Local Heroes: Boutique coffee company with the perfect blend for success
Brock Lewin's boutique roastery, Badger & Dodo, in Fermoy, Cork, is leading the pack in Ireland's booming coffee culture, says Joanna Kiernan
From the moment Australian Brock Lewin first pulled a shot of coffee in 1993, while at University in Sydney, speciality coffee became a fascination for him. However, it was not until he spent a few years living in Melbourne, a city renowned for its vibrant coffee culture, that Brock's passion really began to take off.
In 2008, after years of studying the coffee business and honing his craft, Brock decided to go it alone. When Brock and his wife relocated to her family farm in Fermoy, Co Cork that year, they established Badger & Dodo; with 'Broc' being the Irish for badger and 'Dodo' being his father-in-law's childhood nickname.
"I started making coffee whilst I was at university in Australia and after that I travelled to Ireland and I realised there wasn't much in the way of coffee at that time, in 2003," Brock explains. "I went back to Melbourne for the next couple of years and the coffee scene there was pretty phenomenal and still is. So I really got into it and I started roasting at that stage, and I was running cafes and had done a lot of coffee courses. I studied everything at the time that I could find relating to coffee."
Setting up his own coffee roasting company was a natural progression for Brock, once he and his wife came to Fermoy.
"When we got here at first I worked in one of the Butlers cafes to get an idea of what it was like here and where the coffee culture was at - but I realised very quickly that I definitely wanted to open my own place," Brock says.
"At the very start, I got quite heavily involved in the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe and I was involved in judging with them for a few years," Brock adds. "I think it was through my active involvement in that, that my coffee took off in Dublin around that time, then eventually it spread from there to Cork and it really went nationwide very quickly then.
"Cafes picked us up, we developed our online presence and we did markets and festivals and just really pushed the product out there; we just went out there and made really good coffee for people."
Badger & Dodo currently supplies a variety of boutique coffee blends to over 200 cafes nationwide, as well as single origin blends for customers, who can buy the products directly via the website. For the true, die-hard coffee fanatics a 12-month subscription service is also available, which allows Badger & Dodo to literally take its customers and their tastebuds on a world tour of coffee, roasting and posting a different coffee to them each month.
"We started roasting and distributing in 2008 and that is when speciality coffees were really taking off here, so I guess being one of the first speciality roasters in Ireland we have had a long time to develop our customer base and it has spread far and wide," Brock says.
"A lot of people ask if we go out to the different countries and help the farmers pick the coffee and the answer is, 'No we don't'. We use brokers, because with coffee if you go and try to do that, in all likelihood you will end up with something you didn't buy," Brock laughs.
"The chain really breaks down and there are all sorts of problems with import and export and horror stories of coffee sitting on the docks getting wet in the rain; it has to go through the proper brokers and import and export channels. So we use brokers who specialise in particular locations, who deal directly with farmers and have good relationships with them and pay well above the fair trade average price.
"We pay more for better coffee and it just makes sense, because you need them to do well and you want that money to go back into developing the farm, the estates and the quality of the coffee. And they know that they will get rewarded for doing that."
"The idea behind being a boutique coffee roaster is that we have a lot of different coffees that will be high quality, one-off coffees too, so they will be a world exclusive. And when they are gone they are gone, and then we also have our blends as well," Brock adds. "We have our blends, which go to the cafes and then we have our single origins, which are mainly for home use and they change all of the time."
In 2013, the Badger's set was rebuilt to cope with the ever increasing demand.
"We were just entering the peak of our growth in 2013 and we were lucky enough to get a grant from the Avondhu Blackwater partnership to expand the roaster," Brock explains. "So we did and that worked quite well for us. To be honest it was a sink or swim scenario; if we hadn't done that there is no doubt that we wouldn't have been able to cope with the demand that followed."
"We rebuilt the roastery - a whole new building, double insulated and ventilated for perfect humidity - crucial to green bean storage and airflow roasting requirements," Brock adds.
The rebuild was needed primarily to house a new customised, cast iron 30kg roaster, which roasts using a fluid bed of hot air and is said to give a more even roast and result in a smoother and richer flavour.
Badger & Dodo now has three roasters, employs five people and despite its main business being wholesale coffee roasting, the company also specialises in the supply of coffee machinery for both industry and home use, as well as providing intensive barista training courses for those working in the coffee sector.
In fact, Badger & Dodo is so keen on quality and providing excellent coffee, that it will not supply to cafes without first making sure that the barista skills are up to scratch.
In October 2014, Brock opened the first Badger & Dodo coffee house in Galway.
"I went to Galway to push the brand out that way, there was very little being done in the way of speciality coffee up there at the time and I have never been one to go the easy route to market, but it was a good direction to go," he says. "Then on May 4 this year, we opened a cafe in Dublin - on Francis Street in the Liberties - and that's working quite well for us mainly as a showroom.
"It is not really intended to pull in the masses, if we had wanted that we would have gone somewhere with a higher footfall, what our Dublin cafe really is, is a place where we can do our coffee really well and showcase our products and the machinery that we sell as well."
So how exactly would he recommend a proper cup of coffee should be enjoyed?
"Taste the coffee for what it is - try not to add milk or sugar," Brock advises. "A strong coffee is not necessarily a good coffee. It's in the crop."
For further information, visit https://badgeranddodo.ie An expected 10,000 coffee enthusiasts from over 100 countries around the world will descend on Dublin this week (June 23-25) for the World of Coffee exhibition in the RDS, which is being held in Ireland for the first time.
For more info see www.worldofcoffee-dublin.com
Sunday Indo Business