Inspiring, educational and impactful. It goes without saying that many of us wish these were qualities embraced without fault into our own day-to-day. But while we find ourselves in the constant battle of bettering ourselves – be it in health and wellness, financially or in conscious consumption – many of us rarely pay mind to the significance behind our guilty pleasures.
Because that’s what those moments are for – a fleeting disruption to our ‘on the go’ lifestyle where we’re encouraged to think only about ourselves, savouring whatever it may be that harbours the power to transform everything from bad to good. But as the global community awakens to the necessity of conscious consumption, there’s one stalwart that’s long been leading the way of doing exactly that: bean ground & drunk.
As we discovered during our chat with Founder and Creator, Susan Castle, there’s an abundance of reasons why, that after 20 years since launching, their brand continues to remain so pertinent in an ever-evolving and thriving Melbourne coffee culture – a testament only reinforced by their recent honour as ‘2019 Australian Certified Organic Beverage of the Year’ at this year’s Australian Organic Annual Awards.
Evidently, a clear standout in an already saturated market, bean ground & drunk’s enduring purpose permeates so much more profoundly than one might initially believe. Whether that be through their long-term partnership with Oxfam Australia, their resounding commitment to bettering the lives of their bean sourcing communities, or even Susan’s own personal mission to see equal gendered opportunities – including female leadership – become the coffee industry’s new normal.
Oozing warmth, grace and utter humility, Susan’s tone reflects one of sentiment and pride; a woman of poise, grateful for those who’ve joined bean ground & drunk’s journey, content in the knowledge that her brand – ‘consistent, with a quirk’, as she describes it – has steadily risen to become an ethical pioneer in its own right.
However, forging a career enriched by social responsibility while simultaneously galvanising a global industry into ethical actions doesn’t come easy. Luckily for us, Susan provided exclusive insight into her awe-inspiring journey and thought-provoking brand, along with everything she’s learned from a lifetime of giving back.
What first drew you to the world of coffee?
Initially, I cut my hand as a barista at one of the first mobile coffee carts in Australia, on the Yarra River during Moomba. Some years later I was drawn back into the world by my connections, which I think speaks so perfectly, as I believe coffee really centres around creating connections. I was actually living over in Japan at one point and when I moved back to Australia we were in the middle of a recession, so I couldn’t get any work! I had a family friend who was part of one of the great coffee families of Melbourne, so I went and ran one of his cafes for him. I suppose it really started there and now here we are, so many years later.
Can you tell us about how your journey lead to the creation and leadership of bean ground & drunk?
I’ve sort of dipped in and out of the coffee industry over the years. I’ve created many cafes and restaurants for Myer as the business development leader for their food group, I even specialised for a few years in chocolate, which I see as an aligned product to coffee. So even though I’ve been in and out of the industry I’ve always been working closely in connection to coffee. However, bean ground & drunk was born out of a desire to be creative, a personal need of mine if you will. I’m also actively involved as the Director of Marketing, Strategy and Development at Bean Alliance Group and owner and roaster of the brand, I’m actively involved.
“I’ve always been working closely in connection to coffee. However, bean ground & drunk was born out of a desire to be creative, a personal need of mine if you will. I’m also actively involved as the Director of Marketing, Strategy and Development at Bean Alliance Group, owner and roaster of the brand, I’m actively involved.”
Artfully roasted and deliciously brewed beans are a true treasure. Is there one thing, beyond taste, that you just adore about coffee?
There’s a few things. Taste is obviously important, and of course, the passion of the hand that pours your coffee. But my primary observation would be its pure ability to bring humans together, it’s an undeniable proponent in creating connections; whether in a café or mulling over the morning paper with your loved ones at home. Within those early years of bean ground & drunk, it was all about bringing people together over a cup of coffee and I truly believe in these later years that still rings true, but we’re also much more aware of the connection between people all the way through to our beans’ origins.
Congratulations on bean, ground & drunk being voted ‘2019 Australian Certified Organic Beverage of the Year’! What about BGD’s ethical morale do you think merits the recognition?
I suppose it comes down to us being somewhat of a trailblazer in the Australian Certified Organic space. It’s an enormous claim of credibility that says we really care about and take care of our communities, fair trade and ecology; it’s a commitment that we made really early on. We’ve also been quite vocal in educating consumers about claims of other products being organic, but they’re not actually certified, so we’re very passionate about this and continuously encourage buyers to learn about the product they’re looking to purchase.
