February 09, 2023

Spotlight on: John Vroom, Ora Café and Specialty Coffee

Interview by Effie Gidakos

A: 156 Pakington Street, Kew, 3101 | E: oraspecialtycoffee@gmail.com | T: 9855 2002

 Twitter: ORA_cafe

John Vroom, Ora Cafe and Specialty Coffee

John Vroom, Ora Cafe and Specialty Coffee

Ora Cafe and Specialty Coffee in Kew, Victoria, Australia

Ora Cafe and Specialty Coffee in Kew, Victoria, Australia

About 8 years ago, John Vroom – 6 months out from high school – initially arrived from Canada with plans to travel around Australia, see this country and learn how to surf.  “Initially I worked in the hospitality industry as a way to get by like many others” he says.   “And from there I stumbled upon specialty coffee and loved it!  It naturally bloomed into a career.”  In just a short amount of time, John Vroom has established himself as a coffee specialist on the Melbourne coffee scene.  Known for his filtered coffees, John was the runner up in the 2011 Australian Syphon Championships (although I found he is quite modest about his achievements).  John explains: “We have had a bit of success with syphon coffee brewing and alternate methods and I’ve also competed in the barista competition in 2010.  Competitions are a great way to hone your skills, become a better barista and to gain more of an understanding of what you are doing.”   With his girlfriend and business partner Stephanie Manolas, Ora was born in the latter half of 2011 and they haven’t looked back.  Ora Specialty Coffee has fast become a regular haunt for Melbourne’s coffee aficionados and elite.  The café also boasts an impressive food menu.  It was with much pleasure that I interviewed this new kid on the block.  (* Thanks John!)

What’s your secret to good coffee making?

The secret to making good coffee, is using good quality product with good technique.

So, beans and the machinery?

Good coffee needs good equipment

Good coffee needs good equipment

The best that you can afford.  You can really notice a difference in buying a good quality bean and that’s going to definitely shine through in the cup.  You need to have good quality, clean water and good technique as well.   Machinery is a tough one. It is possible to make great coffee without breaking the bank, I am always a fan of getting the best you can afford.   The technique comes from practice,  doing it over and over again, you develop your skill set and learn from previous experiences.  And it is also very important to be confident in what you are tasting and having the palate to back it up.

What’s your favourite coffee, what do you have to drink?  Does it vary as the day progresses?

I think so, yeah… I definitely favor one type of coffee at different times of the day. Depends on the mood I am in. I enjoy both espresso based beverages and filter brewed at different times of the day:  Two different things, two different drinks for me really.

With the different coffees, do you prefer to use different beans for the different types of coffee?  For example, for a syphon coffee, do you prefer a different type of bean over the espresso?

I believe that if you are dealing with true specialty coffee you should be able to make any bean taste good in any  brewing method you choose. In saying that, roasting technique is absolutely paramount. Personally I will choose to use certain methods for certain beans simply because I feel that they are represented better with that method.

There are coffees that are very versatile, great as espresso, great as filter, some that might work a little better as espresso, and some better as filter.  And that point is so very arguable, you know, it comes down to personal taste.

When it comes to coffee bean selection, what’s the most important factors for you?

Taste before you buy. Always try to cup as much coffee as possible, to know what you are serving to your customers.

And do you have that with someone?

Yeah, with Proud Mary where I use to work.  We’re getting most of our coffee from them at the moment.  And I just know Nolan: I know how he works and how he always looks for the best that he can put out.  So you need to have that trust with your roaster; that he’s going to  produce a really good product and he’ll always strive for the best.  Once you have that you can definitely select between all of the great offerings that they have.  I mean, when we’re picking coffee we want to see variety, so we want to try and feature different tasting coffees throughout the week to keep it a little bit fresh for the customer.

And we’re also looking at consistency in roasts for our house blend.  We need that to be very consistent because we need to work with that day in day out: We need to know what that tastes like and how it goes with milk.  In terms of selection that’s basically what we’re looking for.

In your café, what’s the most popular coffee?  Is it the latte?

Yes it is, but there has definitely been a steady increase in black / filter coffee since we opened.

Where do you think, in Australia, and even on a global level (and if you can answer it) that the coffee industry is heading?

It’s very interesting, if you take this shop, as an example:  Would this have worked in this particular position 5 years ago?  Maybe not.  I think people are becoming more aware of what they’re drinking, and are wanting a better product.

Syphon Coffee from Ora Cafe and Specialty Coffee

Syphon Coffee from Ora Cafe and Specialty Coffee

Are they more appreciative of the quality.

Definitely.  And that allows us to do something like this, which is, really really great.  So, definitely the trend is, specialty [coffee] and it’s just becoming massive.  I think it’s going to continue on that trend for a while…and as for the future, we will have to wait and see.

So, you think it’s the latest trend of people being more appreciative of specialty coffee?

Basing it off Melbourne again, definitely that’s the trend.  People are understanding what we’re doing.  They get it.  They like it.  And they want more.

With your generation coming up, what do you think their view is?  Do you think they are continuing that beautiful coffee culture and appreciation?

Absolutely!  A lot of my friends in the industry are trying to get more involved with it,  trying to taste it on a different level.  We’re holding cuppings and getting together and tasting the coffee that way, learning about the farms, processing methods, and it’s all about soaking in that knowledge and transferring it onto the customers.  As a career, it’s a whole new level and it’s becoming recognised.

Do you think environmental factors, ethical/fair trade are factors that matter to the end user, to the consumer?  Or more about roasting and taste? 

I think you have to be aware of the environmental factors involved with coffee, and that yes they are really important to some people. This is a very tough topic that is not as black and white  as it may seem and we might need another article to touch on that. In our shop, we use as much direct trade and organic coffee as possible.

Tell me, John, the difference between the techniques, syphon, pour over, filter, the espresso machine and all of that.  What do you believe are the differences, like, which one would give you a stronger coffee, which one is more delicate?

Sure, In terms of filter coffee if you think about a scale of 1-5, 1 representing body, and 5 representing clarity. 1 would be French press and 5 would be a pourover.   Siphon would slot somewhere in the middle.  All of the methods offer a similar style of drink with individual nuances, and one would select one of these methods purely on what style they enjoyed the most or felt like at that particular time.


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