Images by Billie Philips
“It sounded cooler than working at a bank,” says Monastery Coffee’s head roaster and educator, Adam Marley.
Way back when in 2013, Adam was a passionate barista, working full time for Daniel, Melinda and Dianne Milky’s popular Eastern suburbs café, Argo on the Parade, while he finished his degree in Economics at the University of Adelaide.
A standard career trajectory was not for Adam upon graduation, after realising he and Daniel were of the same mindset when it came to finding better equipment and better roasters.
“Wouldn’t it be great if there was a roaster doing x, y, and z, so we could support them?” Adam reminisces discussing with Daniel.
That x, y, and z, ended up being the ethos on which Monastery Coffee was built upon; striving to remove the disparity between consumer and producer lifestyles; in this case, the coffee farmer and the coffee drinker.
“The most glaring problem is that the average consumer isn’t aware that there is this massive disparity, where most of the value is captured in the consuming country,” he says.
As with most farmers, funding is required to improve the quality of produce, but attracting a higher value market who will pay more for their crop is dependent on the quality of produce.
This leaves farmers in an unfortunate cycle.
With a fair wage, coffee farmers are able to elevate the quality of their produce, where its premium nature is reflected in the taste.
“But the problem goes deeper than that,” Adam says.
“Coffee has always been seen as cheap because of its colonial past, it’s your jolt in the morning, it’s not a sensory experience.”
“With a 50c instant serve in the mornings, the demand signal doesn’t make it all the way back to the producers, the producer isn’t incentivised to grow a product that appeals to discerning drinkers.”
As a result, coffee producers are left in a disadvantaged state without the means to transition easily to another crop, nor the availability to sell their land.
“This is where we focus on the ‘specialty coffee industry’, but I don’t like that term,” Adam says.
The high value market will trigger a domino effect. With the consumer paying more for the product, the producer can price their crop at a more sustainable cost, improving their quality of life and land.
This identity of coffee has seen a definable change in the seven years since Monastery’s inception.
For Adam and Monastery Coffee, the identity of good coffee isn’t that different to craft beer and natural wine. A higher quality product and more cognisant consumers who can request it.
In South Australia, independent cafés outnumber chains. Amongst the plethora of local roasters, four others have entrenched themselves in the coffeeshop scene by operating similarly to Monastery, and beyond that, the so coined ‘coffee culture’ has set itself apart so much so that it has received worldwide coverage as a completely discrete lifestyle.
“When we first started, our biggest selling point was that we were local, we were small, we were a family business,” Adam says.
“Then people started to taste the difference, and now when we ask our customers, they recognise that we support farmers.”
“It’s hard to separate organic growth from market growth, our wholesale has increased by 400% and online by 1000% than when we first started, it might be reflective of the demand for better coffee and better value.”
Monastery Coffee’s success can be linked to its small but complementary team.
“I am a geek, I’ll fixate on minor things and obsess over details and he [Daniel] will see the big picture,” Adam says.
Adam’s application of his Bachelor of Economics to international trade and developmental economics surrounding coffee farming, is second to the fact that he’s verifiably great with coffee, being named number one in the top 12 coffee roasters in the 2018 Australian Roasting Championship.
The other half of Monastery, Daniel, is perhaps best known in Adelaide for helming café juggernaut, Argo on the Parade.
Daniel’s reach, however, extends past the inimitable success of Argo to a series of other ventures, including The Fellow Barber, Wholefoods by Argo and Fast Twitch.
“I’m risk averse and he’s the opposite, I’ll say ‘if we do this, it’ll help our famers or consumers’ and he’ll say ‘cool, let’s do it’,” Adam says.
The perfect display of this inherent trust in one another is a coffee roasting pilgrimage Adam undertook one year in as a roaster.
Adam and Daniel were keen to collaborate with Burundi couple Ben and Kristy Carlson, the duo behind Long Miles Coffee Project, a company oriented around improving livelihoods in the region’s farming community.
In 2014, Ben and Kristy didn’t work with anyone that they hadn’t met, so the instructions were clear; ‘buy a ticket to Africa’.
Daniel invested in the trip, and the result was a relationship that would flourish.
The trip to Burundi, and following that, trips to Uganda, Europe, and Japan, were safe to say, eye opening for Adam.
“I came back to Australia overzealous in telling this story, so that more of the value stays at the origin, more of the cost of that latte goes back to the people who do that hardest work,” he says.
Since then, every move the company has made has been organic.
Their venture into different fields such as online sales, classes for baristas and cafés, using compostable pods, recyclable packaging, wholesale roasting for a number of cafés, and a collective roasting project that is in the works, has always been motivated by putting more money back into the business’ growth to create a better product and help more farmers.
“I guess we’re doing this, now let’s refine it,” he laughs.
To keep up with Monastery Coffee’s journey and to try their products, head to https://monasterycoffee.com.au/.