"Perhaps other people might regard this as just a nine-to-five job," says Hazel de los Reyes, "but for me, it is an entire life." When the owner of Coffee Alchemy is not pulling shots or roasting, she's at home researching coffee online and experimenting with different brewing methods.
'Instant' and 'mass-produced' have never been part of de los Reyes' coffee vocab, having grown up on the beans cultivated in her grandmother's backyard in the Phillipines. "She roasted the beans in a big wok with her sisters," she recalls. "I've drunk real coffee all my life."Moving to Australia at 18, she made a new discovery. "You guys are, curiously enough, amost a hundred per cent espresso." She brought her own machine, eventually her own grinder and then it clicked: she realised she needed to roast her own coffee.
At Coffee Alchemy, every coffee is tasted fresh every day before the doors swing open at seven, and the vigilance doesn't cease until the doors are closed. "If there are variations in humidity, say on a rainy day, then we have to keep tasting. If something doesn't feel right about the coffee then we have to keep tasting."
Coffee Alchemy has been roasting since 2003, but de los Reyes only opened the espresso bar up front in 2008 when she began sourcing extra-special beans straight from the farmers. "Coffee is a crop with a cycle. It has to be freshly harvested, which is reflected in the cup. Wholesale no longer did it justice; these are not the kind of beans that any old barista can bastardise. It means we can offer coffee to the public the way we want to."
There are three daily single estates, a house blend, six different filter pour-over coffees, a cold-drip and a sparkling cold coffee. Don't expect to find anything to chew on, though. "I'm not interested in a cafe. I'm interested in coffee. Anything else is keeping coffee as a side rather than as the centre of attention. There are always things we need to be researching, improving on - it's just a never-ending thing."