As Fitzroy’s Industry Beans prepares for its first birthday (well wishers: it’s tomorrow, Friday 7 March – and free coffee all day is on the menu), we swung on by to find out what makes a thriving caffeine enterprise tick, aside from the obvious. A warehouse conversion that has retained more than most, Industry Beans runs a slick operation; bean to cup in the purest essence. Comprising a warehouse; roasting facility; cupping room; espresso bar; café; packaging depot and wall-to-wall passion, the house that brothers Trevor and Steve Simmons built is one seriously impressive outfit. At the helm of Northcote café Penny Farthing for three years prior, the sibling’s Fitzroy outpost is an extension of a roasting operation they began by leasing a roaster up in the North Melbourne suburb – selling wholesale to a select network of coffee connoisseurs. Celebrating four years of Penny Farthing and 12 months of Industry Beans within a month of each other, it’s a far cry from shuffling into their bank manager’s office, cap in hand.
Everything about Trevor and Steve’s Fitzroy set-up screams process, authority and spirit – from the raw shipping pallets that make up its visual aesthetic, to the expansive knowledge of their committed crew. The bean to cup process begins upstairs, a crack commando unit, arbiters of Coffea taste obsessing over the latest bean samples (Indonesian, Brazilian, Ethiopian…) delivered that day. Brew, taste. Brew, taste. Around 10% of coffee consumed in this room makes it onto the palates of Industry Beans’ baying public, via the hefty German roaster that sits at the back of the café downstairs. There’s little separation between the official operation and the tables and chairs that welcome Melbourne’s caffeine-slurping everyman – a closeness that rubs off on their patrons. There’s coffee-geekery in the air here, it’s contagious.
Out front, it’s the Brew Bar where the serious business of geekery takes place. We nestle up as Mandy, who takes a break from preparing coffee caviar (YES, coffee caviar) prepares us a siphon coffee – a fabulously over-engineered filter coffee brewing method that wouldn’t look out of place in a meth lab. The results are impressive – think clear, tea-like coffee with a delicate roundness of flavour – but, once again, this is all about the process. As soon as Mandy fires up the contraption, orders come in – fancy coffee paraphernalia may be commonplace round these parts, but that little dose of theatre remains and irresistible allure.
The kitchen keeps face with the caffeine nerds too: Hoe Cakes (beer basted pulled pork, poached eggs, vinegar slaw and watercress) are a religious experience, Baked Apple Bread with Coffee Caviar a telling indictment of obsessive commitment to a cause – elBulli-esque pearls of pulse-swelling liquid. Ooh the clever little bastards. Tucked away on Fitzroy’s street art-laden backstreets – the neighbourhood a former stomping ground for the brothers, Trevor tells me – Industry Beans is a paragon of gusto, a shrine for international caffeine-addicts to fix up inside. Go forth, drink espresso, pour over, aeropress, syphon, cold drip, cold brew – just don’t get caught drinking a milky coffee like I did. By the boss.