The specialty coffee industry in Melbourne is an interesting one, one that’s almost unrecognizable from its incarnation a decade ago; back then, there were closed doors, blends made of secret components, and only a few big name coffee companies.
These days, the floodgates have opened and there are many small roasters, retailers, and coffee shops – all with passionate individuals behind them, making great coffee using fresh, high quality, raw coffee.
One of these people is Jason Scheltus, director of coffee at Market Lane Coffee. While he’s now an integral part of the Melbourne specialty scene, it wasn’t always so. After attempting to get involved in the coffee roasting industry in Melbourne in 2004 and finding only a myriad of closed doors, he decided to head overseas in search of a new opportunity and ended up in London, roasting for Monmouth Coffee. After two years with Monmouth he returned to Australia and helped start up Market Lane Coffee with Fleur Studd.
In his time away, a lot had changed in Melbourne, and still today the industry is constantly growing and morphing. Jason attributes this growth and change to specialty coffee being a very young industry in Australia, “Which is good, which is exciting, because we can write our own rules and no one is going to push back too hard on that.” With youth, however, can come audaciousness.
“Everyone has a new toy and they’re finding lots of different ways to play with it. It’s all a bit hyped up at the moment and it’ll settle down over the next five years; people will start focusing on doing a couple of things well rather than everything at once.”
Because specialty coffee isn’t an age-old established industry like many others, there is no set training that will guarantee a job, thus it’s an industry in which you learn by doing and by seeking out opportunities.
For Jason, he stays in it because it’s as fascinating as it was when he started and because he “…sees each day [working in coffee] as an opportunity to do it perfectly, because each day we can improve.”
Working in a young industry that is in a constant state of flux also means that there’s hype with every new coffee, every new machine, and every new technique. And while change is good, in the end it should come down to the quality and integrity of the product in the cup, not the amount of hype surrounding it. As a result of this hype, as Jason so eloquently puts it, “There is a significant amount of bullshit going on in the industry that we need to root out…”
Hopefully, with time the industry will settle down and higher standards will be set for specialty coffee in Melbourne and cafes will be obliged to start out with a good product and provide training. Jason concludes that “it’ll take time for the consumer to be able to walk into a café, ignore the Synesso in the corner, and ask ‘is this a good cup of coffee’ regardless of the machinery.”
All photography and articles © Eileen P Kenny