A couple of months ago I took a day trip up the coast of NSW to visit Head Roaster, Damian Hamilton of Pirate Coffee in Worimi country, Port Stevens. We chatted coffee, micro-roasting, and Men’s mental health.
There is just so much to love about Pirate and the family behind the delicious, rich, dark roasts that Damo is known for.
Damo is a Kiwi, and like just about every Kiwi I've ever had the pleasure of knowing is incredibly down-to-earth, laid-back, friendly and community-minded. We meet at his new warehouse space in central Port Stephens, about a two-hour drive north of Sydney. It's a super hot, muggy day with a fierce offshore wind taking the edge off. It’s mid-morning, I have a toddler in tow, and I've yet to have my morning coffee... I'm ready for a hit of Damo's black gold.
Inside Pirate HQ, Damo shows me his Roaster - it handles around 700g per batch. Pirate is a mico-roastery, which allows him to personalise roasts depending on his customer's flavour preferences - this encourages experimentation and makes the purchase experience more fun.
He let me have my own spin at the wheel of his incredible little roaster - the smell was incredible and hearing that first crack was pretty satisfying. There is software that helps track the specifics of the roast - so that you can program a ‘recipe’ to get consistency from batch to batch. But whilst the software does a lot of the work, there are tonnes of variables at play that can influence the final flavour of the roast.
I asked Damo what people can expect from his roasts.
"Quality, freshness and a lot of deep flavour...You will also get mostly Single Origin - I believe in delivering the natural flavours and characteristics of that country."
Damo's single Origins come from Guatemala, Mexico and Cuba but he also plays around with other beans for Filter such as Ethiopian, Nicaraguan, Costa Rican.
“So, Damo - what’s the hardest part about the roasting process?”
“Precision and getting it 100% the same from batch to batch - every roast is programmed fo consistency, but you still get variables between morning and afternoon roasting... But that's an interesting piece as well! Creativity is the fun part of this job, and your customers tell you what they like... Just stay close to them and you tend to get it right most of the time”
Pirate Coffee is not just a new Roastery however, they a social enterprise - putting a percentage of profits back into Men's Mental Health and well-being, using coffee as a vehicle for communication and connection. A cause close to Damo’s heart, both he has his co-founder and wife Tracey have built the Pirate business whilst juggling corporate jobs. They know first hand the pressures that build up over time, juggling work, family and relationships. It's often men who are afraid to open up and talk about their anxieties with their mates, instead often opting for a beer to block it out. Instead, Damo’s all about showing how coffee can be a great icebreaker and leveller. A great way for men (and women) to share and build a connection that hopefully leads to rich conversation. And that doesn't result in a hangover!
Damo and Tracey have incredible ideas and ambitions about how to scale their business and truly give back to their local community in meaningful ways. As we sat in the backroom of Damo’s warehouse space, he shares with me plans to one day build this space into a “tinkering’ facility - where he can fix and help maintain Espresso machines. He also plans on helping to create employment opportunities by training locals on becoming certified Baristas and sharing the roasting process with them. And he has a mobile coffee cart hitting the streets and local markets and events - the Sky really isi the limit for these coffee-obsessed renegades.
Damo's tips for perfecting your homebrew?
"Do your homework on how to make the 'perfect' coffee, but then play with coffee and roasts to get it specific to you. A simple tip, is if you look at your empty cup and feel sad, you’ve done something right with making that cup!"
Sustainability is a subject that is close to my heart. And it’s also top of mind for the Pirate team. We chat through packaging, supply chain, carbon footprint and those dang pods (the non-biodegradable types). Pirate are actively seeking ways to reduce their impact at every stage of their product lifecycle.
Where can our readers find out more about your sustainability efforts?
“Hit us up on our website www.drinkpirate.coffee we are continuing to evolve and develop strategies to reduce (or neutralise) our presence - packaging, carbon and transportation “
In my two-hour hang with Damo, we covered a lot of ground, and I sunk 2 amazing coffees, which had me well fuelled for the 2hour drive back to Sydney.
Before I hit the road, with a car full of freshly roasted beans, I asked Damo to tell me about the best cup of coffee he’s ever had.
“It would be between 2 moments, my first coffee with my (now) wife or the first one my kid/s had a go at making for me. It's a lot about the moments when you have that coffee - I'm lucky they were also both quality experiences “
All about the moments… words to live by.