Bean Brewding coffee tours look behind your daily grinds

By Graeme Wilson

Bean Brewding

All photos: Raymond Suen @raysgonebeans 

That steaming cup of mind-focusing dark coffee you know and love actually started out from green beans grouped together in pairs in rough parchment inside a red cherry.

Who knew?

Certainly not me, and I’m not the only one judging by the success of the Bean Brewding educational coffee tours being run by a couple of Brisbane coffee enthusiasts.

Tour operators George and Glenn have been hosting weekend tours since 2012, and their increasing success has led to the introduction of midweek tours.

I was lucky enough to get an invite on the first midweek outing, with the lure of educating myself on all things coffee.

And to be fair, with yours truly we were starting with a fairly blank canvas.

Going back a few years, I was traditionally a quarter-strength cappuccino sort of bloke. But my cycling buddies shamed me into abandoning what one unimpressed barista once delivered to me with the words: “Here’s your warm coffee-flavoured milkshake.”

So I’ve learned to take my caps full-strength like a real man, but with no knowledge of what goes on before the end product is cradled in my sometimes shaky hands.

That’s where Bean Brewding comes into play.

Each customised tour takes in three different venues where you enjoy the educational benefits of three different experiences.

My tour started at the Woolloongabba Social Club with an overview of the roasting process, then moved on to an introduction to coffee cupping at Abrisca, and wound up with a lesson in alternative brew methods at Black Sheep Coffee.

“Our aim is to help people understand what goes on behind the coffee machine/cash register,” Glenn said.

“People who love coffee are naturally curious about what goes on behind the scenes and our tours give them the opportunity to immerse themselves in a unique coffee experience.”

Woolloongabba Social Club

Woolloongabba Social Club

As previously revealed, I was somewhat naive regarding the origins of those instantly recognisable fragrant brown beans, and Josh at the Woolloongabba Social Club did a great job of filling in the many blanks in my knowledge. (Take note, the Woolloongabba Social Club has now closed but the owners have a new venue opening soon.) 

He started with an explanation of the buying process, which involves a couple of annual visits to distant locations such as Ethiopia to source the best raw beans, and then follow-up visits to check the quality of the processed product just before it’s shipped.

With the end user in mind, Josh stressed the importance of getting the best available product for the best possible price.

The selection process takes into account things such as the location, altitude, variety and process methods. All play major roles in the quality of the end product.

“We never serve, or sell, anything unless it’s the best,” Josh said.

Tour groups ideally number 8-12, and ours got to roast our own 3kg of Ethiopian green beans from start to finish.

The process began by loading them into the state-of-the-art Probat roaster (heated by a flame producing temperatures around 200C inside the spinning drum above) and ended with us weighing and packing our own bags for sale (or in our case, a free sample to take home and share with special friends and family).

The roasting is all computer driven, with a different profile used for each bean type and desired end use … total roasting time varies from about 12-18 minutes.

Departing the premises, I had a great new appreciation of the processes leading from the picking of those little red cherries in Ethiopia, to the arrival of a mug of coffee as I know it at my favoured inner-city cafe.

Abrisca 

The Bean Brewding tours like to get participants out exploring the streets of the city by foot and public transport, so a casual walk and short bus trip took us on the next leg of the tour to Abrisca at East Brisbane.

Abrisca Coffee

One of Brisbane’s trail-blazing roasters with more than 10 years of fine-tuning the art form, Abrisca is renowned for its medal-winning coffee – and the fine art of coffee cupping has played a major role in that success.

A little like wine tasting, cupping involves assessment of the aroma and flavour profile of a coffee.

Top roasters have cupping sessions at least once a week to regularly test the quality of the product being delivered to customers, and to identify new varieties that could become the next big thing on the coffee landscape.

The Bean Brewding guys summarise the Abrisca experience this way: “If you are keen to sample locally roasted coffee with passion and punch, then head to Abrisca. No airs and graces, no chic surrounds – just wonderful people who love everything coffee and sell it to you at very reasonable prices.”

Our cupping session started with a selection of different apples to tune our tastebuds for the challenge ahead.

It wasn’t a good sign that the only apple I could easily distinguish from the others was the Granny Smith, and its unique colouring was solely responsible for that small victory.

I fared even worse in the identification of the four different coffee types used in the cupping, where medium-ground beans are brewed and then sampled via intense smelling and loud slurping – to encourage the distribution of the full flavour across your palate.

You’re looking to identify flavours such as currant, plum and fig, as well as citrus, floral and nut characteristics.

While I was none-for-four in identifying the different blends, it was fun trying and I’m sure with practice I’d become perfect.

One thing I’m pleased I didn’t get to experience was the apparent unique effect that goat faeces fertiliser has on a special bean produced in Hawaii.

And I was strongly encouraged by Business Administrator Sherrie to ditch my milky cappuccino for an espresso or at least a long black to start to appreciate the true flavours of the coffee bean.

There was no mistaking the commitment of the Abrisca team to ensuring the quality of the end product delivered to their customers.

“We’re very passionate about our coffee and a lot of love goes into everything we do,” Sherrie said.

There’s no computer involvement in the roasting process at Abrisca, with the fine-tuning of each blend being done by sight, smell, sound and taste.

The journey to the final stop on our tour was by foot and there was animated chatter on the way as we relived our cupping experience and tried to convince ourselves that with just a little more care over our selections we could have all ended up with perfect scores.

Black Sheep Coffee

Black Sheep Coffee is a new kid on the block in the Brisbane coffee scene but has quickly established a strong following, in no small part due to the alternative brewing methods it uses to explore new taste sensations.

Black Sheep Coffee

The special cold drip gravity apparatus used to prepare a summer favourite looks like something out of a mad scientist’s hidden laboratory, but its long extraction period encourages a sweetness from the coffee not easily reproduced by other methods.

We each enjoyed a sample of the refreshing end product and were also given a close-up view of the cone filter and aero-press methods of producing their own special blend of coffee heaven.

“Black Sheep are dedicated to roasting for alterative brew methods to give you a more diverse coffee menu,” George said.

Our barista Emma gave considered insights into each method and acknowledged that for the likes of myself, who has never explored the options available, a venture into the area of filtered coffee could be “a little scary”.

“But these various methods really showcase the individual characteristics of the coffee and the skill of the barista,” she said.

With the tour drawing to an end, I reflected on how much I’d enjoyed learning that there’s a lot more to coffee than all that noisy bean grinding and hissing steam I observe as I take my place in the queue at the counter.

I now know it would be worthwhile to occasionally branch out with a pure brew and enjoy the challenge of picking up on a touch of jasmine or a hint of prune.

And if a coffee novice like myself can find a behind-the-scenes look so enjoyable, like their favoured blend, true coffee connoisseurs will savour every moment.

Click here for full details on tour options.

And for a closer look at the three operations we visited, read the following Bean Brewding blogs:

Woolloongabba Social Club 

Abrisca

Black Sheep Coffee

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