Stepping into the cavenous Das Kaffeehaus, located at The Mill complex in Castlemaine, one is instantly captivated by the grand theatre at play. A huge industial shell encloses an elegant interior - a stunning chandelier hangs centre stage, hovering over an expanse of tables that are ringed by walls strewn with beautiful art and mirrors. It is an enchanting space.
Edmund Schaerf and Elna Schaerf-Trauner opened doors to Das Kaffeehouse in 2015 and have never looked back. Edmund took some time out from his busy schedule to talk to Calder Western about the restaurant, his thriving Coffee Basics artisinal coffee roastery and the beautiful regional town they call home.
I understand your family owns the Daniel Moser cafe in Vienna. Has it operated solely as a cafe since 1685? That is quite a legacy.
It was on January 17th, 1685 that the Armenian diplomat, read arms dealer and spy, was granted the imperial privilege by Austria’s emperor to serve the Turkish beverage “Chava” to Vienna’s liberated populace, as a reward for brokering a peace deal with the Ottoman sultan! With a sawdust floor and wooden benches, it was the first place to serve coffee. Within the next 100 years, there were 500 coffeehouses within the walled city! The site has a significant place in the coffee story.
Do you know where the name “Daniel Moser” originates? Was it the name of the original owner of the cafe?
Roman Schaerf is the coffee guru from the Schaerf coffee dynasty responsible for the legendary Daniel Moser cafe.
The name Daniel Moser honours a historically significant figure from the period. Daniel was an Austrian Jewish soldier and politician and the mayor of Vienna from 1610-1637.
What five words would you choose to describe Viennese cafe culture?
“The beating heart of art, music, literature.” Oops, that’s seven! Since 2011, Vienna’s coffee house culture has been listed as an “intangible, cultural heritage by UNESCO.” Thats five words! (laughs)
Roasting coffee beans is quite a complex process and can produce a myriad of tastes and aromas. How would you sum up Coffee Basics creative process and how do you create a point of difference in the saturated market?
Coffee Basics was part of the first wave of the third wave of coffee! When we started, there were probably half a dozen specialty coffee roasters. Now there are probably close to 500 in Victoria!
Whilst coffee roasting is quite a complex process, the key to quality lies in the attention to detail, knowledge, premium 100% Arabica green beans and small-batch roasting. We are lucky that we have a little history behind our central Victorian coffee journey and we take great pride in being the best small-batch coffee roasters we can be.
How many styles and blends of coffee do you produce?
Coffee Basics roasts numerous beans from premium plantations and estates 25 degrees north and south of the equator!
We sell both single origins and numerous house blends to the tune of approx 1000kg per week!
Whilst we sell locally, in-store and online we also supply a wholesale customer base of over 200 cafes, bars and restaurants with many bespoke blends exclusively created for individual customer needs!
How has your online store impacted the business? Are you converting visitors far and wide to devout followers of the brand?
Over the last decade and a half, we have created a loyal customer base within a 300km radius, but our online presence has also harvested customers across this wonderful continent of ours and even a handful of international converts as far and wide as China, South America and Ireland!
What milestone are you most proud of for the brand?
We are probably most proud of the fact that Coffee Basics has maintained great integrity. Like one of our slogans says: “Coffee Basics. As Good As It Gets!” Many of our competitors make lots of noise but we just get on with what we do best which is roast great coffee, well.
What has been the toughest challenge for the brand?
The toughest challenge for our brand initially was to educate the market away from the large industrial roasters who dominated when we first started out. Judging from how things have changed, I think we were successful.
Coffee Basics was originally located at the old hospital in Castlemaine, but an opportunity to be involved in The Mill complex presented itself and Das Kaffeehaus became the first tenant on the site. What has the journey been like to realising a grand dream-like Das Kaffeehaus?
As the first commercial tenant at the Castlemaine Mill complex, we were fortunate to work with our brave, wonderful and supportive landlords Phil and Ronnie, who inspired our transition from our humble initial digs at the old hospital site to where we are now. Whilst the journey was fraught with many challenges and much blood, sweat and tears, we believe that we have achieved something special with Das Kaffeehaus, both for ourselves but also for the Castlemaine and the central Victorian region. Over the four years at The Mill, we have brought close to 500,000 visitors through our front door alone! The heart of Vienna in the heart of central Victoria.
Our vision was to honour the bones of the industrial heritage of the building and site but to give birth to the theatre of a Viennese coffee house in the expanse of the naked space beneath the beautiful old chimney.
The cafe is a beautifully conceived space with a perfect blend of Austrian and industrial style. I understand the space was designed by the Austrian theatre designer Ulrike Barbara von Radicevic. Can you talk a little about the interior design and the inspiration behind it?
When we first walked into the shell of what is now Das Kaffeehaus, it was a 130-year-old factory building with corrugated sheets flapping in the wind and Castlemaine river rats watching us from dark corners!
Our vision was to honour the bones of the industrial heritage of the building and site but to give birth to the theatre of a Viennese coffee house in the expanse of the naked space beneath the beautiful old chimney. It was our great friend and fellow Castlemainian, Baroness Ulrike Barbara von Radicevic that gave our skeleton flesh, skin and beauty. Using her extensive skills as an engineer and veteran stage designer on the European theatre and opera circuit, Uli gave our space the soul of a Viennese kaffeehaus.
Very much like the explosion of microbreweries, there has been a growing interest in micro-roasters. Why do you think this is?
In the historical context, all bakers, brewers and coffee roasters were originally micro. The world wars and the Great Depression changed the landscape, certainly in the northern hemisphere and North America.
The post-war years saw the ascendancy and growth of large companies to supply the needs of a growing consumer market. For many years big was better and people trusted large brands, many of which went global. By the late 20th century, however, an educated and new generation of well-heeled consumers emerged looking for quality rather than sheer quantity in what they held valuable, be it what they chose to wear, drink or eat. Thus emerged the fertile ground for all things micro once again.
Speciality coffee roasting first showed its face in Germany in the late 1980s, but it was across the Atlantic, in the USA, that the wind caught the sails and the third wave of coffee took off! It wasn’t too long after, that our side of the pacific was ready. The rest is history.
What places would you recommend people visit while in Castlemaine?
Our amazing botanical gardens, the Theatre Royal (you might catch Gotye loitering there), the Railway Hotel for great pub tucker, The Bridge Hotel for awesome gigs, Shedshaker Brewery at The Mill for the best beer, Phamily Kitchen for local Vietnamese hipster food at street food prices, Bella Fresca pizza, The Mill Market and all the eclectic tenants you will find on-site at The Mill, that will take you a whole day, and Das Kaffeehaus of course!
To your mind, which three establishments in Melbourne do you believe serve the best coffee?
What prompted you to make the move to regional Victoria, particularly to Castlemaine?
We tree changed to Castlemaine from Northcote in 1997, after the birth of our first daughter....and before John Fein monikered Castlemaine as North Northcote! The fresh air, the eclectic community, and nonurban central Victorian opportunities beckoned us!!!
What do the next twelve months look like for Das Kaffeehaus and the Coffee Basics brand?
We hope the next 12 months will make more and more people happy by visiting Das Kaffeehaus and drinking great Coffee Basics beans!
Do you enjoy music? If so, what artists do you currently have on high rotation?
Das Kaffeehaus enjoys classical music exclusively: but any good playlist with Viennese origins will feature Amadeus and the Strauss family. Personally though: Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding from across the ditch.
What websites do you frequent for inspiration or a good read?
The ABC website has all that I need for a good news junky’s reading requirements.
You can invite three people over for dinner, living or not. Who would they be and why?