With its loyal and ever-growing customer base, Adelaide’s Exchange Specialty Coffee is an important part of the city’s thriving East End neighbourhood and community. Tom Roden and his devoted team offer quality-focused service, cooking up fresh, delicious breakfast and lunch dishes and, of course, serving beautiful coffee. Exchange has been brewing Market Lane coffees and selling our beans since they opened in July 2013. Tom shared a bit about his history in hospitality, and his favourite way to brew coffee at home.
Market Lane Coffee: Is there a story behind the name ‘Exchange’?
Tom Roden: There is indeed. My goal in opening a coffee bar was to emulate some of the characteristics common to the original coffee houses of the 18th century. It was not long after coffee first made its way to Europe, and they tended to be spaces which encouraged interaction and engagement among guests and between guests and staff. A variety of people would frequent these places and talk all things politics, poetry, etc. I was all too aware that many modern coffee shops of the 2000s era tended to build bars and be fitted out in a way that inhibited this kind of engagement, or implicitly encouraged individual guests to close themselves off to other guests. Think someone sitting in a big Starbucks armchair, headphones on, laptop open. I was keen to ensure that the space in Exchange was one of communality and one that facilitated engagement. I’m proud that we've been able to achieve this.
You’ve been working in hospitality for some time now. Where did it all begin? What are some of the more memorable places you worked before opening Exchange?
My first job in hospitality (and coffee, in fact) was in 2004, working for a mobile coffee and food van that attended events and shows. We're talking stale, old-school, near undrinkable espresso, super-hot milk and plastic tampers. Fairground coffee at best. But it was the first time I ever operated an espresso machine and it did eventually lead to my first cafe job. Before moving to the UK in the late 2000s, I worked briefly at artisan chocolatier and cafe Bracegirdle’s. This experience was memorable for the positive and supportive work environment it provided, and it stoked my interest in coffee. Until this point, I had mostly experienced some of the more negative aspects of the hospitality industry, but Bracegirdle’s demonstrated to me that working in a cafe can actually be pretty fun and rewarding.
The most memorable place, however, was Workshop Coffee in London, where I had the privilege of being part of the team that opened their second store in Marylebone. Not only did it give me keen insight into the operations and challenges of a fledgling business, but I also got to work with some great people and dive deep into specialty coffee. At the time London was going through its specialty coffee boom, and there was real excitement and interest in the industry. I learned a huge amount while there, enough to make me feel equipped to start my own business.
Who is someone who inspired you during those early days of setting up Exchange? Is there anyone who you find particularly inspirational today?
Fran, my wife, has always and continues to inspire me. She moved to Australia from the UK and threw herself behind my project and endured some tough years as the business was establishing itself. I don’t think I would have made it this far without her!
How do you enjoy coffee at home?
I am a devoted Aeropress user. Just like at Exchange, I brew with an Aeropress at home. I’ve taken it around the world with me and it has never failed me. I do also occasionally brew pour overs and, of course, French press when more than one cup is required!
Who are your customers at Exchange? What have been some of the most special moments serving people in your shop?
Our customers are many and varied, and very loyal. We are fortunate that our physical location opens us up to a broad demographic. We are just as accessible for those who seek us out as to those who stumble upon us. To paint in broad strokes, however, our customers are young, discerning and overwhelmingly friendly. There have been myriad special moments over the last eight years and to me the best ones are hard to tease out. However, it gives me great pride that Exchange has been the place in which many people have met, made friends, developed relationships, started businesses, written books, won jobs and so much more. To me this is evidence that my overarching goal for Exchange has been met.
If you were only able to drink coffee from one country, which would you pick? Why?
This is always a hard question to answer. I love the diversity that different growing regions afford, and this is what makes coffee so fascinating and beautiful. However, if you twisted my arm, I’d probably say Kenya. While in London I was first exposed to great coffees from a great many parts of the world. But I was always blown away by the cleanliness and the sheer levels of fruit characteristics that the best washed Kenyan coffees offer in the cup. They were the first to really open my eyes to the link between coffee as a fruit and coffee as a beverage.