What does ‘different’ really mean? I did a quick Google search, and one of the definitions I found is this; “not the same as another or each other; unlike in nature, form, or quality.” As someone who has managed a café and spends all his money going to other cafés, having a point of difference or something to be remembered by is incredibly important. Australia has a coffee culture like nowhere else in the world; we love going out for smashed avo and a flat white on a Sunday morning. Already, this is a point of difference from the rest of the world, as Australia (or New Zealand, depending on who you ask) created the flat white, and are generally the only people who serve it. Sitting down to have a coffee with a meal is another common thing Aussies do. Take Italy for example… you walk into a coffee shop, drop two euros on the counter, smash a ‘doppio’ (double espresso) and leave. Sit down and have a coffee, on the other hand, and you’re looking at up to four times that price. The Italian culture is fast paced, in and out, job done. Australians are more than happy to have a chat with their cuppa, and that, in my opinion, is a great difference.
Taking it to a smaller scale, each café owner wants to have their own point of difference as well. What is it that each business will champion? Is it food? Super crazy milkshakes? Coffee? Or do they want to do a little bit of everything well, and have one hell of a nice design to their shop? Whatever it is, everyone has something that they do a little different, and that’s how you define yourself as a coffee shop. Without difference, the café scene would be stale and boring. Being different is great, people!
Let’s take it away from coffee for a second. I, like so many teenagers, started my work life in fast food. For me, it was McDonalds, which I enjoyed to the end because I had the chance to learn. Before anyone writes Maccas off, it has to be considered that they became the behemoth that they are by being great at what they do, being able to adapt and change, and more importantly, they have taken steps to do something different. In the old days, Maccas used a bulk burger system; they would make a large quantity of product at a time and not make more until they were running out of each burger. For example, we used to make 16 hamburgers, then not make more until we had 4 left. As the industry evolved and people started to go to other chains because their product was of a higher quality, McDonalds worked out that people left and didn’t come back because they would be getting handed burgers that were over half an hour old – the bun was hard, the cheese was hard and the meat had gone rubbery. What the company then did, was develop a ‘made-for-you’ system that they still use today. MFY is aptly named because the burger you order, is made just for you, fresh every time, ensuring every product was meeting the international McDonalds standard of quality. What I am trying to tell you in this example, is that in order for Maccas to survive, they had to do something vastly different to what they were used to doing – an incredible change for a massive company. The result of this crazy change was ultimately for the better; it was something that gave the company a focus around delivering a quality product. They made a small sacrifice to sheer speed of service, in order to make a better product.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking… that this has nothing to do with coffee culture and daring to be different, and I’m going to tell you that it’s exactly what this is about! Think back to what makes your favorite coffee shop the best to you. I can safely say that it is because in your eyes, that place does something better than the rest, something different. As an industry, coffee is getting very close to becoming stale and stagnant. We’ve hit a place that we are all happy with, but we aren’t pushing boundaries. That flat white you drink every morning is great, but is it the best it can be? Maybe, but how are you going to know that without trying new things all the time? Specialty coffee is beginning to go down the path of doing things differently.
We have started investing in farmers (yeah, the guys that spend over a year growing a plant that they can sell to put food on the table for their family) and investing in their plantations in order to develop their quality of living, which raises the quality of their crop, which then leads to roasters getting higher quality green bean, for Baristas to be able to deliver higher quality coffee in your cup. Long story short is that something that takes a year to develop, that we create in a matter of seconds, is usually consumed in a few minutes and is poorly represented. I’m not going to tell you how to drink your coffee, because taste is subjective and I understand that you won’t like the same things that I do, however I do encourage change, and I challenge you to try something new. We are at that point in the development of the coffee industry where we need to change or we risk becoming irrelevant.
The espresso bar at Seven Miles is one of these crazy new places that is trying to do something new. We are delivering something that best represents the story that coffee can tell. That means our point of difference is going to be pretty drastic. The first step we are taking to change it all up is changing our coffee every week. Every Monday, I open a bag of coffee made up of beans that fit a theme that we can highlight via the drinks we make. Themes around origin, processing, varietal and flavor profile. Filter coffee is also a new thing, at least for most of us. Filter coffee is a much lighter way of drinking coffee, as it only relies on gravity and temperature to brew it. Sure, it takes a few minutes, but it is a much more delicate and complex way to drink coffee. We can highlight sweetness and acidity through the beverage, and really round off the flavor and leave no bitter aftertaste.
It sounds crazy, I know, but it’s really very simple. When you’re here, we will run you through what is going on this week, what we’re trying to get out of the coffee and we will build something for you to enjoy. We want you to do something radical. Go skydiving, buy a motorbike, drink your coffee without milk, and swim with sharks… y’know, crazy things! Don’t go stale, chase after quality and don’t settle for anything that isn’t great. Dare to do something different…