The Melbourne coffee institution visits Jakarta
This month, Melbourne coffee institution St Ali is going on world tour – and they’re even bringing their own beans! From September 11-17, St Ali’s world champion baristas will start their tour in J-town, taking over the espresso and brew bars at Common Grounds. During the takeover, St Ali is also running workshops and master classes, including learning to master latte art, the science behind coffee, and new espresso techniques.
To give you a taste, read our chat with the man behind St Ali, Sal Malatesta, who has taken a Melbourne café and introduced it to the world.
Sal, can you tell us about your journey in the food business so far?
Well the beginning is actually a wee bit embarrassing. I started my career in hospitality as a pie boy at the MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground] and Waverley Park at the tender age of 10. We would carry a large timber box with a leather strap selling pies for about $1.30, earning a massive commission of $0.13 per pie! Then at the age of 15 my folks opened an Italian pizzeria. My mother and father spoke little English, so it was my brother Tony and I who “ran” the pizzeria.
I ventured on my own at the age of 21 whilst I was studying arts and law at the University of Melbourne with my first café called Caffeine. By the time I graduated I had 15 food and beverage businesses under my belt – Caffeine and Plush Fish being the two most well-known. That seems like so long ago now. Now I am just the coffee guy from St Ali.
What have been some of the biggest “pinch yourself” moments?
I have “pinch myself moments” all the time. I do feel truly lucky and am humbled to have such a full life. Coffee is an international language and I have made friends from all over the world.
Being Mr. St Ali has meant I have AAA access to a lot of cool stuff. For example, we toured with Big Day Out and we were making coffee for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I have been asked to talk at international events like the European Coffee Symposium in Paris and the Coffee Festival in Kenya. Also, I have done a number of collaborations with some very best in category brands.
Which have been your favourite collaborations or projects and why?
Some collabs have included Mecca Cosmetics for a body scrub, that was awesome fun; Mercedes Benz delivering master classes for their customers; touring the country with Big Day Out; Ted Baker’s new store launch, our pop up Church of Secular Coffee at 80 Collins St. with Kong and Jimmy Grants; pop ups in Korea, Indonesia, London, Milan and others. And the studio Venturra Lambrate, which was the part of a show that we were involved in, created this beautiful product for us.
St Ali is currently on a world tour. What do you hope to achieve during the tour?
The world tour is driven by three key factors: fun, evangelical fervour of spreading the specialty coffee message, and our desire to be the best specialty coffee business in the world.
In your experience, what would you say are the key elements to building a successful food business?
Culture, people, product, strong leadership and a relentless pursuit for perfection, or in coffee lexicon – a constant search for the ‘Godshot’ (an industry name for the perfect cup of coffee).
What are your thoughts on food bloggers? Do you think their role is similar or greater than that of food critics?
Well like all journalists or cafés, there are the great, the good, and the not-so-good. Philosophically I am a free speech advocate.
Any hints on your future plans or projects for St Ali?
Watch for the rainbow, but for the remainder of this year we will be visiting Jakarta, Nairobi Kenya for the Vava Fresca Festival, Istanbul for the European Coffee Symposium, Playfest (a kids musical festival in Melbourne), and representing Tourism Australia in London.
To find out the availabilities and times for the St Ali workshops and master classes, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images courtesy of St Ali.