First there was wine…then craft beer and gourmet produce…then distilleries…now it’s coffee’s turn to shine in the Margaret River region. By Norman Burns.
No doubt about it – the coffee scene in the Margaret River region is booming.
Groovy little boutique coffee shops and cafes are springing up all over the place; whereas once you pretty much had to pack a Thermos on a trip down south to ensure you got a decent coffee, 2016 tells a different story altogether.
I first got into coffee in Seattle in the early 90s; the Washington state city is, of course, where mega-chain Starbucks first began. Starbucks wasn’t the only game in town; if you walked down to the Pike Place Market one-man coffee stands were literally lining the street every dozen or so metres.
Nine years in Melbourne pretty much cemented my working regime; not much meaningful can happen until after that first, sweet, brew.
A great coffee shop is much more than just a place to get a drink; it should be a social hub, the spark to get the creative juices flowing. The difference between a good, great or downright horrible coffee is in the hands of the barista but also the origin of the bean, the method in the roasting and a whole lot more.
Baristas are artists and food engineers; and in many cases there’s also a confessional aspect to chatting with your favourite coffee maker. Oh, the tales they could tell…
Now the Margaret River region is not as cosmopolitan as Seattle, Melbourne or New York – yet. But the choice, and quality, of the coffee available is certainly reaching the same heights as that served in those wonderful cities and Perth.
“Just as our region is famous for its wonderful wines we are finding an increasing following of coffee drinkers looking for that same breadth of flavours from their coffees,” says Yahava KoffeeWorks’ marketing manager David Bassett.
Yahava could rightly claim to be the pioneer of the Margaret River coffee movement.
Below: roasting at Yahava KoffeeWorks Margaret River
It was founded in 2001 by coffee lover and Yallingup resident Alex Kok (who also goes by the sobriquet the Koffee Baron) who was pining for the great roasted coffee of his native Europe.
After exploring the world’s great coffee growing regions, Alex brought back samples to his Yallingup home, experimenting with different roasts. Thus was born the Yahava KoffeeWorks; Alex is no longer involved in the day to day running of the business, which is now franchised (Harriet and Don Stocker own the Margaret River establishment and there is a KoffeeWorks in Singapore and the Swan Valley).
From the outset, Yahava set out to be more than just a coffee “shop”; it is a veritable coffee “theme park” and tourist attraction in its own right, aiming to spread knowledge – and love – about one of the world’s most popular non-alcoholic drinks (according to 2014 statistics, Finland is the world’s biggest-per-capita coffee market, with an average of 1,252 cups drunk annually).
“We have built our Yahava KoffeeWorks to entice budding and seasoned coffee explorers to begin their own personal coffee adventure,” says David. “On our tasting benches you can explore different coffee and teas for free. We also explain in lay terms exactly what to look for in a coffee and identify what are your taste preferences.”
Yahava isn’t resting on its laurels either.
“To help with the explosion of orders we’ve had to build a specialist roastery in Vasse to supply a growing number of discerning cafes and restaurants throughout WA,” says David.
“And later this year we’ll be opening the long-awaited Brewing Academy in Margaret River Yahava KoffeeWorks. Here fans will be able to taste differently brewed coffees and learn more about brewing equipment and processes.”
Below: Coffee and lemon tart at Riversmith, Margaret River
A new generation, too, of coffee entrepreneurs are bringing their own creative twists to the Margaret River region coffee scene.
Isaac Kara started off working in specialty coffee in Perth before moving back south and setting up the Margaret River Roasting Company and his own cafe, Maker Espresso, in space at Merchant & Maker in Dunsborough.
“Coffee in the south west is really starting to evolve,” says the 29-year-old. “Customers are demanding quality beverages, which is putting pressure on cafe owners and baristas to refine their methods and rethink their current offerings. Cafes such as Maker Espresso, Albert and Nikola and Brewshack are demonstrating that the south west is capable of producing cups of coffee that would rival any of the big city coffee boutiques.”
Below: Maker Espresso opened in Dunsborough in mid 2016
Isaac says he sources beans from Costa Rica, Colombia, Ethiopia and Guatemala. “The farms we source these beans from are known for their fair trade, quality and most importantly, consistency.”
While everyone has their own coffee favourite, it’s always good to know what the experts go to.
“If I’m drinking black coffee, I can’t go past any high quality Ethiopian,” says Isaac. “The delicate, floral and sweet notes really comes through. When milk is involved, I avoid light roasted beans as I enjoy the way darker roasts cut through milk. Blends with a Brazilian or Colombian base normally get me excited.”
