Written by Jill Adams
Tracy Allen is relaxed as we talk in the café at the hotel where he is staying. It is his last night in Melbourne on his first trip to Australia. It is 5.00pm and noisy. Every one is drinking beer, ‘a missed opportunity’, he observes, as there is an espresso machine in the café.
The months leading up to his Australia trip have been busy. Allen has been working in Ethiopia with a group of coffee roasters to look at the state of the Ethiopian coffee industry. He was also keynote speaker at the Ethiopian Round Table, where these coffees were tasted and discussed with local and international coffee professionals. He has visited Italy, Kona, and Ka’u in Hawaii, Greece and Nova Scotia on private projects to improve coffee quality and efficiencies of wholesale roasters. He has worked on an origin project in Rwanda and judged in a Barista Jam in Halifax. I dare not ask him what is in store after Australia. Allen has been in Australia at the invitation of Melbourne’s Coffee Academy.
In two weeks he has conducted a five-day roasting course on the Gold Coast in Queensland and a four-day course in Melbourne. In between teaching he has checked out Melbourne’s burst of roaster retailer cafes, visited Mountain Top coffee at Nimbin and ran the 14.6 kilometre Run for the Kids. The run was meant to be a break from coffee and a chance for Allen to take in the sights of Melbourne but before he lined up at the starting line he was anxiously looking for a caffeine hit—for the stamina. On completing the run, he was looking for coffee. According to Allen coffee is as good as an ice bath to prevent lactose build up in muscles.
His macchiato at Degraves Café was not enough so he hunted-down a bigger hit at Sensory Lab. Australian coffee drinkers frequently ‘bag’ American coffee but there is no doubt in the coffee industry that America has caught up with us as far as espresso coffee is concerned and is now racing ahead to lead the way in niche brand coffees, single origin roasting and preparation, and linking roasters with growers. Allen says that he sees enormous passion for coffee in both countries and a similar growth in the trend for roaster retailers. ‘Shop owners know that they have to present something special to their customers. They have to pay more for it and they have to pass this cost; the cost of premium coffee to their customers. ‘A sale is not a sale’, he says ‘until the customer comes back a second time and becomes a regular. So the roaster retailer has to educate his customer about coffee.’ To do this they have to be educated.
Allen works with coffee producers at origin and advises on growing and processing, but 50 – 60% of his business Brewed Behavior, is at the other end of coffee production and involves working with wholesale roasters. The range of works at this end can range from building the roastery, choosing staff, organising work flow and advising on the nitty gritty of running a business. By working with both coffee producers and coffee roasters, Allen is in the perfect position to help make a connection between them. ‘They are the yin and yang when they work well together’, say Allen. ‘They operate at different ends of the coffee chain to create the perfect brew.’ “It is not enough to be passionate about coffee if you intend to run a business selling coffee. To make a business work coffee roasters have to think about a return on investment as well as their love of coffee. It has to work business wise”.
Ask any one who works in coffee what they did before and usually it has nothing to do with coffee, but in Allen’s case this is different; he grew up in a small farming community in America’s Mid-West. ‘Whether it is coffee or soy beans it is still horticulture and a lot of things work the same; the sun is the same, the terrior is the same, everything that goes into it is the same—so really you are just studying husbandry,’ he says. What he learned working on a farm was similar to what he found working with coffee growers at origin. ‘So many things come at you that you don’t plan for on a farm. I can’t ever remember going out with a check list of things I had to get through in a day.’
After university he worked for Proctor and Gamble as a beverage specialist where he learned consumer behaviour and how to predict patterns and demographic studies, and how to break them down and apply them—a fascinating science and still very valuable in Brewed Behavior. After Procter and Gamble he ran a roastery in Kansas City. Keen to test his skills with the ‘big wigs in Seattle’, Allen co-owned Zoka Coffee Roaster & Tea Co., that began with a coffee shop and roastery in an area of Seattle called Greenlake. He was keen to take Zoka and create a niche brand with a unique business model; no free equipment and stipulations on the criteria for using Zoka coffee. He launched and grew Zoka’s wholesale business.
Throughout what Allen refers to as his ‘Zoka years’, opportunities kept presenting themselves for him to consult at origin and with consumer based coffee businesses and so Allen broadened his reach and left Zoka to focus his energy on Brewed Behavior. When Allen established Brewed Behavior the only information available for roaster retailers was information posted on the internet, and this information was mostly about coffee. Many would be roasters had a passion for coffee and roasting but no business management skills. ‘Once they set up businesses all the things they were passionate about had to be re-thought from a return on investment point of view,’ says Allen. Brewed Behavior was in a unique position to assist with practical roasting advice and necessary business management models and training.
Allen is delighted that the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) is for the first time taking a serious grasp at developing education including an apprentice program for roasters. SCAA is taking the lead and being the leader of global coffee education. Allen has a long association with the SCAA. He was one of the original members of the U.S. Barista Championship Committee and the first chair of the Rules and Regulations committee for the World Barista Championship (WBC), He has trained multiple national and regional barista champions and served as a judge and judges’ trainer for the United States Barista Championship (USBC) and the WBC. He is also an SCAA “Supertaster,” certified cupper, and Q-grader instructor. Most recently Allen was recognized as only the sixth member in history of the SCAA to receive the Mose L. Drachman Award for Outstanding Sales & Service.
Allen sees similarities between the USA market and Australia’s Specialty coffee industries. Based on what he saw and tasted in Melbourne and Sydney he comments, ‘your culture is amazing with many passionate people’. Espresso coffee started late in the USA, he explains. ‘We weren’t going to drink tea because that was an English thing but we brewed coffee the same way as tea so we have traditionally a huge drip market. Barista competitions were the impetus that made espresso popular. This was the beginning of quality espresso.’ The current US focus is on single origin,’ he observes, ‘and new ways of brewing, and this trend is apparent here in Australia too. This is progress,’ says Allen, ‘but we must keep ourselves in check, we haven’t scratched the surface of specialty coffee yet, maybe 10% and this is a generous estimate. People have heard about it but don’t really understand. They use the word as a replacement for gourmet or premium with out really knowing what it is. This is where education and communication are important—communicating information about coffee without alienating customers—who may think we are extremists.’
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