Melbourne is known as the coffee capital of Australia. In fact, market research released earlier this year shows that 63 percent of Melburnians visit a cafe for coffee at least once a day.
Specialty coffee bars are popping up all over the city, but Black Velvet Coffee stands out. The specialty brewer roasts its own beans, serves them at two coffee bars, offers them to home brewers through a member subscription and sells the rest wholesale to cafes around Australia.
We spoke to Black Velvet’s husband-and-wife founders, Darren and Jackie Silverman, and their co-owner Matt Easterbrook about the science of coffee, how to choose the best beans and why they chose to open their second location in a crowded local marketplace.
Tell us the story behind Black Velvet Coffee?
Black Velvet Coffee started as a small espresso bar in late 2011. The third wave coffee scene was slowly picking up pace when we found a tiny hole in the wall on Exhibition Street, put a hot-top roaster on the front bench and started roasting our own single-origin coffee. Business soon picked up and we upgraded to an electric 2kg Solar coffee roaster. Things grew from there.
Where do your beans come from, and how do you choose the best?
It comes down to grading and personal taste. We source from all over the world through several green bean suppliers and each country of origin has a grading system — beans that sit above 70 percent on the scale are considered “specialty coffee.” Darren has over twenty years of experience with coffee, and he blends ours so that the flavour always cuts through milk. Cupping gives you the most genuine taste of each origin. From there you decide which origins would complement each other and then the blending begins.
What else do you do to create the perfect cup of coffee?
It’s a combination of getting everything right and eliminating negative variables. We fit as much coffee as we can into the espresso handles, then extract it slowly so the taste is rich and full. We take care to stretch the milk just the right amount to achieve a silky and smooth finish that hasn’t compromised the sugars and fats. There’s a science to it, but there’s also art and technique that can take some time and patience to learn.
The Galleria coffee bar is your second location. What made you decide to grow your business?
After spending four years in our Exhibition Street store, our wholesale business was continuing to grow, so we thought it was time to expand. We were often asked when we would open on the other side of the city. We always thought this might happen, but it needed to be the right time and the right space that would work with the business model we’ve created. We also wanted to offer Matt the opportunity to get involved in his first business. He’d been brilliant in his work building our Exhibition Street store and we really wanted to reward him with this opportunity.
You were one of the first businesses using a digital reward system in Melbourne. What drives you to want to use innovative technology?
We’re driven by our customers and their desires. At first, we offered a system that allowed customers to set up their own prepaid coffee accounts. This saved them from having to carry their wallets whenever they ducked out of the office for coffee. Stamped loyalty cards had been done to death and then we came across a digital rewards system that lets us incorporate customer rewards into the prepaid system. Now, customers have more control of their spending and we reward them for their continued business.
Tools like this, or Square, absolutely helps us run our business. We can look through the data and if it’s quieter then we’ve got a point of reference in which we can problem-solve. Do we need to have demonstrations at this time? Do we need to offer different sorts of pre-lunch foods? Square allows us to have a point of reference in which we can grow our business.
What challenges have you faced while opening the new shop? How have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge has been starting again. Three city blocks in Melbourne is a world away and we were suddenly faced with having to prove ourselves again. So we’ve focused on creating an environment where people feel comfortable and offering something new. You need to be confident in your business model, your product and your people. Then it’s just a matter of sticking to your guns and knowing that it won’t happen overnight.
What’s on the horizon for Black Velvet Coffee?
We’ve seen too many people bite off more than they can chew by expecting massive growth without building the infrastructure to handle it. We’ve always had a vision — albeit a simple one — but Black Velvet has evolved almost organically. It’s really a case of taking it one step at a time.
Black Velvet Galleria is located at shop E04 in The Galleria at 385 Bourke Street, Melbourne.