September 10, 2011

Ducale Coffee

Winning the gold medal in the Single Origin category at the 2010/11 CSR Sugar Golden Bean Coffee Roaster Competition has shone a spotlight on the Ducale Coffee brand.

This is exactly what General Manager Henri Kalisse was planning as part of the Ducale transformation from its traditional Italian coffee roots to a driving force in the delivery of coffee, to meet the demands of today’s cafés and consumers.

Set up 6 years ago by the Valmorbida family, Australia’s No.1 importers of all things Italian, Ducale has continued to grow and this year has taken a new direction, with some innovative ideas up their sleeves. With a slogan like: “We take our coffee seriously – not ourselves”, you can’t help but like these guys and become intrigued by the stories behind their coffee offerings.

Café Culture once again caught up with the Ducale team (footy cards and all) to dig a little deeper.

Over the past 18 months, we’ve noticed a shift in the company strategy moving forward, with some really innovative and creative advertising. Can you explain more?

The DC (Ducale Coffee) shift was a conscious decision to deliver a coffee that meets the demands of today’s coffee consumer, delivers greatly in the cup and has a unique story.

On the marketing front, we noticed that the industry was flooded with brands telling the same story, telling us that they use the best Arabica and are roasted by expert master roasters, to a backdrop of roasted coffee beans and rosettas. It’s a position that was overwhelmingly oversubscribed.

We wanted to have fun and give the consumer an insight into the culture we have at DC. The team at Ducale comes to work because we want to, we love it – not because we have to. Take our stand at Café Biz, for example. We had 10 guys on the stand all weekend – even our admin team made a day of it and came out together to get involved. The buzz created was the team and how much they believe in Ducale.

All the creatives were brainstormed in house, not by a marketing company, who would for sure have taken the well-worn coffee path. “We take coffee seriously – not ourselves” relates to our every day; it is what we do and how we do it.

The actual photo shoots for the ads and our footy cards were great team building times, and they got better and better as we went on. The star of the show is the team who do the work. We can’t wait for all the ads to hit the streets – but the plan is one at a time, to build on the story.

On the ‘serious’ side, our coffees have to be spot on. We have spent a fair bit of time developing a collection of coffees that deliver a cup worth coming back for, time and time again. This range has evolved from the coffees we roasted when we were first set up. They were very good Italian style espressos, balanced and blended, which we still supply to a strong core of our customers.

In the DC range, we are running three different premium coffees at the moment: Reale, a collection of two varietals from the Daterra plantation, RFA and UTZ certified; Monsoon, a blend of AA Malabar and pulp naturals from India; and Origin, an FTO Harrar straight out of Ethiopia – Gold Medal for Single Origin at the last Golden Bean Awards. These are backed up by a seasonal rotation of single origins comprised of boutique micro lots, COE coffee and anything else we can find.

As this is a ‘Roaster Profile’, who is the man behind the roaster – and how did he get started in the industry?

Brett Lumley is our main roaster; he is the production manager overseeing roasting, packaging and logistics. Brett started out in transport and logistics and learnt the ropes as a roaster in an internal apprenticeship of sorts. Justin Bianchi, our technical manager, is one of the original team members; he came from Mocopan as a roaster to help set up the plant and now looks after all of our equipment and servicing. Rob Stewart is our product development manager. Rob manages product specifications, quality assurance and buying of the raw product; he started out as a barista/roaster at Coffea and then help set up C4 coffee, before coming to Ducale.

Having a great spread of experience and responsibilities helps us deliver quality and consistency, all the time. We don’t close down or drop off our standards if someone is away. Having three such experienced guys in the roasting brains trust means we can manage issues collectively and strive to be better all the time, and the team is motivated to excel.

What type of coffee roaster do you use, and why?

We have three different roasters running at Ducale. Our main roaster is an Impianti Futura K; this was purchased as a prototype a few years ago now, and we have been adding bits and pieces on to it as we need. We love it, because it’s semi auto, so we still have to draw on our expertise and not rely on a computer to tell us that it’s ready. Then for small batches, we have a vintage 5 kg Brevetti Farina. This lets us produce our single origins at a manageable volume. Just like the Impianti, we have tricked this one out as well. I think it’s due for some pin striping this year. Finally, for all our sampling and QA, we have a 200 g Brambati.

How are you managing the ongoing increases in the cost of green beans?

Being focused on coffee roasting and not on stuff like T-shirts and aprons helps. They don’t contribute to making the coffee taste any better and take your eye off the main game.

Educating our customers about what quality and consistency is and what it costs is very important for us. We absorb as much as we can, but the end user has to react and start raising the cup price.

We know it is a hard time for all in the industry, so we do everything in our power to continue to deliver great coffee at the best price we can. We are not the cheapest coffee, we know that, but we will not sacrifice quality and consistency.

Syphons, pour overs, cold press, seasonal coffees … where do you see the industry heading … what are the trends?

It’s a great industry we are in, because we are always searching for something new – something different, that can help us understand what it is that we are drinking, roasting or selling. There is evolving equipment, more brewing methods and hundreds of fantastic single origins to choose from, and that should keep everyone on their toes.

There is greater communication between roaster and barista and the barista and the consumer these days. Cafés now understand the importance of investing in quality from staff, beans and equipment and are less interested in peripherals that do not really add much value; however, some do believe they are the price of entry (we do not).

The cafés are looking for alternatives that set them apart from the one another. Different brew methods and rotating single origins offer the consumer another dimension to their café experience. We are investing more time in our cafés though training and including them in our cupping sessions, so they gain a greater understanding of the product they serve.

This is critical, given the financial impact higher raw prices are having across the industry. If the average cup prices starts to reach $4, coffee drinkers are not going to tolerate mediocrity. And indeed …why should they?

Having a good team of people around you is very important. how do you maintain staff loyalty?

We have tried to create a culture that people will enjoy working in. Not a cushy laid back holiday resort, but one that is challenging, helps the whole team learn every day and one that encourages everyone to get better all the time.

People in the industry are excited about what we are doing and want to get on board. Where we can, we attempt to find roles for everyone, but we are a small team.

The problem we have is saying no to people with such outstanding experience and qualities. We already have people with skills as roasters, baristas, competition judges, sales guys, logistics and coffee machine service, but when someone knocks on the door and can add serious strength in a certain area, we jump on it!

Everyone in the team knows they have to be self-funding; if they really think they can do great things that customers will pay for and it fits our strategic positioning, then we are up to give them a chance to prove it.

Thanks to the Ducale team for showing us around your roastery and for breaking out of the box with more than the usual ‘100% Arabica’.

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