From Ground to Grind
Coffee; it’s the world’s most consumed beverage other than water, and as Tim Adams has discovered, is more than just a morning ritual. Now, the Australian champion barista is proving he truly is a coffee craftsman, improving the way it is cultivated and consumed to better the industry from crop to cup.
The trademark smile disappears, replaced with a look of concentration as he swirls the double ristretto base around the latte glass in his left hand and pours the textured milk from a height.
Tim Adams takes coffee very seriously.
“Throughout my childhood my father only drank instant coffee, which smelt bad and tasted bad. And when I was in the military there was only access to instant coffee, so I never got involved in drinking coffee and as a result, had a really late start on consuming it,” Tim says.
From 1999 to 2003, Tim served with the Royal Australian Navy, following in the footsteps of his father and brother. Upon enlisting, Tim applied for a technically-challenging role, but during the aptitude testing, discovered he was colourblind, which restricted his duties to within the supply chain of the military, working as either a storeman, steward, cook or deckhand.
Over the years that transition from commercial coffee to specialty coffee was moving at a very solid motion and I knew that was the direction I needed to go in.”
For four years, Tim worked as a cook and earned full chef accreditations through TAFE.
“When I was discharged, I moved from cooking to front-of-house as a barista and started to taste what good coffee was. It had a lot more nuances than instant coffee and I became heavily involved in wanting to know why it tasted so different and good, and that’s where my journey started,” he says.
Growing up, Tim and his family moved around New South Wales and Queensland, following his father’s navy commitments, and when he was 12 years old they settled in Hervey Bay, where Tim met his now-wife Katie at high school.
After graduating, they moved to Melbourne and then to Sydney, where Katie also worked for the defence force in a corporate capacity. Post-navy and in their early 20s, Tim and Katie made a home on the Sunshine Coast.
“In Melbourne and Sydney a lot of the roasteries have amazing food menus and high quality chefs because it brings people into the cafes – they don’t just go out for coffee, they go for food and then coffee, whereas up here coffee will bring people in to buy food,” Tim says.
Visiting a place like Honduras is so humbling and makes you want to be a better person, to keep driving our business forward so we can help those producers have a better livelihood.”
“I realised I needed to do something a little bit differently, but use the skill I have in hospitality, so I landed a job with a distributor for one of the commercial coffee companies, selling a product I knew nothing about and didn’t really know how to make either, so I had to get up to speed pretty quickly.
“The more I started to learn about what went into producing espresso coffee, the more interested I became, and over the years that transition from commercial coffee to specialty coffee was moving at a very solid motion and I knew that was the direction I needed to go in.”
After five years, Tim and Katie made the decision to launch their own business and brand, establishing Tim Adams Specialty Coffee in 2010.
“Having a wholesale background, I was already trained in dealing with customers and found there was a really big gap in being looked after, not only in terms of personalised service but also with the credibility of the product to go behind it,” he says.
Along with roasting and wholesaling, they bought a mobile coffee van, which gave Tim a job and provided enough income to sustain the business.
By that time, Tim had already won the AustralAsian Specialty Coffee Association (AASCA) Queensland Barista Championship three times; taken out the title of Australian Barista Champion (he is still the only Queenslander to win the national competition); and placed 13th at the World Barista Championship in 2009. This gave him some clout within the industry, and stamina to drive the coffee culture forward on the Sunshine Coast to a point it could rival Sydney and Melbourne.
The farmers can use the money to put back into their lifestyles. It makes us enjoy what we do and know that we’re doing things sustainably.”
Having validated his skills behind the machine, Tim has also proven to be a successful businessman, opening Lamkin Lane Espresso Bar in Caloundra in 2013 and Pedro and Grizz Roastery in 2014, in conjunction with wife Katie and business partners James and Angela Pedrazzini.
With all three businesses and brands thriving, in August 2015 they teamed up with three other roasters to launch the Chapola Project, which has seen sales from the Chapola house blend, along with funds from the Hot 91.1 co-branded coffee van and takeaway cups, given to producers in parts of the world that have great coffee but don’t have the money to see the full potential.
“That has allowed us to buy really great coffee at really expensive prices, but the farmers can use the money to put back into their lifestyles. It makes us enjoy what we do and know that we’re doing things sustainably,” he says.
“If you keep taking and taking, eventually there’s nothing to take anymore, unless you give back. It’s such a circle industry; each year we need to buy coffee off farmers and each year we need to know we’re buying coffee better than last year and the only way to do that is to invest back into it.”
Tim and his collaborative team also visit origin every single harvest, up to four times per year, with trips already planned for Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Colombia and Honduras this year.
“It’s a life changing moment for someone who works in coffee to visit an origin-producing country – from a large, flat, low altitude farm to somewhere where it’s grown 2000m above sea level on mountain ranges that are incredibly hard to grow and pick coffee from,” he says.
“Visiting a place like Honduras is so humbling and makes you want to be a better person, to keep driving our business forward so we can help those producers have a better livelihood. All of our team knows where our coffee is from and who our producers are.
If you keep taking and taking, eventually there’s nothing to take anymore, unless you give back. It’s such a circle industry; each year we need to buy coffee off farmers and each year we need to know we’re buying coffee better than last year and the only way to do that is to invest back into it.”
“I feel if I didn’t do that – visit origin and have that connection – I wouldn’t have the motivation to keep going in the industry because it’s the pinnacle of what we do, and it’s great our whole industry does it a lot more too.”
