Meet The Locals: Chris Sharp From Crave Coffee

Alexandria locals know that the best coffee comes from Crave.

We caught up with Chris Sharp, owner of the Crave Coffee roastery and espresso bar on Maddox Street, to find out how his business fared during the lockdown, how coffee is like wine and his picks for the hottest coffee trends for summer.

Hi Chris, thanks for taking the time to have a chat. Your business Crave Coffee is a gourmet coffee roaster, wholesaling coffee as well as operating Crave on Maddox in Alexandria. Is that unusual for a coffee business, having both wholesale and retail arms?

We’re seeing it a lot more in all types of wholesaling. A lot of wholesalers are also retailers. Toby’s Estate was one of the first to do it. They had a cafe in Waterloo in the early days and they still do in City Road. Campos also did it in Fountain Street. So it’s not so unique.

So you supply other local cafes with coffee, as well as your own?

Yes, we do. We supply a lot of cafes, restaurants, pubs and things like that. And we have a contract to supply a well-known Chocolatier with coffee Australia wide.

How did you end up running a coffee business? What’s your background?

My background is in banking and finance. I studied wine while living in London, and there’s a lot of similarities between wine and coffee. And I had the opportunity to buy this business in 2004. So I’ve been doing this for about 17 years. We opened the espresso bar in 2007 as part of the roastery. And then we took over a cafe in 2014.

What changes have you seen in the industry over these years?

The industry just keeps fragmenting, with the big players losing market share with more and more coffee roasters (similar to what we’re seeing in craft beer & distilling), but since COVID, there are fewer cafes around – at least until they’ve recovered and start expanding again.

How did this year’s long lockdown impact you?

Considerably. A lot of our wholesale customers had to close down. What saved us was the ability for cafes to sell takeaway coffee and our online sales. That sort of kept us alive and increased our exposure beyond the local area.

I think it was a lifeline for a lot of people too during that time – the ability to get out and buy a take-away coffee.

Yeah, that’s right. We kept a lot of people alive, so to speak, and they kept us alive. We’re just adapting now to the new normal. A lot of our wholesale customers closed down. It wasn’t that they didn’t like our coffee anymore. Invariably, it’s been about their landlords, and not being able to get rent concessions, and people just having to close down because they couldn’t keep the doors open.

The other thing that saved us during COVID was online sales. We do online sales to your door, and that was a big aspect to the business too, which helped save us. People were buying a lot of coffee online and I hope this continues

It’s been a really tough couple of years for a lot of people. With so many coffee shops in the area, does that make it harder to run this type of business, since customers are spoilt for choice?

Yeah, it does make it difficult. We’ve got our cafe espresso bar in Alexandria obviously, in Maddox Street, so we are seen as a local brand, and that helps.

Thinking of selling?

Just researching the market?

What do you like about Alexandria?

The vibe, the people, the inner-city feel of it. And the coffee knowledge – people here are very knowledgeable about their coffee.

What’s the latest fashion in coffee? What’s the must-have drink these days?

Now we’re coming into summer, people will probably come back to cold-pressed coffee. The other big thing has been all the alternate milk. We saw the almond milk kick in first and now it’s oat milk, coconut milk, macadamia milk – it goes on and on.

How important is the origin of the coffee bean to the finished product?

Well, it’s very important. It’s like saying, “I like Australian wine.” That doesn’t really tell you much. What variety of wines do you like? Do you like a shiraz? So where does the best shiraz grow? It grows in, perhaps, the Hunter Valley, or the Barossa Valley in South Australia. So it’s the same for coffee, you’ve got to look at where it’s grown, and you can’t say, “I like Columbian coffee,” because it varies, and it varies from paddock to paddock. There are microclimates and there’s what the French call ‘terroir’ for wine. Some grapevines grow better in some areas than they do in others, and it’s the same for coffee.

And what about sustainability? Does that play into it?

Absolutely. We are very pro growing coffee sustainably via Rainforest Alliance, which is growing coffee under the rainforest canopy rather than clearing huge tracts of land just to grow coffee.

And what is your personal favourite coffee bean?

Ooh, I’m drinking a Gutu Birre, Lanto Edido Yirgacheffe.

What qualities does the Yirgacheffe have?

I like the earthiness and the flavour profile of black tea, jammy, lavender, milk chocolate, tropical fruit

Yum. And how do you recommend drinking Yirgacheffe?

I’d say either a straight espresso or AeroPress.

All this talk of coffee has me already looking forward to my next visit to Crave. Thanks for the chat, Chris.

Photo credits: Crave Coffee website

Article by Brendon Clark
‘The details matter - through every part of the process.’ With decades of runs on the board alongside a fresh outlook, Brendon is co-director of Clark - and one half of one of Sydney’s most dynamic and successful real estate duos. Having carved out a reputation for results in the… Read More
Previous Post
Riding The Rails: From Past To Present
Next Post
Is A Buyer’s Agent Worth The Money?