• Tatiana Collier

For the love of coffee - A good Covid tale

Unfortunately, we all have a sad Covid tale to share. It has affected people emotionally, physically, socially and financially, and the good tales are few and far between.

However, I do have one to share.

Just after the first lockdown in April this year, I interviewed some Ballarat business operators about changes they had implemented in order to survive our new reality. What I discovered were some very passionate and innovative operators living right on my doorstep, ready to move

with the times and continue to cater to a community that was stuck at home.

The following piece was developed for Uncover Magazine, 29 April 2020.

Meet Luke McPherson from Karon Farm Coffee, bean roasters and suppliers.

A self-professed coffee geek, Luke has a passion for all thing’s coffee. He began roasting coffee beans 15 years ago for his own drinking enjoyment, at the time using a Breville bread maker and a heat gun. Then three years ago, Luke jumped to the aid of a local café, supplying them with coffee beans until their next shipment arrived. Suddenly, a hobby became a small business.

Luke operates the business from his home in Gordon, inside a custom made shed and using an Australian designed and manufactured roasting machine. The business has grown steadily over the last three years, supplying beans to cafés and restaurants between Ballarat and Bacchus Marsh, and independent supermarkets such as IGA, Wilson’s and Foodworks.

Luke has dedicated a lot of time to refining his skills. He studied with some of Australia’s best coffee roasters and completed a number of courses to perfect his craft, all of which proved its worth.

In 2018 and 2019, Karon Farm Coffee was awarded silver and bronze medals at The Golden Bean Australia, the world’s largest roasting competition, and last month received a silver medal at the RASV Australian International Coffee Awards. This most recent award put Karon Farm on the podium alongside some of Australia’s largest roasting companies.

The business was moving from strength to strength. However, when the Covid-19 restrictions were implemented, and cafes and restaurants closed, Karon Farm lost 80% of its business.

Needing a new avenue for his product, Luke posted on the We Love Ballarat Regional Produce Facebook page, offering home delivered fresh roasted coffee beans. Overnight, orders quadrupled.

The strong response from the Ballarat community encouraged Luke to promote deliveries beyond the boundaries of Ballarat, and the demand is now so high that Luke is roasting and delivering three days a week, when previously it was just one.

“It’s idealistic to think we’ll come out of Covid a better place,” says Luke, “but one positive many of us are seeing is increase in local support. The community has really rallied for small business.”

Karon Farm now supplies freshly roasted coffee beans to homes in Ballarat, Creswick, Bacchus Marsh, Ballan, Daylesford, Gisborne, Woodend, and everywhere in between. Deliveries are contactless and depending on the location, will be delivered on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday.

“This time may turn out to be a blessing for us, by turning the coffee business into a full-time job a whole lot sooner.”

Karon Farm sources coffee from all over the world, including Brazil, Colombia, Papua New Guinea and Africa.

“Every couple of months I rotate in a new single-origin coffee that I haven’t sold before – the mystery blend. Wilson’s Fruit and Veg has been very trusting, buying six bags of the new coffee every month. It’s usually super expensive coffee, which people can pick up for the bargain price of the regular blends.”

Customers can also be assured that the coffee they receive is fresh. Luke prides himself on only roasting to order and delivers the beans within 24 hours of roasting.

“It’s probably not the most efficient or the most profitable way to run a business, but it’s the best way to ensure customers receive the highest quality product.

“Customers don’t have to order whole beans. The best time to grind coffee is right before you use it, but not everyone has a coffee grinder, so people can select that option on the website if they need to.”

For those with pod machines, Karon Farm provides environmentally friendly, compostable coffee pods, which are compatible with Nespresso machines. The biodegradable pods break down by themselves in less than 180 days in industrial compost (slightly longer in-home compost scenarios).

Yet coffee is not the only item available from Karon Farm. Believe it or not, Luke’s wife doesn’t drink coffee, so she has put her stamp on the business by insisting on a range of teas.

“We found an Australian, family owned business in the Dandenong’s, and we buy our tea from them. Initially I was also blending my own drinking chocolate, but then I discovered Grounded Pleasures and they do it so much better than me, so we stock theirs.”

No matter what you choose, Karon Farm provides customers with the quality café experience in their own home. However, Karon Farm is more than just a supplier. Luke’s passion for his work means customers have the full support of his knowledge and experience to call on.

“I’m constantly replying to emails of anyone who gets in touch to talk about beans or coffee machines. Every now and then I’ll get an SOS call when people have put coffee or water in the wrong part of their machine. Whatever it is I’m happy to help.”

Looking to the future, Luke’s coffee dreams include having a commercial roasting space in Ballarat where people can come to drink coffee, talk coffee, try new varieties and ask questions. Home roasting and training courses are also in the plans.

A full list of Karon Farm products can be found on their website, and customers are welcome to call Luke to discuss their needs and coffee preferences. Lovers of coffee, tea and other hot beverages can also follow Karon Farm on Facebook and Instagram.

If you have a tale to share, about yourself or your business, contact me. I'd be happy to help you.

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