A recent trend is also customising coffee and experimenting to create better flavours from coffee that may otherwise have been ‘boring’. And by buying direct from the producer and ‘cupping’ at origin, Tim says he knows exactly what he is paying for.
“It’s like when you buy fresh vegetables online and they get home delivered. Are they exactly what you would pick? Probably not – the avocado is too hard, the apple is already soft, or the peach is juicy and you wanted it rock hard. Whereas when you go to a fresh market and pick what you want, that experience of then taking it home and cooking with it is far greater,” he says.
“When we go to origin, we’re tasting, selecting, purchasing, making a connection with our producer and understanding that product so much better, and we can buy such better coffee.”
Since visiting origin, Tim says their product has improved, but it has also meant profitability has decreased due to the time spent visiting the producers, and the fact they need to commit to buying more coffee up front.
“We have to pre-purchase six months worth of whole green coffee in order to have that product to roast,” he says.
Tim Adams Specialty Coffee has four main blends – Season 22 from El Salvador and Papua New Guinea; The Doctor from Colombia, Brazil and India; The Nurse from Nicaragua, Brazil, Colombia and Papua New Guinea; and Chapola from Ethiopia, Brazil and Colombia.
“Brazil and Colombia are where most of our blends are based around because they provide a great flavour profile for milk – you can get big chocolate, malty, caramelly flavour profiles from Colombia and Brazil,” he says.
“The other reason we buy a lot of Colombian is they’re a unique country where different parts of the country harvest at different times throughout the year, which means if you split that into two – Huila and Cauca – you have fresh crop all year round. Fresher coffee means flavour, character and point of difference.”
Along with the house blends, there are also seasonal blends on offer, taking customers to another country every three months, as well as single origin, which is a stand alone product from one farm showcasing what that producer can do.
“Coffee drinkers are so habitual, it’s a habit to drink caffeine, so sometimes when it tastes the same day in day out they’re happy, whereas other people like to sample different blends. It’s interesting to try and please so many different palates,” he says.
Along with perfecting the taste of the coffee, Tim is also pouring a lot of resources into high quality training for baristas, taking them through the whole process from producing coffee and origins, through to machinery and roasting, cupping, tasting, milk quality, texturing milk and then building the whole drink.
“The big problem in our industry is the last person who tells my story – or the farmer’s story, or the roaster’s story – is a barista and that barista is always given a very short amount of information,” he says.
“The consumer’s experience is lowered if they’re talking to someone who doesn’t know their stuff; it drops in credibility. Consumers are the most important people – what I prefer doesn’t really matter, it’s what you prefer. You’re going to buy a coffee from this venue because it tastes good and the experience is good. Which is why we invest a lot into training to bring those standards up.”
The other reason we buy a lot of Colombian is they’re a unique country where different parts of the country harvest at different times throughout the year, which means if you split that into two – Huila and Cauca – you have fresh crop all year round.”
Tim Adams Speciality Coffee is distributed and brewed right across Australia, with 70 per cent here on the Sunshine Coast and 30 per cent in Brisbane, Townsville, Central Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Perth.
Next month, he also adds another espresso bar to the books, Pedro and Grizz, operating from the same site as the roastery in Warana.
“Would you like another coffee?” Tim asks, as I finish my single shot flat white, which I later learn is the first batch of another sample roast his team is working on. The velvety rich chocolate flavours of the house blend boasts beans from Brazil, Honduras and Nicaragua, balanced in perfect harmony.
“One of my favourite things to do is talk to someone who doesn’t really know a lot about coffee and sometimes doesn’t care what you’re telling them – they just want a really nice coffee. Sometimes stripping it back to just you making coffee for someone is as exciting as travelling to Colombia.”
How do you take your coffee?
“I love a good magic and it’s something the Queensland market is embracing a lot more now. It’s a strong flat white in a small cup – a double ristretto base in a 150ml cup. It’s a really good way to drink coffee because the milk fills you up, it’s tasty, it’s strong and it’s enjoyable without being too heavily weighted on milk, or heavily weighted on the oils you get from black coffee.”
How many coffees do you drink in one day?
“Most of the time it’s a double, so five or six is enough for me now – I dehydrate very quickly! But I’ve got to taste all the time. A lot of the time when I taste the coffee now I’ll drink it as a 12oz takeaway because 90 per cent of the market orders 12oz takeaway coffee. People are busy, so I’ve found the trend of takeaway coffee is massive. The turnover of cups and lids is huge, so I need to make sure my coffee is tasting good in the bigger-style coffee.”
The Brew Crew
James is a national champion barista and is in charge of creating flavour profiles for the coffee, which can take anywhere from two roasts to four weeks to perfect. But even once the flavour profiles are set, they need to be constantly manipulated to suit weather and environment. Once it’s roasted, the beans settle for seven to 10 days before they are run through the machine. It is then tasted and graded.
A renowned barista with over eight years experience, Tilly is a dual Queensland champion, competing in the Australian Coffee Championship from 30 March to 1 April. Having mastered her craft, Tilly is now broadening her expertise to learn more about the production of coffee before it hits the cup. In October last year, Tilly accompanied Tim on a trip to the Cup of Excellence, a not-for-profit program where farmers put their best crop forward. From 500 samples within each country, a shortlist is created for an international jury, which spends a week cupping and grading the coffees. Those top 10 go to an auction, fetching “mind blowing” prices, all of which go back to the farmer.