The Black Lab Coffee Co. unveils its new Albion HQ, espresso bar and barista gym
One of Brisbane’s most ubiquitous specialty coffee roasters is growing up. The Black Lab Coffee Co. has recently opened the roller door at its Albion warehouse headquarters to the public, inviting them to nab a brew from its new espresso bar while also encouraging the coffee community to sharpen its skills with its 24/7 training space. It heralds an exciting new phase for the roaster, which has big plans for 2024. Here’s what we know …
Survey Brisbane’s cafe scene and it won’t be long until you spy The Black Lab Coffee Co.’s slick monochrome packaging – the black-and-white bags have become an increasingly common sight since the roaster’s inception seven years ago. Owners Sam Holman and Eli Rami built The Black Lab to be a respected name in town, putting the hours in to get its product on deck at cafes like Straits, GoodGood, Gastown and Cordeaux Social Club, as well as roaster’s own popular coffee joints Blackout and If You Say So. For most of its existence, The Black Lab’s austere branding hinted at a sense of formality underpinning operations – a serious-mindedness and a solemnity couched in scientific endeavour. But that personality runs counter to Sam and Eli’s own jovial demeanour, as well as that of their cafe partners. “The people that we’ve chosen to partner with that have matched our values haven’t been black-and-white brands – they’re quite colourful characters,” says Sam. “They don’t really fit the black-and-white vibe.” A lot has changed in seven years. The things The Black Lab crew prided itself on at the beginning have since become the industry norm. “The sciencey thing was cool seven years go – working in the ‘lab’ and being technical and weighing everything,” reflects Sam. “Now that’s standard. If you’re not weighing every shot, you’re not keeping up. That was the point of difference.” In order to make their business a truer reflection of themselves and their tastes, Sam and Eli have decided to instigate a rebrand. Though the process set to officially bear fruit in the new year, hints of Sam and Eli’s machinations can be spotted in Albion, where the duo has established a roasting and wholesale headquarters in a warehouse off Sandgate Road.
In addition to being the epicentre of The Black Lab’s day-to-day operations (roasting, wholesale, payroll – you get the gist), this multifaceted hub also houses an espresso bar and training centre. The espresso bar is the first introduction to what The Black Lab will be known as moving forward, Dibs. A slim white counter is equipped with a Sanremo Opera coffee machine, a self-serve batch-brew tap and Mahlkönig EK43 coffee grinders – everything needed to whip up an exceptional flatty or long black. Behind the bar you’ll catch a first-look glimpse at Dibs’ colourful packaging, which will roll out in 2024. It’s a far cry from the monochrome we’re used to, but it’s hard to deny that it’s an aesthetically pleasing pivot. “We’ve pulled on 90s nostalgia,” reveals Sam. “All of our staff are 90s kids. They grew up with Game Boys, Tazos and skateboarding – so we’re leaning into it.” In addition to coffee and a small selection of pastries, Dibs regulars can also pop in to browse the shelves of retail goodies. Perched above Dibs is Six Bar Coffee Gym, a training and education centre run by seasoned industry veteran Adam Van Blerk. Six Bar offers courses for baristas of all skill levels (as well as home brewers), giving shot pullers a chance to hone their skills on high-end equipment (including Sanremo Zoe, Cafe Racer and Opera machines). Adam also runs a weekly tech course for operators that want to take their machines apart and up-skill themselves on the mechanical side of things. Soon, RFID scanners will be installed to give coffee makers 24/7 access to Six Bar’s equipment on a membership basis. “It’ll run like a gym,” says Sam. “It’s a 24/7 access facility where you can flex your skills, and when you want to book a PT session, you can come and see us and we’ll do one-on-one for an hour.”
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