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Pioneering Townsville’s Coffee Culture

Good Morning Coffee Trader Managing Director Rob Aumend and Coffee Dominion founder Jonathan Whitfield | Pioneering Townsville's Coffee Culture | BDmag October 2023

With his passion for good coffee ignited at a young age when visiting his grandfather in Spain, Jonathan Whitfield is credited with shaping Townsville’s coffee culture, establishing its first roastery in 1998.

Now in its 25th year of business and benefitting from the collective expertise of fellow company directors following a recent merger, Coffee Dominion is well positioned for growth and innovation in a new fit-for-purpose commercial space with state-of-the-art equipment.

“I visited Townsville in 1987, liked it, and thought it was a prime location for living in the tropics, go gem fossicking, paddle outrigger canoes, and set up a coffee roasting business by travelling and sourcing coffee direct from PNG and Indonesia,” reflects Jonathan, who had recently emigrated to Sydney from the UK.

Coffee Dominion founder, Jonathan Whitfield. Pioneering Townsville's Coffee Culture | BDmag October 2023
Coffee Dominion founder, Jonathan Whitfield

“Following the plan, in 1997 my wife and I moved to Townsville and I worked as an accountant, where I met my first business partner. At the time there were only about 30 roasters in Australia.

“We thought we were bringing coffee to North Queensland. Merlot coffee was then served at one café in North Ward but otherwise, there was only the equivalent of rotten cask port being served through the Twin Cities.

“In the first week we had four fire engines, one ambulance and two police cars to assist us in putting out a rather noticeable smoky roasting problem. My landlady insisted on throwing me out of my apartment for the crime of ‘stinking the neighbourhood out,’ because as a conscientious worker I took my work home.”

Orders for their beans were few and far between, so they opened Coffee Dominion in the CBD. Before long, they had earned a reputation for the best coffee in town, particularly with visitors from southern states craving their caffeine fix. Local wholesale demand started to grow, and Jonathan continued to explore options for sourcing the best coffee beans from around the world.

“Initially, I travelled to Sumatra and the Highlands of Papua New Guinea believing I could source directly,” he says.

Green coffee beans sourced from PNG. Coffee Dominion: Pioneering Townsville's Coffee Culture | BDmag October 2023

“It’s hard to find a coffee farmer in these countries, they are generally subsistence farmers with just a few coffee trees for a cash crop and no processing facilities. This compares to the coffee monoculture of South and Central America. Every coffee origin is different in respect to its grading and business practices.

“I have tried on a small scale to source coffee directly from the coffee farms, but if you get a phone call in the middle of the night to say your coffee is stuck in a container in East Africa, cooking in 50 degree heat and you must deposit $10,000 into a bank account to pay a new local tax, there is some realisation of your business’s deficiencies.

“You need feet, contacts, and expertise on the ground. All roasters apart from the big guys have to use coffee or commodity brokers for introductions, negotiations, pricing, and shipping.

“I travel to the coffee producing countries to further understand the product, choose coffees and to gain a connection to place. Travel also allows you to appreciate the terroir and people who have nurtured the coffee during its journey to the cup.”

In 2020, having outgrown the leased premises in the CBD, Jonathan seized the opportunity to merge with Good Morning Coffee Trader, which offered him the opportunity for greater buying power, a succession plan, and access to skills to assist with the continued business growth.

“Good Morning Coffee Trader has four locations throughout Townsville which on average go through 2000 kilos of coffee beans per month,” says Good Morning Coffee Trader Managing Director, Rob Aumend.

“This vertical integration stabilises Dominion’s business with a large wholesale customer, enabling them to focus on innovation, while securing Good Morning Coffee Trader’s coffee import capacity and pricing.

Coffee Dominion staff member Joe Thomas, with the Loring S35 Kestral air roaster. Pioneering Townsville's Coffee Culture | BDmag October 2023
Joe Thomas with the Loring S35 Kestral air roaster

“The brand wouldn’t be where it is today if Jonathan hadn’t opened the café and introduced Townsville to good coffee, but ultimately that diverted some of his focus from the roasting.

“Now, without being tied up with operational issues and drawing on the past 25 years learning and refining his skills, he is able to be the creative driver.”

To remain at the forefront of roasting, the company has invested heavily in equipment and a custom fitout at the Meehan Street premises in Garbutt. This includes a roastery to accommodate the state-of-the-art Loring S35 Kestral roaster, a dedicated cold coffee brewery, climate-controlled storage and packing room, barista training bar and customer lounge.

“Like any business we must keep innovating,” says Jonathan.

“We have modified and imported a packaging machine manufactured in China specifically to produce a coffee bag that will have double the amount of coffee in it than a traditional pod, be 100% compostable, and produce a solid cup of coffee for the customer for the same price.

“Coffee is seasonal in Townsville, with a 20% decline in sales during the summer months, and there is an increased consumption of cold coffee beverages. We have a small cold brew laboratory that is now experimenting in cold water extraction of coffee concentrate, nitro and cold brew as a result of this growing segment, but it certainly requires increased knowledge of food chemistry.

“We will revisit the initial premise of sourcing direct from Papua New Guinea. The Port is a comparative advantage for us. With a little more growth, a container load of coffee from a single origin becomes viable. We will now be able to store the green beans in our new cold room storage facilities and this will offer greater consistency, increased quality control and price advantage.”

Coffee Dominion are Developing 100% compostable bags to be produced at the Garbutt premises with the correct quantity of ground beans to produce a quality cup of coffee. Pioneering Townsville's Coffee Culture | BDmag October 2023
Developing 100% compostable bags to be produced at the Garbutt premises with the correct quantity of ground beans to produce a quality cup of coffee

The new space will provide an opportunity for coffee aficionados to learn more about the beans and how to make the perfect cup of coffee.

“Whether it’s two bags for your home or two hundred kilos a week for your café, people who have a genuine interest in coffee can engage directly with a roaster and the sampling can happen immediately at the point of purchase, so it’s a whole other level from what has been experienced before,” says Rob.

“Jonathan wants to maintain an affordable price point, and provide sustainably sourced, quality roasted beans to retail and wholesale customers, and we’re excited to continue to expand on that and bring his vision to life.”

After all, as Jonathan himself says, “A good coffee, well roasted, is simple and delightful. An exceptional coffee provides you with that moment of unadulterated enjoyment in time and place where your mind is emptied of all concerns.”

Main image: Good Morning Coffee Trader Managing Director Rob Aumend and Coffee Dominion founder Jonathan Whitfield

Image credits: Sonia Warrell – Hello Muse

Click here to read the latest issue of BDmag.

Julie Johnston

Julie Johnston

Julie is the Editor of BDmag and loves sharing the stories of passionate entrepreneurs, innovators and thought leaders. With over 20 years’ experience in marketing and PR, she has an eye for a story, which extends to her hobby as an award-winning playwright.
Julie Johnston

Julie Johnston

Julie is the Editor of BDmag and loves sharing the stories of passionate entrepreneurs, innovators and thought leaders. With over 20 years’ experience in marketing and PR, she has an eye for a story, which extends to her hobby as an award-winning playwright.