The Natvia Golden Bean is awarded to one coffee roaster each year. The awards process for this accolade consists of Australian coffee roasters submitting coffees in both Espresso and Milk Based categories. The total scores for each category are then added together to find the winner. After two years of taking out gold in the Milk Based category, Proud Mary Coffee has now risen to the top, scoring high enough in the Espresso category to take out the overall prize of Golden Bean winner for 2013. Congratulations, Proud Mary.
Proud Mary is only a young company. Starting life 4 years ago as a café in the back streets of Collingwood, Proud Mary has become a real contender in specialty coffee roasting, opening its roastery doors to wholesale clients less than three years ago.
With an insatiable passion for coffee, Nolan Hirte and his team work hard to get the best out the beans they source directly from the farms around the world, both at the café and at the roasting house in industrial Footscray.
Walking into the café you would be easily mistaken to think you were at a mini ‘70s dance party. There is a line up out the door, music is pumping, and the air is thick with excitement. Everyone is happy to be here, and this stems from happy and engaged staff. As a customer at Proud Mary café, why wouldn’t you be happy with a café that is not just about its coffee! This café celebrates the good things in life! Chris Hamburger, Head Chef, delivers a vibrant and seasonal all day breakfast menu and a killer lunch menu that will leave your taste buds wanting more! Even the specialty tea menu is put together with some of the finest teas in town. With education being at the forefront of the ethos of Proud Mary, all staff are given the chance to really learn what they want, hence their joy at being a part of this buzzing venue.
This education allows for the free flow of information from staff members to the public, ensuring that Proud Mary acts as the champion and voice for all the coffee farmers it supports.
Nolan explains his mentality like this:
At Proud Mary, both at our café in Collingwood and our Roastery in Footscray, we are doing our best to be transparent with our customers – passing on all the information we have on each coffee, with our main aim being to showcase the natural qualities of each coffee. I’ve learnt that it is not about glorifying the roaster or the barista. It is about the farmer, what altitude the coffee is grown, which varietal, or the type of soil and the processing method. This is where the real story comes from. If we, the roasters, are doing our jobs properly, those amazing characteristics in each coffee should make it to the cup. This is where the real magic comes in.
It is pretty hard to not get caught up in the excitement of really supporting farmers and knowing that every cup of coffee you drink is actually making a difference. The core philosophy of Proud Mary, beyond education and ethical business practice, is really about bridging the gap between farmer and consumer.
Nolan sources all the beans for the company, travelling far and wide to find the absolute best. His exceptional palate often takes him off the beaten path to find as yet undiscovered gems … special farms that have been overlooked by other coffee hunters, for whatever reason. He can then reveal his find to the world back at home, and with any luck, help that farmer get the credit and money that is due to them for their hard work.
Often conducting green sourcing trips in an off the cuff manner, directed by the promise of quality coffee, Nolan travels to meet the farmers and build real relationships with them. These relationships operate on transparency; everyone knows what they are getting. By shaking hands on a price at the farm, Nolan can negotiate a fair price for a coffee depending on how good the coffee tastes.
Often facing days of non-stop assessment of coffees from many different farms in a region, coffee buying trips are not quite as romantic as they might seem on the surface. Keeping your palate attuned to high quality coffee amongst the plethora of spice laden dodgy food in third world countries is a challenge in itself, but finding that gem amongst the ranks of hundreds of coffees calls for the well trained palate of an expert cupper.
Once all the coffees have been cupped (the term used for tasting coffee), Nolan and the other cuppers talk about their assessment, and lots are selected to be purchased. Then, with a simple handshake and price negotiation, the deal is done.
To be able to get better coffee here in Australia, the farmer needs to be paid a better price for their coffee at the farm. The big problem of course is the end consumer needs to be prepared to pay more for their cup of coffee. The roaster or green importer cannot make a sustainable business out of financially supporting farmers to produce better coffee without ongoing support from their end user.
The price of a daily cup of coffee needs to reflect the quality of the coffee it is made with. There are so many steps involved in getting a coffee into the end user’s cup and so many things that can go wrong along the way that when it is done right, it is something that should be celebrated.
Once the coffee Nolan has chosen arrives in Australia, a whole new lot of quality control and assessment begins. At the Proud Mary Roastery a huge focus is put on quality and ensuring that only the best beans make it into a Proud Mary bag. On arrival, the coffees are checked to make sure they travelled well. A delayed shipment or poor shipping conditions can make a coffee lose its special something that was present back on the farm.
Each coffee is given a job to do once it has passed the final cupping test. It may find itself in a supporting role in a blend or acting as a superstar in the filter coffee selection. Each coffee has its story written, and the roasters get an intimate knowledge of how each coffee behaves in the roaster and how to coax the best qualities to the forefront.
Regardless of their roles, each coffee is chosen for its own attributes and by the time it reaches the consumer, it has been cupped multiple times, roasted to perfection and assessed to the level of making hair-splitting decisions to affect taste.
If the coffee is destined for the Proud Mary café in Collingwood, another round of assessment begins, with ultimate recipes for espresso or filter brews worked out to finally result in the ultimate cup of coffee. What better place to showcase and test the coffee then at the Proud Mary café; this is what really keeps the two businesses united and the Proud Mary family working closely together. This thorough approach to quality control is hard work and without passionate and coffee obsessed staff, it could not be done. The café gives Nolan and his team a way to hear what their customers really want and see them appreciate the hard work all the way from farm to cup.
Proud Mary works hard to be more than a café and coffee roastery. It is, at its heart, a social advocate, a change engineer, and a perfectionist – all qualities deeply embedded in owner Nolan Hirte and his wife, Shari. Even their young son, Felix, is showing interest in coffee and enjoys seeing the photos and videos of his dad with the coffee farmers and their families from around the world!