CELINA Lazarus (pictured right) and Tony Strickett's (pictured left) love affair with coffee began with their first venture; an importing business called First Crop Coffee.
The group, founded in 2013, was designed to be a 100 per cent traceable coffee company where husband and wife Lazarus and Strickett know exactly where every coffee bean comes from.
According to Lazarus, the same can't be said for every coffee importer in Australia.
"It is a lot harder to be transparent," says Lazarus.
"You have to be a lot more involved in the actual procurement of the coffee. We actually go to all the places we purchase from, and we're very involved with the actual producers and cooperatives we know exactly where our coffee comes from."
Lazarus says this commitment to transparency is important not only from a branding perspective, but from a perspective of genuine care and passion for the coffee farmers.
"We know all the names of all our farmers," she says.
"We give back a lot to the communities that farm our coffee because we want to be involved on that level and help out with the livelihood of the people from those communities that are struggling."
This dedication to knowing and supporting workers extends as far as those who pick the coffee beans, and is reflected in the quality of each Fair Crop Coffee brew.
"Roasters in Australia don't want to pay what the coffee is worth. But that means the farmers don't actually have enough money to pay the people who pick the coffee," says Lazarus.
"About 80 per cent of coffee is hand-picked, so if they don't have enough money to pay the pickers then they can't harvest all the coffee because there's no way the farmers can actually do this themselves."
"We're involved with a lot of communities to ensure that a lot of the pickers don't see their work as a meaningless job. We want to make sure they understand it is a noble trade."
Tony Strickett & Celina Lazarus with First Crop Coffee farmers
Not only is the duo committed to supporting the international community, they are equally passionate about the locals.
In Melbourne, the group has cultivated a reputation as a launch pad for aspiring coffee roasters and café owners.
Thanks to their latest initiative Maillard Atelier, which was launched in 2015, those who want to roast their own beans now have the opportunity to work in a dedicated 24/7 roasting and bagging facility.
"The Maillard Atelier is a bit of a passion project for us," says Lazarus.
"Over the years we've watched a lot of our friends in the industry outgrow their little shop roasters but they didn't have $50,000 in the bank to go out and buy a bigger roaster."
"We thought, why not put a roaster or two in a warehouse and all these people outgrowing their tiny two or five kilo roasters can come in and use the space and hire it on an hourly or daily basis."
The space, open whenever needed, operates somewhat like a 24-hour gym which is perfect for those wanting to beat the searing Melbourne heat and roast at 3am instead.
Since opening in 2015, the Maillard Atelier has helped six brands find their feet and launch into Melbourne's incredibly competitive and cluttered coffee culture.
"It's so good to see, as a small business owner, other small businesses who have been able to use my businesses to start theirs," says Lazarus.
As for the future, First Crop is only getting bigger and bigger, opening up operations around the country.
So, next time you see the First Crop name now you'll be able to say, with an air of Melbourne coffee know-how, that you're drinking an ethical cup of joe.
Celina Lazarus with coffee beans
Business News Australia
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