We chat to the socially conscious entrepreneur whose life’s mission to bring good coffee to the bush has evolved into something much more.
Upon meeting Adrian Capra, the brains and brawn behind Young’s Art of Espresso, one could almost believe he means it literally when he says he has espresso running through his veins. Spirited and gregarious, he welcomes us to the back rooms of his coffee bar late on a rainy afternoon with a friendly enthusiasm that belies his full day of driving between wholesalers from the NSW South Coast to Canberra, then Young. A barista in a flanno and a top bun brings him an espresso and checks if we’re okay for coffee before slipping back out the front, leaving us alone with the charismatic, caffeinated genius in the midst of his coffee empire.
But it all started from humble beginnings for Adrian and his wife Gabrielle who, in 1996, began traversing the East Coast of Australia in their newly acquired mobile coffee cart. The free-spirited coffee nomads worked markets, music festivals and other grass roots events, before eventually earning themselves a national contract to service high profile events including Fashion Week, Melbourne Cup and Donna Hay Masterclasses, to name a few.
In 2003 they embarked on a coffee pilgrimage to Italy, where Adrian completed barista training with industry heavyweights he now considers his role models. The pair returned with renewed passion for coffee, and upon the arrival of their first child gave up the safety of the national contract for the freedom of going solo. They established a roasting facility at their Greenethorpe property in Central NSW, where they birthed not only their first coffee blend, but also a couple more little humans.
The Capras continued to travel, make coffee and expand their business, which gained momentum and positive press after their blends started winning industry awards. During this time, Adrian also established the first barista school at Dubbo TAFE in Central NSW, becoming a qualified trainer and furthering his ambition to “change the way great coffee is perceived in the bush”.
It wasn’t long before the Capras had well and truly outgrown their Greenethorpe facility, so when a storage warehouse on Main Street in Young became available in 2009, they claimed it and transformed the space to suit their vision. A year later, Art of Espresso opened its barista training centre and coffee roasting facility, fronted by its flagship espresso bar, which Adrian describes as being “the cellar door for our coffee”.
Indeed, Adrian considers the Young facility to be a conduit for a much larger network of business relationships that comprise Art of Espresso. With a firm focus on fair trade and maintaining direct and ethical working relationships with everyone from the grower to the wholesaler, Adrian’s business ethos is one of win-win-win, in which each involved party, including the customer, is cared for. This mentality has seen he and Gabrielle travel all over the world to roll up their sleeves with the farmers who produce their beans, from Byron Bay and Mareeba here at home to Vanuatu, Guatemala and India, to name a few.
With Art of Espresso now well and truly established as a business, Adrian has been able to shift his focus towards fostering relationships and supporting the communities that support his business.
“We sponsor a child in every coffee growing region that we deal with. I’ve stopped advertising, and the money I’ve saved on that I put into our relationships. Rather than talk about it, I’d prefer to do it – without sounding like a wanker”, Adrian said, unable to resist a touch of humble self-deprecation.
And he puts his money where his mouth is; In 2012 Adrian and Gabrielle founded the charity, Human Beans For Peace (HB4P), which was born from their belief that all people are born equal and should be treated with respect. Through this charity, Art of Espresso has sponsored children, assisted local music talents achieve their dreams, and more. Their latest project is the rebuild of a school that was destroyed by an elephant in a tiny Indian village that supplies coffee to them. The pair travelled to the village in 2014, and were welcomed by the locals with open arms.
“They smoked us out with this massive Hindu ceremony; it was like I was back in Nimbin, only it was Nag Champa. It’s awesome to be that connected to people you’re doing business with”, Adrian says.
As he discusses the things he is passionate about, it’s clear Adrian’s ethical entrepreneurialship has given him purpose beyond merely paying the bills.
“It’s been really positive, actually, and it’s changed me as a human being as well”, he says. “It’s not just about making money, I’ve actually lost the passion for just making money. Initially, of course, it’s about making ends meet, but I’ve found that good karma is where it works and if you’re doing things for the right reasons, it’s far more fulfilling in the end.”
What also seems to be quite fulfilling for Adrian is the series of live music gigs he’s been running at the espresso bar over the past three years, clearing out the tables and chairs every few weeks and turning the coffee bench into a bar to host names as impressive as Adalita, Mama Kin, The Audreys, Dan Kelly, Deborah Conway, Bill Chambers and Mia Dyson.
“Adalita went off, man. And wherever she was going, I was right behind her. I loved every second of it”, Adrian said, eyes ablaze at the memory.
And when it’s not hosting rock gigs, Art of Espresso supplies coffee machines, grinders, beans and training to cafes and restaurants all over NSW. It also holds regular barista training courses at the onsite training room, which caters to 10 people at a time and is consistently full. And while it puts on special classes for wholesalers, including an upcoming ‘latte art’ course, the classes are also open to the public. “Anyone can come, I’m not denominational, I don’t discriminate against anyone”, Adrian says, with a conviction that leads me to assume the sentence is allegorical.
When the longhaired barista returns to take Adrian’s empty cup away, the conversation, for a moment, falls quiet. Adrian’s eyes follow him as he leaves the room once more, before emphatically asserting his respect for his staff.
“We’ve got a great team here, the guys work really well”, he says. “We’ve got about eight staff all up, and to be honest I’m more than a coffee guy, I’m a counselor and a motivational speaker, and I spend 10% of my time running my business.”
And something tells me he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Art of Espresso is located at 35 Main St, Young, NSW.