4 May 2011

by Bi Lee

With the stained apron tied around his waist in addition to the stubbles, one might speculate that Con Haralambopoulos is a painter or an artist. 


This speculation matches half the truth as customers watch their latte being prepared by Mr Haralambopoulos at 65 Degrees Cafe.


He tilted the glass containing espresso coffee in one hand and held the stainless steel milk jug in another. With a well-controlled slinging rhythm, Mr Haralambopoulos gently poured in the milk to weave the image of five pines joint together on the surface of the latte. He named this design The Michelin Man.


“The secret to painting the rosetta is to relax. The more relaxed you are, the more refined the presentation will turn out to be,” he said.


The rosetta is the image on top of a latte that can come in forms of tulips, hearts or pines.


Mr Haralambopoulos, 40, recalls his first competition as he turned his attention to the display of trophies on a wooden shelf opposite the red La Marzocco espresso machine.


“It was really nerve racking. It was more than just pouring the coffee. You also needed to speak and conduct yourself properly on stage with about 400 people watching you. It was kind of traumatic,” he said.


Mr Haralambopoulos emerged third in the competition: Australian Pura latte art championship 2006.

65 Degrees Cafe is the latest addition to the various cafes run by Con Haralambopoulos and his two other brothers, Jim and Peter.


This cafe adopted its name from the temperature required for milk to match the espresso foundation. Their earlier cafe called 7 grams was named after the weight of ground coffee needed for a glass of 30ml espresso.

 The brothers’ first appearance in the Melbourne coffee scene was in 1988. They established Cambridge cafe on Cambridge Street, Collingwood, when Con Haralambopoulos was 19. It started with the intention to create jobs for themselves and to work together as a family.


“We were brewing coffee off glasses back in 1988 and it created a bit of a fuss. At that time, coffee was mostly served in mugs or styrofoam cups,” Mr Haralambopoulos said with a laugh.


In recent years, Melbourne has grown to be regarded as the coffee capital of Australia. The Age reported that when chef and tea devotee Nigella Lawson visited the city for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in March this year, she started drinking coffee because it was so good.


“The coffee industry in Melbourne has gone from strength to strength. These coffee competitions have served to educate people about the industry. They are well informed about what others around the world are doing and they try to mimic it in their own cafes,” Mr Haralambopoulos said.


Australia ranks 45 in world consumption of coffee, two places ahead of United Kingdom. On average, Australians consume three kilograms of coffee per capita.


The difference between Australian and European coffee drinkers, Mr Haralambopoulos noticed, is that the Australians prefer a much warmer and cocoa-ey taste whereas the Europeans tend to drink more acidic coffee.


As such, the brothers developed an on-site coffee roaster in 65 degrees cafe to cater to Australians’ tastes.


Jason Scheltus, who oversees the roasting process in Market Lane Coffee, thinks that Australian coffee drinkers have high expectations in the beverage, in terms of quality and service.


 “Australians are not willing to wait more than ten minutes for their coffee. But that’s okay; it just means that we have to keep on improving our standards.” Mr Scheltus, 28, said.


Sarah, 30, considers Mr Haralambopoulos a great influence. She has recently closed her own cafe business to join the Haralambopoulous brothers.


Under Mr Haralambopoulos’s guidance, she has quickly picked up the entire coffee brewing process from extraction to pouring.


“Working in a high-profile cafe, you have to do a lot of experimentation and research. Here in the cafe, Con does not just tell you what to do. He makes you reflect on the whole process and find your own ways to improve it,” she said.


Located in the central business district, 65 Degrees Cafe is crowded at all times during working hours.


            “It gets mental sometimes, having to cope with the volume,” Mr Haralambopoulos said.



This weekend, they will be tearing down the wall we had sat against during the interview to accommodate another 18 seats.


Halfway through our conversation, eldest brother Jim called out to Con Haralambopoulos: “This lady here is looking for a smooth body and a cocoa taste. What do you recommend?”


            “The Kenyan Gethumbwini AA,” Con Haralambopoulos answered without hesitation.


Con Haralambopoulos and his brothers travel vastly to source quality coffee. They judge the coffee by its physical and taste traits, which includes a reddish brown reflection and a good harmony of sweetness and acidity.

Over a span of five years, Mr Haralambopoulos had entered numerous competitions to gain recognition for his skills. During his last competition in 2008, he held the winner title of the world latte art championship. This annual competition, organised by the Speciality Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE), highlights the artistic expression of latte.


       For Mr Haralambopoulos, winning is not just a matter of luck. Before these competitions, he would spend a huge amount of time training and practicing after working hours. But since the arrival of a baby boy into the family 15 months ago, Mr Haralambopoulos has stopped competing to spend more time with his loved ones.


“I’ll probably win if there’s a nappy-changing competition!” he said enthusiastically.


The brothers are now focused on the smooth and consistent running of 65 Degrees Cafe.


 When not drinking coffee, Mr Haralambopoulos and his brothers enjoy drinking wine. For 30 years, their father has been producing red wines from the grapes in their own garden in Doncaster. He can yield up to 800 bottles of red wine a year.


“Coffee and wines are very similar in some ways, from the industries to the blueberry notes. And both their tasting requires you to sip and swirl in your mouth,” Mr Haralambopoulos said.






Con Haralambopoulos of 65 degrees cafe and his coffee roaster nicknamed 'Thomas, the tank' by customers

Coffee guide written in old-school style blackboard in Market Lane Coffee

Jason Scheltus oversees the coffee roasting process in Market Lane Coffee

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