The Coffee Culture in Australia is unlike anything else in the world. Australians care about their coffee. The taste, the smell, the quality, and even the cup it’s served in. Combining our love of coffee with a strong business practice is something that Marlon Medina knows, and knows well. He has coffee practically streaming through his veins, using his columbian heritage to influence our thriving cafe industry. Recently we spoke to Marlon all about our coffee culture, and how it compares to the rest of the world. He also provided us with insight on how to build a sustainable cafe business and red flags to look out for.

“I started in the coffee industry because initially, I was just looking for a job and happened to get an entry-level position at Krispy Kreme. It was a very busy shop at the international airport, and at the time, coffee and doughnuts were the things. So I was thrown in the coffee machine and I learned all the basics.” says Marlon.

“But I knew there was more in-depth for coffee, so I started looking. I got an opportunity to work with a very good barista at Westfield Eastgardens. He was very high up in Australia at the time and that’s where he taught me the ins and outs of coffees and espresso and the brewing technique. Since then, I’ve been working in boutique cafes and helping with the expansion of different restaurants and cafés.”

“The coffee culture is very different here in Australia compared to Colombia. I started thinking about the coffee culture in Colombia when I was working here in Australia.”

The Connection between Coffee and Family

Marlon talks about how family and coffee have an integral connection in his mind.

“When I think back to my memories in Colombia, coffee belongs in moments when you spend time as a family, when you’re having friends over, usually at home. It brings all these memories of family, socialising with friends and just having a good time. Very happy memories. So I took that on board as part of some of my work here in Australia. I wanted to represent the coffee in all our stores and bring that welcoming family feeling into their cafes.”

“I fell in love with espresso. It’s amazing. So kind of putting those two together; that welcoming social culture of the coffee in Colombia with that amazing process that we have in Australia.”

“…going back to around 2006, coffee culture in Australia was mainly dictated by large entities such as Michael’s Patisserie and Gloria Jeans. They have gone through this great period of expansion and then a lot of small boutique cafes started popping up. Some of them started roasting their beans and experimenting, getting new flavours. All these big brands today, they started small back in the day; very small, roasting their own coffee and sourcing their own beans, sourcing from different parts of the world and not just Colombia and Brazil, which were quite popular at the time.”

“I think quality-wise, coffee is fantastic in Australia. I think that it’s put us up there. Coffee culture in Australia, I would say is the best in the world, and from a business perspective, that is very exciting. There were a lot of fine new cafes being open, however, I think at some point we started opening too many. In the last two years, new cafe openings in Australia have dropped to around 40 per cent.”

“I think that we’ve seen in the recent year, a lot of coffee shops are closing and it is becoming tougher to maintain a good profitable café in places because the margins are so small, even on a good trading day.”

Marlon then talks about how COVID-19 has drastically affected the café industry and the repercussions of that.

“It’s crazy out there. If you read the news in the last six months, we were looking at restaurants having issues, some of the good big names closing, same with cafes and then COVID-19 comes and every café embraces this concept of change and takeaway. If you have a kitchen, are you able to minimise the amount of output so that your business is still trading profitably? All of these things start coming into play.”

“One of the biggest issues right now, the one that I hear the most, is rent. I’ve seen some of them still trying to trade to a reasonable level, but because you’ve got a large space, you pay a lot of rent. All of a sudden you cannot use the large area, but you still have to pay the rent and that puts a lot of people into trouble. I’ve seen a lot of people trying to negotiate, and that’s why you don’t see a lot of cafes opening yet until the restrictions are eased to a point where they can have a decent amount of people coming into the cafe and sitting down. It’s a very hard time for everyone – I don’t disagree with that for one minute.”

Building a Sustainable Café Business

Marlon provides some excellent insight into how to build a sustainable café business and long term solutions.

“Cafés need to be very fully aware of their business concept. They need to have a concept that is mouldable, that can expand and contract easily. Try to think about the worst-case scenario. Does your risk management hold effective, if worse, comes to worse? How small can you reduce your operation? and how can you scale back up? That is very important. How you set up your business and utilise the data to help you shape it. I saw a load of cafés that came into this situation with COVID-19, and weren’t sure about their processes. Their bookkeeping processes and financial controlling was not up to scratch. It was hard for them to have a clear picture of where they needed to go. I think having a very clear financial process and flexible operations is crucial. Everyone’s thinking about takeaway, but we need to look at the bigger picture.”

“We were already heading towards this shift above, working at home, but COVID has accelerated that. I wonder if alot of these big corporations are thinking, wow, we have seen increased productivity at home, maybe we might be able to save money. Maybe we should continue this way. We also might see a shift of foot traffic increasing in the suburbs, but decreasing in the business hubs. Those are the kind of things I’m looking at. One of the chains I was working with had tried to implement deliveries a couple of years back, and for that, we created an app. So when COVID-19 hit, we were able to just start doing deliveries – we were ahead of the curve.”

“The good side of things is that people appreciate the coffee culture here, so everyone’s missing it. So, for those restaurants that are opening now, that can still trade with at least 10 people, I haven’t heard anyone that hasn’t been happy with the outcome.”

Marlon then talks about what is next for him, and how he sees himself slotting into this unknown territory.

“I’m watching the developments closely. There are a lot of very good offers that have come my way in terms of cafés, but we are still looking. I still believe a coffee house can run well and can be very profitable, but it’s all about taking what your customer wants. Always listen to the customer and make sure your operations are top-notch.”