I’m reasonably sure that every business strives for excellence, but why is it only some get there? I see plenty who are trying to achieve that elusive state, they do all the right things but still they never make it beyond good.
Meeting Andrew Kelly from Auction Rooms/Small Batch Roasters last week, the penny finally dropped. Rationality and diligence will only get you so far. You need to be a bit mental. Not Bob Katter mental, a healthy dose of obsession will usually do the trick.
Andrew isn’t mental but he is undoubtably obsessed. And hooray for that because without it he wouldn’t be driven to do the things that his more rational counterparts don’t and Auction Rooms/Small Batch Roasters wouldn’t be the remarkable business it is. What I like about Andrew’s approach is that no step is too far in the quest for the best. His accountant must hate life.
From a coffee point of view, Andrew wants Auction Rooms to be the most vertically-integrated, transparent and educative cafe in Melbourne. What does that mean? Well for a start it means a lot of work for the guys at Auction Rooms. It means sourcing beans from a distinct origin, whether thatâ€™s an estate or an individual farm, having a relationship with the grower so that they get feedback about what’s good with the coffee and what could be improved. It means roasting the coffee through a process of trial and error so that it not only tastes wonderful, but also highlights the characteristics of the bean that are unique to its origin. Then all that’s left is to determine which method of preparation best suits the coffee in question. I had the good fortune to have a Nekisse from Ethiopia made as a pour-over which really drove home what the Auction Rooms approach was all about. The coffee was quite simply amazing; easily a top five coffee highlight for me. I’ve had a Nekisse as an espresso before and it was stunning, but it was only as a pour-over that I could taste a much broader spectrum of flavours, most notably a really pronounced strawberry flavour. I’ve thought about that cup of coffee everyday since. I should probably get a girlfriend.
Some people make a lot of the fact that the so called Third Wave push alternatives to espresso coffee. Some go so far as to say that these people hate the espresso machine. Not true, but it is a love hate relationship. Without the espresso machine, there would be no coffee culture in Melbourne. We would have spent the last fifty years drinking insipid drip coffee or worse still, instant coffee. Thank you espresso machine. That said, if we’re serious about continually raising the standard of coffee in this city, then weâ€™re going to need to consider alternatives to the espresso machine. Preparing all coffee the same way is too limiting. Itâ€™s like saying that everything you eat has to be cooked on the barbeque.
There’s so much more I’d like to tell you about Auction Rooms, so many more reasons why you should pay them a visit, but I run the risk of turning this into a novella. All you really need to know is that this is one of Melbourne’s great cafes.