Posts Tagged ‘Emily Oak’

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Industry Comment – with Emily Oak

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Who decides what the customer wants?

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What does a customer remember about a coffee they drink? Is it the latte art, the café atmosphere, the conversation they shared with the barista or the origin and farm the coffee came from? Chances are it’s one of the aforementioned, but what a barista is trying to share and what a customer takes away is probably rarely the same thing.

The experience that a customer treasures from going for coffee or visiting a cafe is often the same reason they were attracted to go there in the first place – and it is different for everyone.  Of course there is no right and wrong when it comes to defining this interaction although for the most part a feeling of trust and respect between the customer and the café must exist.

Specialty coffee baristas love what they do. We’re passionate, dedicated and in most instances educated quite thoroughly and specifically about the coffees we roast, dial in, pour and serve every day. We know the region and district it was grown, in some instances we’ve met the farmers and workers and touched the trees that produce the cherries. We care about the supply chain and the integrity of our product, and, we want you to understand it’s true value. Despite our competing businesses, as a collective this is our common goal.

So why is this a topic worth discussing? As I mentioned earlier, the problem occurs when the goals and the outcomes don’t line up.

The biggest question currently facing the specialty coffee retailer is how to better engage customers to share our passion. Because more often than not, it seems, that customers just aren’t that into it. We have, I believe, as an industry, accepted that in the past that sometimes our interactions have been less than ideal. In the push to share our cause we’ve come across as patronising, soap-boxy and preachy, and not actually stopped to find out what people are looking for. Customers end up dissatisfied and then disengage, no longer paying attention to what we’re trying to share.  What we need to do as an industry is recognise that not every person who walks through the door is looking to know the whole story…. (yet!) Equally, customers need to recognise that coffee isn’t just coffee, hopefully through the quality of experience and relationships that can be developed between a café and its patrons.

As an industry we’re in a unique position. Our clients visit regularly (daily in most instances) and the frequency of interaction we are offered is far greater than that of most other hospitality industries.  Specialty coffee needs to share with customers our product and our story, because the coffee we serve is undervalued by the general public. Because of this, people are not willing to pay what coffee is worth, or understand why in fact, we actually need to pay more.

How we better spread this message is still being debated, but at the very least communication needs to be improved. Baristas need to adapt to respect the needs and wishes of their customers and understand that everyone is looking for a different outcome from their interaction. Hopefully from this basis, a new dialogue can open up. Equally, customers need to be willing to engage a little more and begin to understand that when it comes to coffee, things can only get better.

Emily Oak is Division Manager for St Ali and Sensory Lab in NSW and a former member of the WCE Board of Directors.



Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Industry Comment – with Emily Oak

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Singles or Blends?

Not so long ago I had a minor squabble with Neil Perry via twitter on the pros and cons of single origins vs. blends in espresso beverages. Even as one of Australia’s most recognised and successful celebrity chefs, his mis-interpretation of the merits of each had me perplexed. As I attempted to explain how each performed generally as espressos the conversation got split into tangents and inevitably came to a halt, but it left me wondering how many people are confused by what ‘single origin’ or ‘blend’ actually means and how they can best be used.

The term ‘single origin’ can be a little confusing. Essentially it means coffee from one single place – either one country, one region or one single estate. It is not mixed or blended with any other coffee, be it from another or the same, country, region or farm. It is alone, one bean from one place.

A blend is anything other than that. A blend can be coffees from various countries, from various regions, or even two varying roasts of the same coffee mixed together (usually referred to as a ‘single origin blend’– just to things!).

So, why do we offer both? It’s hard to establish how blending coffees together began, but it is easy to explain why it became popular. By putting together coffees of various taste and depth, a roaster can develop flavours and textures that might not be possible in a single origin bean. When done well, a blend can bring out the best in coffees as individuals, while complementing each other to create balance, the desired taste or other aspect most sought after. Blending can sometimes hide faults in coffees and add volume as fillers, or perform better (than single origins) when mixed with milk.  Traditionally, over decades, coupled with the limited technology for quality control from the growing and production of green coffee and roasting, blends produced a better outcome for espresso coffees.

Single origins coffees, whilst always having existed, have had somewhat of a renaissance in the last decade or so. This is primarily because of the rapid increase in the quality and traceability of coffees, as well as a renewed interest in single cup brewing. Even when I started in the coffee industry 17 years ago we sold the generic Colombia, Brazil or Mexican coffee. Now, we can trace our coffees back to the region, farm or estate and get a much higher quality cup.

Singe Origin coffees are however individual in their taste and not for everyone. In fact, the point of them, more often than not, is to highlight the individuality and nuances of a region, variety or processing method; aspects of flavour that can get lost if mixed with other coffees. As an espresso, single origins are most often softer in milk than a blend or sometimes a little confronting with unusual or unique characteristics as a black coffee. They are not for everyone and are almost always limited when it comes to repeating a flavour profile.

Both blends and single origins are valuable elements, especially for specialty coffee, as an avenue of sharing just how good quality coffee can taste. Blends are a fantastic way of introducing people to better coffees but ironically, as people explore coffee more and more they are inevitably drawn to tasting the distinct and diverse range of single origin coffees now available to the market. Regardless of what you prefer, if it’s a good coffee bean to start with you will almost always enjoy the experience.

Emily Oak is Division Manager for St Ali and Sensory Lab in NSW and a former member of the WCE Board of Directors.



Sunday, September 9th, 2012

Go Naked!


Naked coffee, or a naked group handle (sometimes also known as a bottomless portafilter) is a traditional group handle that has had the bottom cut out of it, so that the base of the filter basket containing freshly ground coffee is directly exposed.

Because of this distinct modification, the extraction process can be observed as the coffee liquid passes straight from the bottom of the filter basket into a cup.

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Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Best Cafes of Sydney 2011

WorkshopRGB_webMake no mistake, Australia is at the peak of espresso coffee on the world stage with a number of barista champions, past and present hailing from our shores and many of our top cafes cresting the ‘third’ and even ‘fourth’ waves in world espresso.

Sydney is no exception to this and boasts a number of truly world-class cafes. Many of our reviewers have travelled, or even lived in Europe and their reviews attest to the increasing dominance of antipodean coffee on the world scene; let no-one doubt – these cafes are at the peak of their game and are of a world class standard.

So it is with pleasure that we bring you Crema Magazine’s Best Cafes of Sydney for 2011…

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Friday, May 30th, 2008

A Point To Grind

By Emily Oak

I am very lucky that in my work as an educator I often get the opportunity to associate with people already active in the coffee industry, as well as people who are so enthusiastic about coffee that they are setting up a mini espresso bar at home. Unfortunately for both of these groups they often overlook or misunderstand the importance of the grinder in the whole equation of making a cup of coffee.

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