From single origin, fair trade beans to double ristrettos and ¾ oat milk lattes. How important is it to stay ahead of the curve? Can it get tiring?
That's right it is, and its important not to get carried away with needless complexity. We focus on what's important to us and translate that to our customers. It’s all about the coffee, we’re working with farmers that really care.
For example a coffee we have on our menu right now by the farmer Maria Olimpia is a model example. She grows old varieties (Typica & Bourbon) via a natural style of farming - there’s insects, birds, fungi and all sorts of healthy life amongst the coffee trees. She’s meticulous in fermenting and sorting the coffee, you can taste it all in the cup and we love it.
Anyway, the bigger point I’m trying to make is that all the ‘goodness’, the flavours you taste in coffee are inherent from the coffee tree. Roasters aren’t creating ‘floral’ or ‘citrus’ notes, they’re already inside the green beans or they’re not. So sourcing and developing a palate for selecting delicious and interesting coffees is at the heart of it.
Do you see yourself as a bit of a ‘coffee sommelier’? Or can you see any parallels between winemaking and the coffee buying / roasting process?
Yeah in a way. Both a winemaker and a coffee roaster is handed a raw, living product and has to turn it into a drinkable beverage, both need fermentation to get there.
I believe more coffee roasters in the future will own their own farms, that would be interesting to see, connecting them more to their product.