The veterans defending our caffein-nation17 July 2020
Coffee fanatics might have noticed that there are a lot of veterans who go into the coffee industry after service. But have you ever wondered why?
From coffee roasters to cafés, it seems veterans have a natural affinity for the coffee business. Perhaps the need to stay alert on deployments and operations give veterans a special insight into java juice?
“I have a coffee addiction,” laughs Ian Rawson of Australian Warfighters Coffee. “If I have a cup of coffee, I feel relaxed. And if I have a cup of good coffee, I feel even more relaxed.”
“I wanted to start a company that wasn’t about profit or dollars, but that gave something back to the community,” he says.
When he was medically discharged after almost 20 years in the RAAF, Ian decided to turn his passion for coffee into a social enterprise – the profits from his coffee roastery go to charities that are supporting veterans.
Partnering with fellow veteran Stewart Locke, he started a veteran drop-in cafe across the road from Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, which has been a hit with civilian locals as well.
A similar urge to give back prompted Navy veteran Terry McNally to get into coffee roasting. When three of his friends committed suicide after struggling with transition, he felt compelled to start a business that would help other veterans transition into commercial businesses.
“So I thought, ‘What does everyone like?”, he says. “And the answer was coffee.”
Terry’s coffee roasting and wholesaling business, 3 Elements Coffee, invests a portion of its profits into helping other veterans start their own coffee businesses – even to the extent of lending them coffee carts on a trial basis to see if it’s for them.
“They can buy the coffee wholesale from us and what they make, they keep. All they’ve got to buy are the cups and the milk.”
After four years in business, 3 Elements is now going international, having secured a deal with author Lee Childs for Jack Reacher coffee.
A complex obsession
By his own admission, Dan Smith of First Fruits Coffee became “obsessed” with coffee while going through rehab after his medical discharge.
“Coffee's really complex so it's a really fun thing to be able to sink into,” he says.
“There's so much to do with coffee that you can never claim that you've reached the point where you understand it all. So I think that was a real draw – to be able to continue to try and be the best at something.”
Dan has recently started an online training platform, which he hopes will be popular with other veterans.
Do you have what it takes to be a big shot?
Terry advises anyone starting out to do their homework.
“It’s all about the taste. Make sure you’ve got a unique blend, you know your customers and you put in the hard work.
“And don’t be afraid to talk to other veterans in the industry about their experiences.”