Originally from Melbourne, Ryan Toleman has found his place amongst the North Queensland coffee scene as the head roaster for Freelance Roasting, a specialty coffee company based in Townsville. Developing his skills first as a barista, Ryan extended his interest and knowledge into the world of roasting, a skill that is just as nuanced as wine making, beer brewing or distilling spirits.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of your career?
Encouraging retail customers and businesses to demand better-tasting coffee for the money they’re paying. Coffee culture has really taken off in North Queensland and people are paying more money than ever before for a cup of coffee. It’s been almost a personal mission to challenge people on what they think they know about a good cup of coffee. I get to have robust conversations with people, introduce them to the different ways coffee goes from the coffee berry to the cup of black gold they hold in their hand and educate them, to the best of my knowledge, what makes a good cup of coffee.
What is a fun fact about yourself?
I hold an internationally recognised license to taste coffee! It’s called a Q Grader License and there’s less than 100 in Australia and only around 5000 in the world. Q Graders are accredited coffee specialists that have been trained and assessed to rate coffee according to the protocols set out by the Coffee Quality Institute. It’s actually a really tough process full of exams and assessments. The average pass rate is only 25% and you have to undergo a recalibration test every three years to remain accredited.
What is the best piece of career advice you ever received?
“Persistence beats resistance” – Ben Hogan was one of my old bosses at Commonfolk in Melbourne, where I was the head roaster for 7 years. He was encouraging me not to get disheartened with rejection as we were pushing for a piece of the market in the cut-throat Melbourne coffee scene. I was proud of the product, so rejection was hard. It takes over 7 points of contact before a potential customer starts to trust you. Most people stop after their first or second rejection.
“People deserve to know about us” – Sam Kreck was another boss from Commonfolk and he was talking about our marketing strategy. The early days of business can come with some serious imposter syndrome. Unless you are first in a market, your competitors will always be more established and it can feel like you shouldn’t be putting your brand or product out there. Sam was basically saying, we need to get our name in front of as many people as possible and that we shouldn’t feel ashamed for trying to get attention for what we have to offer.
Going forward, what is next on the cards for your career?
World Domination. But I’ll need a coffee first!
Slightly less sexy answer. Keep trying to be better. Roast more coffees that are delicious, get more people excited about them. Throw in the occasional Friday Knockoffs (keep an eye on the HeyDays Instagram feed for the next one we are hosting).