Below: Barista Isaac Kara at Maker Espresso, Dunsborough
Margaret River coffee evangelists are also prepared to go far and wide in their search for new beans, trends or brewing styles; Combi Coffee founder Frederick Reidy was, at the time of writing this piece, on a fact finding mission in Jamaica and the US.
“Initially we went to Jamaica to see what’s on offer; what we found was similar to the attitude of the nation – strong, pure and proud. We sipped coffee all over the Blue Mountain ranges. We wanted to see with our own eyes how coffee is grown; we watched while a whole season’s harvest was hand-picked by a single Jamaican woman who showed us the minute differences between a cracked bean and a whole bean,” says Frederick.
The former musician earned his barista stripes at the Margaret River Bakery before hitting on a novel concept for a mobile cafe using an iconic 1976 VW Kombi van.
“In the chain of command – from our farmer, to our roaster Nick from Ravens Coffee in Denmark (he only roasts for us and himself), there is love from beginning to end. We can be in direct contact with our Colombian farmer if need be – it’s a family operation. Of course, we are all-organic, biodynamic, free range and we believe a quality ingredient makes a quality end product that you can taste. Our milk is top-notch too, happy cows from the south west. We like a dark roast that appeals to our creamy milk and to all customers. We find that a blend – 20% Colombian, 80% Brazilian – achieves that. Single origin doesn’t.”
Frederick says Combi Coffee will soon be re-launched, with a fresh look.
“We are currently in LA talking business with potential partners in a fast growing niche coffee market here. We have extended to Fremantle now but we will never forget where we started at the beautiful mouth of the Margaret River. That’s where the heart of Combi lies.”
MAKE MINE A BEETROOT
The coffee craze wouldn’t be the same without people who actually don’t like the stuff. Catering for the non-coffee fan has seen the emergence of some pretty wild – and tasty as it turns out – alternatives.
Take the drinks menu at the Sidekick Cafe in Margaret River for instance; as well as great coffees (they source their single origin, roasted beans from Duke’s Coffee) there is an eclectic range of drinks such as Beetroot Latte (dehydrated beetroot and almond or soy milk), Turmeric Chai Latte, even a Dirty Chai Latte (a Chai Tea Latte with a sneaky shot of espresso).
“The Beetroot Latte is our latest love of the many specialty drinks we make,” says Sidekick owner Rob Gough. “We also make some wonderful chocolate drinks from local chocolatier Josh Bahen’s organic chocolate and there are sure to be more surprises as we explore and experiment.”
A GROWING CONCERN
The more coffee that’s consumed, the more waste left over. But, thanks to some out-of-the-box thinking by Perth’s Julian Mitchell and Ryan Creed, this “waste” can be put to good use.
The duo are the brains behind Life Cykel, an ingenious concept which produces delicious, gourmet oyster mushrooms out of the detritus of coffee making.
“Life Cykel grows gourmet oyster mushrooms utilising waste products, particularly coffee waste. The process of brewing coffee goes through heat treatment, sterilising the waste, killing any bacteria and making it a good growing medium. Coffee grounds are not really a ‘waste’ product; they are nutrient-rich so have many properties that oyster mushrooms love.”
Below: Life Cykel use coffee grounds in their mushroom farm
Why oyster mushrooms? “Oyster mushrooms are delicious, offering a lot more flavour than your basic buttons, portobellos or Swiss mushrooms. As well as taste, it’s the nutritional value that sets them apart. They are known as the ‘vegetarian steak’ due to their high iron, Vitamin B and protein content,”
Life Cykel now collects around 350kg of coffee grounds waste a week – well over a tonne a month – and has set up a dedicated oyster mushroom ‘farm’ in a converted container specially to supply wineries and restaurants in Margaret River.
“Oyster mushrooms don’t travel well and we believe should be grown locally,”
Below: Julian and Ryan from Life Cykel
Our top 3 scenic coffee spots
From Foreshore to forest, you’re never far away from a fantastic coffee in Your Margaret River Region. Here are our top 3 cafes offering beautiful backdrops:
- Cape Leeuwin Cafe, at Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, where the Indian and Southern Oceans meet.
- Cafe Boranup is located just off Caves Road in the ancient Boranup Karri Forest.
- Equinox Cafe overlooks the beautiful Geographe Bay and the historic Busselton Jetty.