Sean Edwards from Café Culture magazine and consultant to Peak Coffee in Port Macquarie
has filled his passport travelling the world, discovering the origins of coffee.
Hi Sean. You’ve travelled extensively to coffee origins around the world. Where have you been so far?
Since my 15 years in the coffee industry, I have travelled to coffee growing countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, Hawaii, Thailand, Bali, Indonesia, India, Malaysia and Vietnam. Most of my trips were to write stories about those areas and the unique way their farmers grow and produce coffee.
I have been very lucky to be invited into some of the most unusual growing coffee regions around the world and seeing some of the world’s rarest and sought after green beans. Part of the travel process is to source new and fresh green coffee beans for Peak Coffee in Port Macquarie, to keep the quality approach of this business at the leading edge of the marketplace.
Your latest trip was to Vietnam. Tell us a bit about Vietnamese coffee …
The latest Vietnam trip was to look at the changing farming practices of Vietnamese coffee growers switching from Robusta coffee plants to new hybrid Arabica species. Vietnam is the second largest coffee growing nation in the world and has been responsible for growing large supplies of Robusta coffee for the instant coffee market. We had heard about coffee farmers in the Dalat region of Southern inland Vietnam changing to the more higher quality new Arabica varieties. The Dalat area has perfect growing conditions for Arabica coffees, with high altitude and beautiful soil and good annual rainfall.
The nice thing about Vietnam is they actually enjoy coffee as a nation – which is quite unusual in many coffee growing countries, whose people often prefer to drink tea, so the push for higher quality beans is at the forefront for the producers. France governed Vietnam until the 1940s, so Vietnam has a very European food culture, which includes good, high quality coffee.
Most Vietnamese locals enjoy their daily coffee through a stainless steel dripper pot, and it is often mixed with sweet condensed milk. I enjoy Vietnam style coffee and have offered this special brew method to clients who visit Peak Coffee Roasting Warehouse and Laboratory.
What was the highlight of the trip?
I have had many trips to Vietnam over the last 10 years and enjoyed bringing the FOCUS film crew and some other Australian coffee roasters to document the real story behind fairly traded green coffee. We were invited to interview an ethical coffee growing co-op called Oriberry, who help the farmers market their unique coffees to the world. A good friend of ours, Virginia Holloway, has been in Vietnam working with charity groups who are working to help the poor and homeless. Virginia and her team understand that coffee is an area where the rest of the world can help out in supporting poor communities, because of its popularity in western nations.
Part of our trip was to look at sourcing ethical high quality green beans to roast at Peak Coffee. We have started the process firstly by educating our market, then we will expose them to some great tasting coffee varieties from Vietnam.
You’ve also spent some time volunteering with an organisation called KOTO?
I discovered a charity group several years ago called KOTO, that was set up to introduce street kids to a career in hospitality. KOTO was started by Jimmy Pham, who was a child when he came to Australia as a ‘Boat Person’ in the ’70s, escaping the war torn Vietnam. Jimmy’s not for profit charity has helped thousands of young Vietnamese teenagers find work in five star hotels around the world after an extensive two year training program. Jimmy set up this amazing concept after revisiting Vietnam to trace his heritage. I was lucky to be invited by World Champion Barista Judge Justin Metcalf to set up a coffee training program as part of the KOTO training module. We have been following this program for several years, and it is one of Peak Coffee’s preferred charities.
What have you learnt from your travels that you have brought back with you to the Peak roastery here in Port Macquarie?
What has been important to the team at Peak Coffee is the pursuit of quality. Fresh supply of green bean via direct trade links to coffee origin is vital to Peak’s success. A lot of people demand to use Fair Trade coffee, but don’t really understand the process and all the commission structure in between the farmer and coffee roaster, which is not always that ethical. We have realised it is not impossible to set up our own ethical trading arrangements with coffee growing estates around the world, and we will endeavour to pursue this approach. The No.1 help you can give a developing nation is to buy their products at a fair price and help them pursue a quality approach in farming and business. I have also learnt not to be judgmental on coffee styles – it’s not all about a trendy latte; it is about the social aspect that the coffee and café scene create in our great town. Peak Coffee builds its business success on educating its customer base and helping create passion around this exciting industry called ‘coffee’.
Where to next?
The Australian coffee industry is a long way from saturation point. I can see an exciting industry future where customers can really enjoy the real story about the world’s most popular beverage: coffee. I have been blessed over the last 15 years that I became involved in the coffee/café movement to assist the growth of the industry and predict trends. The other side of my business is Café Culture – a magazine produced by 8 talented Port Macquarie locals which has had massive growth, and now we basically run the media for the whole Australian café trade.
The marketing team produces products like Café Culture trade magazine, which is distributed free of charge to every café in Australia, and we own and organise 2 large national events: ‘Café Biz’ and the world’s largest coffee roaster competition, ‘The Golden Bean’.
Running a national business in Port Macquarie can be challenging in the fact that travel is a big part of the job in educating an industry. The nice part of our own education process is we can share our experiences and passion through publications like FOCUS and Peak Coffee Roastery and Retail Laboratory.
I see myself continuing to educate our future baristas and café and coffee consumers to a higher level of appreciation and passion, and lots more fun travel.
To watch Part I of Sean’s
Vietnam Coffee Tour
Scan the QR Code or visit www.youtu.be/-hpdqbmMtTQ
This article can be found in issue 87 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus