• Tatiana Collier

Full of Beans

This article was developed for and featured in Ballarat Living, Autumn 2021, produced by Provincial Media.

Luke McPherson began roasting coffee beans using a repurposed bread maker and a heat gun. Now, this self-taught coffee roaster has turned his part time hobby into a full time, award winning business – Karon Farm Coffee.

His first big break came by chance, when the café in his hometown of Gordon ran out of beans. Luke offered to supply the café with beans until their next delivery arrived. So impressed with the product, the café owners switched brands, and became the first official stockist of Karon Farm’s Morning Habit blend.

From there the business steadily grew and Luke was soon supplying beans to cafés, restaurants, pubs and independent supermarkets between Creswick and Bacchus Marsh. As a part time business, Luke was roasting around 120 kilograms of coffee beans a month.

Last year, when COVID-19 took hold, cafes were forced to close, and Karon Farm lost 80 per cent of its business.

Needing a new avenue for his product, Luke turned to social media, promoting contactless, home delivery to Ballarat and surrounds. Overnight, home orders quadrupled, and Karon Farm began operating seven days a week, 12 hours a day.

Nearly 12 months on, the demand for freshly roasted coffee remains strong. In the city of Ballarat alone, approximately 1000 kilograms of coffee is consumed in a month, so there’s no shortage of customers. Excitingly, more and more consumers are looking to source their caffeine fix locally.

“I kept expecting demand to drop off. Just as COVID-19 hit, our business was awarded a grant for a larger roasting machine, and it just seemed like the wrong time to expand. But the support from the community is amazing.”

Luke installed the larger roaster as planned, which now enables him to roast up to 400 kilograms of coffee beans a day. He has also taken on some help, as the business is now much bigger than a one-man job.

“It used to be me doing the roasting, packing, delivering. Now I have my dad and my sister working with me a few times a week. Our business is probably four to five times bigger than it was this time last year, which is more than one person can handle alone.

“I’m still roasting everything to order, which is probably not the best business model, but it ensures the coffee is fresh and it allows people to choose exactly what they want.”

While Morning Habit remains Luke’s most popular blend, still stocked at the Gordon café, customers can now choose from a range of coffee blends to suit their individual tastes.

“I’m not particularly creative when it comes to naming the products, so we decided to go with local landmarks. Our lightest blend is Lal Lal Falls, because of the softer colour and the way it looks as its poured.

Mount Buninyong is our darker blend, named for the dark storms I know are coming my way when my view of Mount Buninyong disappears behind clouds.

“Organico – well that’s self-explanatory. It’s made from 100 per cent certified organic beans, and I just pinched the Spanish term for it.

“We also have Kick Start, which is made from a Robusta bean. It has a stronger flavour, but also has three times more caffeine. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but it has developed a little bit of a cult following.”

Karon Farm has made headlines in the coffee industry, winning medals in some of the world’s most notable roasting competitions.

In 2018, Lal Lal Falls won bronze and Karon Farm’s decaffeinated blend Nightcap won silver at The Golden Bean, the world’s largest coffee roasting competition.

In 2019, Mount Buninyong won a silver and a bronze medal at the highly regarded Australian International Coffee Awards, alongside some much larger and notable coffee roasters, whose product is served around Melbourne and Ballarat.

Just last year, Morning Habit was awarded silver at the same prestigious event.

“It’s great to get that recognition from industry professionals.

“What I sell to customers is the same product that I enter into competitions. Some roasters will create a special blend just for a competition, but I don’t want feedback on something I created once – I want to know about the products we’re working with daily.”

As Luke continues to experiment, refine, and finesse new coffee blends, he remains adamant on ethical sourcing of the beans.

“I’m not big enough to go direct to farmers, so we currently buy Brazilian beans through Langdon’s, whose ethos is to only work with ethically farmed suppliers. Langdon’s also reinvests into communities and environmental projects in the countries the coffee is sourced.

“Our Columbian coffee is purchased through Cofinet, and they too focus on the farmer. One of the products, Volcano, is a social enterprise, with all the coffee purchased from tiny farms of two hectares or less. Normally farms that small would have no chance of selling to the speciality market.

“Unfortunately, no matter what you do with coffee, a farmer is getting paid a pittance of what we pay over here, but I try to work with people who are paying the farmers a reasonable sum. I purchase high quality coffee that is well above the base line, and we pay a higher price accordingly, and we hope and trust that it gets passed on to the farmer.”

Just like any crop, the flavour of coffee changes every season. Weather conditions such as heat, or increased rainfall can make the beans take on different characteristics. For Luke, that makes his job just that little bit more interesting.

“You need to constantly be tasting the beans and adjusting processes to keep delivering the same high-quality blends that customers expect. It’s also really exciting to know that something interesting and completely new can be coming in.”

Looking ahead, Luke would like to set up a coffee hub in Ballarat, where people can come and buy the coffee directly, and sample some of the blends on site.

“Operating a business from home doesn’t really allow for customer experience and interaction. I’d love to set up a place where people can come and talk coffee, hang out, and taste our product so they know what they want to buy.

“I’d really like to supply coffee to some of the cafes in Ballarat as well. Whether they choose one of our existing blends or we work together to create something new, it would be great to have an outlet or two in town serving our product.”

Karon Farm Coffee products can be ordered online and delivered to your door. All coffee is freshly roasted, and Luke is happy to answer questions about the coffee to help customers choose the blend that’s right for them.

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