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Meet Our Partners: Sam from Only Coffee Project

Meet Our Partners: Sam from Only Coffee Project

At Only Coffee Project in Sydney’s Crow’s Nest neighbourhood, it’s all in the name – owner Sam Lee and his team are laser-focused on brewing beautiful coffee and engaging curious customers in chats about provenance, flavour and variety 

The Only Coffee team serves Market Lane’s delicious Marimbus as their house espresso, and they brew a rotating list of our filter coffees as well. They also retail Market Lane beans on their shelves, alongside coffees from roasters all over the world.  

We chatted to Sam about how he got his start in coffee, what inspired the shop’s minimalist design, and how Only Coffee select the beans they showcase and celebrate.    

Market Lane Coffee: How did you get started in the coffee industry? 

Only Coffee Project: My first cafe job was straight after high school in 2004 at Muffin Break. But I first got hooked on coffee when I drank an espresso at Espresso Workshop in Auckland in 2006. This was my first specialty coffee experience. I can still remember, it tasted like tangerine and orange. It was so different from the bitter commercial coffee I’d experienced before. 

Can you tell us a bit about Only Coffee Project? 

The idea of Only Coffee is very simple – I love drinking great coffee and just wanted a place where we could focus only on coffee and do it well. 

Did that singular focus inspire the minimalist design of the venue? 

We removed everything from the bar that wasn’t needed so customers could just focus on having a coffee experience. They can see it, smell it, watch it being ground, and ask our baristas questions about home-brewing tips.  

What can someone expect when they visit Only Coffee? 

When people visit, especially new customers, I want it to be a new and different experience – from what we offer (only full cream, skim and oat milk) to the acoustics of the venue. I want people to have that ‘aha! moment’ that I had at Espresso Workshop; to hook people on coffee and change their minds about what coffee can be. I want them to know that it’s a very seasonal product, so if you miss out, it’s gone. 

For those who don’t know where to start, we treat it a bit like a wine bar. You may prefer riesling to chardonnay, so with coffee we’ll start with the tasting notes. Sweet, delicate, floral. Juicy, citric, or something funky. And based off those categories, we can make suggestions.  

What do you find most rewarding about running a coffee shop? 

There are a lot of rewarding points. Firstly, I get to drink amazing coffee every morning. Secondly, seeing how our team and our community grows. 

You have coffees on offer from overseas roasters that can’t be found anywhere else in Sydney/Gadigal Country. How do you select the coffees you showcase? 

It started with the coffees that I wanted to drink, and then we started getting suggestions from curious customers, as well as our team members. So, we’d branch out and try something new so that everyone could experience the breadth of coffees that are out there. We like to provoke questions and have conversations about the coffees we’re offering and drinking. 

We can see that people are changing. Slowly, we’re seeing people gravitate toward choosing varieties, regions. For example, “I want a Gesha”, or “I want an Ethiopian heirloom variety.” We’re seeing customers develop sophisticated preferences. So, our aim and goal is to engage peoples’ curiosity about coffee and create an interactive experience. 

What are you most proud of at Only Coffee? 

My team. We’re coming up on our two-year anniversary at Only and we wouldn’t have been able to get here without them. They’ve helped build a great coffee community, and I love seeing how it grows altogether.  


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