There’s a lotta backstory to that double-shot, extra hot, skinny flat white you are sipping as you peruse these pages. A tale that begins well before the cup hits your lips – even before a talented barista commences the pour. Shall we head back to when the beans feel the heat and hear about the fine art of coffee roasting?
Rachel and Tim Songailo of East Gippsland Coffee Roasters (EGCR) roast coffee with the same creativity and finesse that they use to construct a melody or perfect a watercolour. Most nights you can find Tim behind a guitar and Rachel has painted many of the images that adorn their coffee bags.
“You want to keep [the roasting process] all under 20 minutes, after that... you start to lose the characteristics you first fell in love with.”
Before the beans even see heat there is lengthy research taken in sourcing them. Tim considers the origin, pours over tasting notes and ensures beans are Rainforest Alliance Certified, or have a high level of traceability, before ordering in samples for cupping – which Tim describes as “wine tasting for coffee” (a “hazardous” part of the job that has you talking a mile a minute for the rest of the day!).
Once the careful selection is made, it is time for the beans to enter EGCR’s drum roaster – a rotating barrel with a heat source underneath and perforations at the back that allow for more convective heat transfer due to the increased airflow. Tim is a conductor, controlling the variables of temperature, airflow and drum speed with precision: noticing the smell shift from freshly popped toast to the rich, aromatic coffee scent many of us love; watching the colour deepen from green to brown; and listening for the sweet sound of the “first crack” as the beans expand and light roast starts transitioning to medium roast.
“You want to keep [the roasting process] all under 20 minutes, after that the coffee becomes ‘flat’ and you start to lose the characteristics you first fell in love with.”
Tim started delving into this art form, and science, back in 2020. While lots of us were watching YouTube videos on sourdough and attempting to keep our slightly stinky starter alive for a couple of weeks before inevitably giving up, Tim was working through a stack of books piled higher than his Lelit coffee machine.
Once the hobby outgrew the kitchen stove, Tim and Rachel responded to the desire they saw in the community for locally roasted coffee. Rachel explains, “We bought a roaster and started out the back in a commercial kitchen… 18 months later, we opened the shopfront in the same building. We renovated it ourselves and served customers through a little coffee window. Since then, it’s evolved into more than a coffee window…”
Slightly more… EGCR is now a bustling family-run café where you can order a latte from Rachel – who may just have a little one strapped to her back as she froths your milk to silky perfection – listen to local musicians jam, peruse works by Gippsland artists and makers and take a bag of EGCR beans home.
You can also find EGCR’s beans in select supermarkets and stores across Gippsland, and spot their pop-up stand at Orbost’s local footy games, as well as the Iceworks Studio Sunday Market.
Each of their coffee varieties boasts distinctive flavours and a unique story – many named after Rachel and Tim’s nicknames for their five children. Their Ladies Who Roast variety is particularly special – planted, grown, harvested, processed, packaged, exported and imported all by hardworking women. Rachel gets in on roasting this one and the beautiful print on the packaging is by women-owned East Gippsland fashion label Isle of Wild.
As many Gippslandians know, it’s no mean feat juggling a small business and a growing family. It’s an art and a science in its own right. EGCR is thriving thanks to Rachel and Tim’s wild creativity and steadfast commitment.
“We've built East Gippsland Coffee Roasters from the ground up and it has consumed our lives for a long time. Luckily Tim and I have always worked well together. We're very different, but that helps us. Trying to balance this all while we've been growing our family is busy to say the least, but it's a happy busy. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”