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PacificEdge | June 27, 2017

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Launceston’s stop for chocolate

Launceston’s stop for chocolate
Russ Grayson

A Tasmanian journey…

IF CAFES can be signifiers of cultural change, then that is what Cocobean is.

This was my thought I sat down with in this tiny cafe that bills itself as a ‘chocolate boutique’ in downtown Launceston, reflecting that when I lived in this city decades ago there were no places like Cocobean and some of the other cafes that have emerged in town. There were cafes, of course, but they were products of their time… a less socially sophisticated time… just plain places with everyday cafe food.

The city might still look the same, I thought… something of a late Nineteenth, early Twentieth Century architectural time warp that gives the place its character, but there has been a demographic handing-over and this has brought a new sophistication that is quite different to what was.

AN INTIMATE LITTLE PLACE

Small business is the economic backbone of Launceston, just as it is in other cities. Cafes are small businesses and its always a challenge to distinguish themselves from others of their kind. How, in a city centre with a reasonable choice of cafes, do you stand out from the mob?

That calls for developing your point of difference, that which separates you from your just-another-cafe competitors (and they certainly do exist in Launceston). This Cocobean appears it have done well in creating a small business supplying good coffee and unique chocolate products to the local market. That’s its niche in a world of niche markets and it’s a niche reinforced by what appears to be knowledgable, friendly staff. That’s going by my experience there, anyway.

You find Cocobean in a row of shops not far from Launceston’s Old Umbrella Shop — that’s right, a shop selling only umbrellas. Only in Tasmania could you find this, but that’s another story.

A SMALL CAFE WITH A DIFFERENCE

Inside Cocobean, the ambience is intimate with a row of tables paralleling the long counter that runs the length of the cafe, and the use of dark timber to produce that close feeling that makes for an intimate ambience. Shelves behind the counter are loaded the cafe’s specialty chocolates that are also displayed on the counter in easy view. I watched as the staff took successive shoppers through the range, explaining the differences, their knowledge of their product apparent.

Coffee and chocolate are foods enjoyed for their taste. So, in a cafe that specialises in both, wouldn’t the tastes clash?

That was a concern of the proprietor, I learned. They took the trouble to find a coffee that complemented the taste of their chocolates and obtained it from Phil di Bella, a direct trader in coffee whose website says they are “the only coffee company in Australia to deal 100% direct with the farmer and we are dedicated to supporting ethical and sustainable farming practices”.

Coffee is gorwn in Australia but in limited volume. It’s one of the country’s newer agricultural industries. I have seen the bean growing and harvested from community food gardens as far south as Sydney, though even that warm temperate climate is insufficient to support commercial cropping. The nearest source to Sydney, as I found in my role with the community supported agriculture enterprise, Sydney Food Connect, is the Nimbin region in northern NSW.

I’m no food connoisseur and am largely ignorant when it comes to food preparation, however I found the coffee to be full bodied and nutty in flavour. And, importantly, the barista understands that extra hot means just that.

Then there’s the chocolate products of which there’s quite a variety. I was told that they are made locally although the cacao is imported. Those with agricultural knowledge will know that the cocoa bean that is the basis of chocolate is a tropical tree crop. Climate prevents both cocoa and coffee being grown in Tasmania.

As for Cocobean’s products, I can tell you their chocolate bar with embedded roasted coffee beans is top.

SURVIVAL

When it comes down to basics, cafes need four things to survive:

  • good coffee and food; these are part of the value proposition cafes offer their customers
  • helpful and friendly staff who actually like their work; good working conditions and flexible, supportive management has much to do with this
  • good ambience — the cafe needs to feel comfortable; it needs to avoid assaulting its customers with the excess clanking and banging of food preparation that you experience in many and that makes it difficult to hold a conversation
  • competitive pricing that avoids perceptions of overcharging that reduces the chance of repeat custom; prices that are out of proportion compared with competitors are likely to be seen as too high by some customers.

Cocobean meets all of these criteria — as far as saying that is possible with only a couple visits.

IMPRESSIONS…

Product: Speciality niche market with a focus on coffee and chocolate products. Coffee above average. You wouldn’t hesitate in ordering a second cup.

Service: Above average. Helpful, courteous, competent staff.

Prices: The specialty chocolates are not machine-made mass market stuff. They tend more to the artisan end of the product range and are consequently more expensive than your supermarket chocolates though most likely equivalent in price to similar quality products (this is supposition as I had nothing to make direct comparison to). My impression is that they are not all that high priced and are not overpriced, and are far better than the stuff you buy in supermarkets. Coffee price is average.

Ambience: Contemporary, intimate, cozy.

Location: Location amid a cluster of small shopfront businesses at 82 George Street in Launceston CBD ensures accessability.

Visit the Cocobean Chocolate website

 

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