Do you appreciate coffee? Not just like it, I mean really appreciate it? I thought I did, but I learned a whole lot more by attending a coffee appreciation morning at Merlo’s Bowen Hills ‘torrefazione’ (or ‘roasting house’) last week. Coffee is the new wine now that the bearded hipsters are ruling youth culture, so if you want to converse with confidence at your next dinner party, it’s time you knew your Arabica from your elbow.
We arrived at 7.30am and were greeted swiftly with a coffee (of course) and a friendly welcome from our guide. We were seated with a small group of coffee enthusiasts around a festive little table of sample products and informative brochures. Our guide talked us through the history of coffee including:
- Its origins in Ethiopia (not South America as many people might think);
- The myths around the first examples of roasting, grinding and brewing (we have monks to thank for all that, apparently); and
- The differences between the main coffee plants used in commercial coffees (the widespread and cheaper Robusta vs the more flavoursome Arabica).
Our guide then escorted us into the onsite roasting facility where we watched the coffee journey from earthy green beans in a hessian sack to the dark toasted nuggets we buy. It was more interesting than I had expected to hear the very experienced roaster discuss the changes in technology that have occurred in the coffee roasting business; like almost every modern industry there’s debate around the pros and cons of the ‘new ways’ of doing things. The Bowen Hills roasting facility services most of Merlo’s customers and suppliers, Australia-wide, so it’s a slick operation, but they still try to retain a little ‘heart’ within the busy production process.
Once fully briefed on roasting, we got to the best bit – tasting! Over a light breakfast of banana bread, fruit and a tasty muesli slice, we sampled three different coffees – two single origin beans (the ones that are sourced from a specific plantation) and a Merlo blend. We learned how to ‘cup’ – the equivalent of all the swirling and sniffing that goes on at wine tastings – and had our questions answered about storage, grinding and brewing at home. We left feeling both sated and educated!
In addition to spending a pleasant morning chatting to interesting people with a delicious coffee in hand, I enjoyed learning a little about the Merlo family. The Merlo family are said to have brought the first espresso machine to Queensland in 1958 for their Brisbane restaurant, Milanos. In the early 90s, Dean Merlo was at the forefront of establishing café culture in Brisbane with his Queen Street espresso bar and Fortitude Valley roasting facility. The Merlo story is a great Brisbane story and the Merlo team are known to continue actively supporting their home town through charitable activities and community initiatives. They also do all the right things as far as sourcing Rainforest Alliance beans from growers that don’t use child labour. The coffee industry is one of the nastiest, most exploitative in the world, so it’s great to know you’re getting your hit of liquid gold from an all round ethical coffee crew.
Merlo coffee appreciation sessions take place once a month in each of the brand’s torrefaziones around Brisbane. Group sessions can also be booked for birthdays or corporate events. The cost of $25pp gets you the tour, tastings, breakfast and a goodie bag to take home. You’ll never drink instant again!