Is there any one thing which you believe sets Melbourne’s thriving coffee culture apart from other cities, both nationally and globally?
Well, passion came to mind straight away. But I think it’s the immeasurable passion that’s then converted into a really high level of skill. You can always have passion, but not necessarily evolve and develop as an industry. The Melbourne coffee culture has excelled beyond all of that, which has then seen the global community look to Melbourne as an example in what makes a phenomenal culture.
On every package of bean ground & drunk proudly sits the stamp of approval from Fair Trade, could you explain the flow on effects this has within your global industry?
Together with Fair Trade, we’re really focused on how we can inspire empowerment through our origin communities’ economic wellbeing, particularly through the introduction of social programs and education. Everything which Fair trade represents also aligns with bean ground & drunk’s core values. We work as a company to combat global epidemics, namely gender equality and all its flow on effect from that. We know that a gender equal world means less domestic violence and so we’re working with White Ribbon on that social issue too. Essentially, it all circles back to our commitment and responsibility to better serve the beautiful communities behind the origins of our bean.
Conscious consumption is a huge initiative in today’s society. What’s one piece of advice you’d offer consumers when purchasing their coffee or beans?
To turn their pack of beans around and look for the Organic Certified Bud logo and Fair Trade stamp. The recognition of these logos is so, so important – and it’s really as simple as turning the product over to look for these stamps. If they’re missing it then their potential claims aren’t actually verifiable. Plus, it always makes your cup of coffee taste SO much better when you know it’s benefitting the small communities behind it.
In today’s somewhat saturated, but delicious market, what would you consider your most significant point of difference?
A big one is our decaffeinated bean – it’s a really popular and special product! We’re constantly researching why this is and how we can help the segment continue to grow. Our bean is unique and sits in a league of its own; it’s sourced from Peru, it’s decaffeinated in Canada and then it’s dispatched to us in Melbourne for roasting. However, I think our main point of difference is our history. There’s lots of credibility in so many of our areas of our business – marketing, coffee awards, pack designs and more. We’ve been here for 20 years and cultivated a trustworthy brand, there’s not many other Fair Trade or Organic products that can claim that.
Are there any changes you’d like to see take effect throughout the global bean sourcing industry?
I’d really like to see the industry be more inclusive towards women, especially with more female baristas being depicted. Our society stereotypes baristas as a bearded man and I think it’s so important to be mindful of gender as consumers. I’ve come off an era where I was running a café in the mid 90’s – training staff, managing workflow, fulfilling coffee orders – but if customers saw a male employee on the floor they automatically assumed he was in charge, that he possessed a wider set of skills because of his gender. This was years ago and it still definitely happens today. In a nutshell, I’d love to see more women in leadership, not only in this industry but so many others too. That also comes down to us as business leaders providing the platform for employees – both male and female – to have their voice heard equally. That’s something I’m extremely passionate about instilling in our own office practices.
Is there anything you’re predicting – either positive or negative – for the future of Melbourne’s coffee culture?
I think it’ll only continue to evolve for the better – it’s an enormous continuum, but there’s also a consumer desire for product knowledge. They want to know that their coffee, or any other product, isn’t harming the world. I also believe when it comes to at-home consumption we’ll see a trade-off of capsule and instant coffee for ethically-sourced ground beans. There’s becoming a heightened awareness that neither of those are good for your body or the environment. Oh, and the rise in demand for decaf, of course!
A cup of coffee is a daily ritual adored by so many. Tell us, how is your own ritual worked into your day-to-day and how do you take your morning cup?
I’m very much a creature of habit. I wake up at 6 o’clock every morning and leave bed feeling genuinely excited for first my cup of coffee! My first cup for the day is a double espresso topped up with three-quarters hot milk – a strong café latte in industry speak, and I take it back to bed to enjoy it the way it should be!
What would you credit as your most memorable time in bean ground & drunk’s history?
Oh gosh, that’s a tough question. I’d have to say my favourite moment was hearing our name called out at the 2019 Australian Certified Organic Awards. I just knew that everyone in our team and all those who’ve been part of our journey would be genuinely chuffed. This award wasn’t about the brand, or me or the company, it was about all of us collectively. I had this acute sense that this was a really special moment in time in our 20-year journey, one which we’re all so proud of and truly connected to.
Susan Castle – Founder of bean ground & drunk.