Name: Jim Baruta
Age: 58 years old
Occupation: Coffee Roaster
Years of Experience: 26
Melbourne and quality coffee go hand in hand and locals expect nothing but the best when paying top dollar for their favourite brew. Sure, the barista plays a big role in the process, but some would argue that the true star of the show is the coffee bean.
Master Roaster, Jim Baruta, has been roasting for 26 years at Quists Coffee. Part of the lengthy Quists Coffee history, that dates back to 1938 as one of Melbourne’s original coffee roasting houses, Baruta joined in 1989. Previously working in electronics, taking on the role of a head roaster wasn’t as big of a change as one may think, “I analyse everything – I experiment with things and figure out how to make things work,” he says. “That’s really what roasting is about – it’s very scientific actually. A lot of people say it’s an art, but that’s because they don’t understand the science behind it.”
As Melbourne’s obsession with coffee grew over time, Baruta was there at every step of the way. Watching as the public started to preach their favourites to baristas on their morning commutes, “one regular strong soy latte… a piccolo with one sugar… one large soy capp”, he knew that the demand meant Quists’ quality had to always exceed expectations. Developing a variety of blends from a single origin, Baruta aims to cater to all types of coffee drinkers, he also works with some of the best in the business, from start to finish – knowledge and partnerships he has built over the years.
The growing awareness of a good cup of Jo has meant that there is more pressure than ever to make sure a blend is perfect. “People expect a good cup of coffee in Melbourne. Standards have been raised everywhere and the public is benefitting from it. For instance, if you don’t like a coffee from one place, you can simply go next door and try a different one. It didn’t used to be that way,” Baruta says. As for our idolised baristas, the Master roaster jokes that they are unique to Australia. “I find some of their attitudes quite pretentious – I mean in Italy, a barista is someone who makes the drinks at the bar and being able to make a coffee is just an expected part of the job,” he says.
What Baruta loves about the process is observing and ensuring the beans are nurtured. “All beans roast differently, so you have to be observant to make corrections all the time,” he says. “Luckily, we have great technology which helps with this, but you need to know how to roast and then make the machine do what you want it to do. When I show people how it actually works, they realise there’s a science behind it and if you don’t understand it, it’s complete guess work. “
As new technology in the roasting world develops, Baruta says that more and more roasters with little knowledge and experience come onto the scene. “It seems like anyone who owns a roasting machine now calls themselves a Master roaster,” he says. “It’s like if someone buys an oven and calls themselves a Master chef.” However, he also insists that there are very talented roasters in Melbourne and advises both newcomers and those with years of experience to always be open to new roasting theories as coffee continues to evolve. “The true master observes and listens to what’s going on around them and continues to learn. You also need to understand your customer and make sure you are catering for them and not simply your own tastes.”
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(03) 9650 1530
Photography by Amanda Jane Summons