Tucked behind Fitzroy’s trendy Brunswick Street, among some of the best street art in Melbourne, is Industry Beans – a roastery and award-winning cafe in one. Within the old warehouse that Industry Beans calls home, the kitchen serves up seasonal food that is described as refined and progressive, and coffee travels mere meters from the in-house roaster to cup. Behind the counter, serving up some of Melbourne’s best coffee is 29-year-old Olmer Bollinger: Barista and Roaster. We were lucky enough to score five minutes with him to chat about Melbourne coffee and his love of the job.
Yarra Reporter: How did you get into coffee?
Olmer Bollinger: I’m from Wellington in New Zealand, I started making coffee there at our family-owned cafe, Ministry of Food, using Allpress coffee. I’ve been making coffee on and off since then. I’ve done a bit of bar work, but I always come back to coffee. When I started out I didn’t really expect to still be doing it now.
When I started at Industry Beans I got more into the technical side of coffee and just got really into it from there. I liked that it was treated the same way that I’d seen cocktails and wine treated at bars that I’ve worked at, and once I was working with people who knew enough about it to teach me about it, it just took off.
YR: How long have you worked at Industry Beans?
OB: Over two years
YR: What is the best part of your day?
OB: Well lunch here is always awesome. They look after us real good. I smash the burgers here, they are both really good; the chicken and the wagyu beef. Most of us here have to put restrictions on ourselves to how many we’re allowed to eat a week. I allow myself one of each a week. That’s it. If you see the burgers you’ll see what I mean. They’re massive.
YR: What about the best part of the job?
OB: I always enjoy learning and I enjoy the challenges. At the moment I have a dual role: learning how to roast, as the most junior in the roastery, and then out the front I’m the head barista. So in one element I’m learning and the other one I’m teaching. I guess it’s just that transferral of knowledge that I find really awesome. And I get to drink delicious coffee all day.
YR: And on the flip side, the worst?
OB: Hmm … (there is a long pause and I’m about to scrap the question and let him off the hook when he says,) Large milk spills are really annoying. We have a machine called the juggler, it basically has a bunch of trays holding about 10 litres of milk each. If one of those bursts, it’s not pretty. And cleaning out the flues sucks, (he points behind me to large silver chimney-like pipes climbing up the wall above the roaster.) It’s basically exhaust from the roaster that builds up with oils and we have to get up on the giant ladder and clean it with a chimney sweep.
YR: If you could work anywhere in the world as a barista where would it be?
OB: Melbourne definitely. I’ve worked as a barista in New York and New Zealand and now here in Melbourne and my experience here has just been awesome. In New York I worked at a couple of places: a little cafe called Oatmeal in Greenwich Village, Public bar and Public restaurant.
YR: Where is your favourite place in the City of Yarra to grab a coffee?
OB: I really like Assembly, I haven’t been to their new place, but whenever I manage to get over to the old one in Carlton it’s always great.
YR: What about it do you like?
OB: It’s got a really nice vibe. They treat coffee with respect. I like that they showcase coffee from outside of Melbourne that I don’t get to try very often too.
YR: And what would you be drinking at said place?
OB: I mix it up, I can’t really go past either a short black or a pour over.
YR: If you weren’t making coffee what would you be doing?
OB: Well, I used to work in interior design, but I don’t think I’d be doing that. If I wasn’t doing this I’d probably be playing music or teaching.
YR: You play music? What do you play?
OB: I play lots of things, but guitar has always been my main instrument.
YR: What do you think makes a good Barista?
OB: Caring about it. Caring about the quality of coffee. Attention to detail. You get people who let a lot of shit slide and that can be a problem with quality control. I guess as well, the ability to keep calm under pressure is key. It sort of depends on where you work. There are lots of different environments and different baristas are better suited to certain roles. Here, for example, we’re quite a high-volume place but at the same time we have a very strict level of quality control. We don’t let sub-standard coffees go out. A lot of high-volume places don’t go to the same effort. It is pretty difficult but we’re also blessed with really great staff.
YR: Most ridiculous coffee order you have ever received?
OB: We get a lot of ridiculous orders. I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but we have tasting notes on our menu, right, (we open up the elaborate coffee menu, to take a look, showcasing coffee from around the world) and people misinterpret the menu sometimes and think the tasting notes are actually things that we’re adding to the coffee. They’ll ask for the “Fitzroy Street” without the plum. I mean it’s not that ridiculous, the coffee menu is pretty full on.
YR: Who are you listening to right now?
OB: I listen to a lot of old ’70s disco stuff, like a few of my friends DJ that music and I’ve just gotten really into it. My friend’s band from LA, Roses, are really good, and Frank Ocean’s new album is pretty cool too.
YR: What’s next for Olmer Bollinger?
OB: I’ve always wanted to go to outer space. Maybe I’ll get to that one day. Other than that I just take it day by day. Eventually, like everyone else who’s been working in hospitality as long as I have envisions opening up their own place … I haven’t conceived the idea yet. I’m still at that point of accumulating knowledge to the point where I feel comfortable and really ready to do it. Up until then I’m really just content working somewhere I enjoy myself and I feel like I’m still learning and I’m surrounded by people who know more than me. In that situation, I feel happy and I feel like I can progress.