Langdon Coffee Merchants on becoming the interface between the supply chain and the customer and opening its doors to the Melbourne coffee community.
This article appears in the October 2020 edition of BeanScene.
Starting Langdon Coffee Merchants
Langdon Coffee Merchants (LCM) Founder Chris Langdon encountered coffee beans numerous times when sourcing herbs and spices overseas for fifth generation family-owned business Langdon Ingredients. Green beans weren’t on the suppliers list, yet Chris found himself drawn to the fascinating and sometimes perilous journey these beans made from some of the most remote regions on Earth.
“As I got to know different coffee traders, I came to realise what a specialised industry coffee is – particularly if you want to provide something that’s going to impress Australian roasters,” Chris says.
“The traded commercial end of the coffee market was already well serviced in Australia, but I felt like there was a need for consistently high-quality beans that could be used by specialty roasters, but equally, satisfy premium commercial roasters who are just as passionate about using exceptional beans.”
Chris knew that if he were going to associate the Langdon name with coffee, the business would need absolute focus and expertise to reach the quality standard Australians demand. That’s why in 2015, he launched LCM as a completely separate business to sister company Langdon Ingredients, and hired Guy Wilson as the company’s trader and leader into this new world.
“When I went for my interview at Langdon’s Derrimut office [17 kilometres west of Melbourne’s central business district] I saw a sophisticated operation. I knew Langdon was a successful entity and I was hoping it would apply the same commitment to trading coffee. And it has,” Guy says.
Building coffee relationships
LCM’s development has been a gradual build. Starting from scratch, Guy used Langdon Ingredient’s long-standing pedigree in food importing, storage, and product control, along with his background in international business trade and logistics, to get the business off its feet. His first year was dedicated to building relationships with producers and roasters, and finding key differentiators in what is considered a mature market.
“Coffee is a relationship business, both from a supplier point of view at origin through to the roasters you interact within the marketplace. You can have a great product but if you don’t have good relationships, it’s challenging,” Guy says.
“The other thing about the market here is that it’s diversified over the last five years. A lot of commodity trade houses have opened, but Langdon has a portfolio approach to our suppliers based on variety and supplier relationships. We’re not an agent for a global brand. We look for people to work with us who align from a moral, ethical and sustainable point of view.”
Guy describes LCM’s web of suppliers as a “tapestry” from different origins around the world. At the time of print, Guy was looking forward to the results of Brazil’s current harvest, late harvest arrivals from Honduras, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, as well as recent harvest from Burundi, Rwanda and the Northern region of Peru, Cajamarca. Guy says Cajamarca producers cup profiles exhibiting elevated yet balanced levels acidity and stone fruit sweetness.
Understanding the market
Also appealing is LCM’s strong relationship with Karl Wienhold of Cedro Alto, a coffee farming collective in Colombia. Karl has created a new standard for transparency, in which he discloses farmer production costs through milling and export costs.
“The new age of specialty roasters is lifting the veil on pricing information and making it accessible to the roasting and consumer community,” Guy says. “People want to know if producers are being looked after as key stakeholders of the product, and for that reason we’re proud to work with Karl because of his transparent approach.”
In today’s climate, Guy says consumers aren’t just looking for an ethically sourced product, but value for money.
“We understand cafés are doing it tough right now. Demand is shifting. I think roasters are looking for a balance between the best coffee they can get that is sustainable and allows them to be competitive in the marketplace, which by no means equates to less quality,” Guy says.
“It’s about understanding the market and adjusting as an importer. We know that expensive and super high-end coffees are probably being used in less volumes than they previously were. We may engineer our portfolio accordingly, but roasters still want variety and to work with an importer that has a quality focus.”
LCM’s smaller offering
To aid roasters manage their costs and meet demand from home roasting enthusiasts, LCM has introduced LCM Selects, three-kilogram bags of green beans to give customers the flexibility to discover new origins without the commitment of buying in bulk. Chris and Guy hope this new initiative will encourage the development of micro-roasters in the coming years.
A continuous focus on quality
LCM aims to appeal to buyers of all sizes with a confidence in the product they’re buying, and trust that their green beans have been sourced sustainably and are rigorously quality tested.
“We’ve developed our capability out of origin with a multi-tiered approach, meaning we can buy price-sensitive volumes that allows us to be competitive to large-scale commercial roasters who are quality-focused, through to small bespoke specialty roasters looking for something unique,” Guy says.
That focus begins from the moment the green beans arrive at Langdon’s Derrimut warehouse where they are stored in a temperature controlled, humidity-regulated container to guarantee optimum freshness.
Each shipment of beans undertakes a series of testing for moisture, bean density and defects before they are roasted, cupped, and data-logged with tasting notes. This all takes place at LCM’s new South Melbourne laboratory.
New South Melbourne coffee laboratory
LCM moved into the 1940s factory in March 2020. The renovated headquarters features a state-of-the-art roasting and cupping facility as per Specialty Coffee Association standards. The new sensory laboratory, cupping lab, sample roasting room, office and coffee bar deliberately blurs the lines between work, science, and lounge.
“The coffee industry is dedicated to engaging with its customer base. They want to learn, they want to interact, stop by for a cupping and taste delicious coffee with you, and we believe we’ve created the perfect place to do that here in Melbourne,” says Guy. “Now we can be an accessible ‘coffee hub’ for the Melbourne coffee community.”
Langdon Founder Chris says the move now “completes the circle” on a heritage that started 168 years ago by his great-great-great grandfather, Henry Joseph Langdon. A former merchant captain with the East India Company, Henry migrated to Australia to supply the goldfields with imported goods like tea, gins, soap, shovels, and coffee. The new LCM laboratory is just a couple of kilometres from where Henry first unloaded his goods.
“I think Henry would have a chuckle at the fact that we are now not only supplying roasters Australia-wide, but we are sending beans back to his hometown of London,” Chris says.
Expanding the business
Thanks to the foundation of Langdon Ingredients, LCM has a footprint in New Zealand and a chapter in the United Kingdom. It is also looking at further Australian expansion, with Australian Specialty Coffee Association Brewers Cup competitor and current Southern Region Champion David Train taking the LCM branch to South Australia.
As LCM grows, Guy looks forward to expanding the business and continuing to work as a storyteller and advocate for the farmers he so closely works with.
“We’re riding this wonderful and exciting journey. We’re bringing interesting coffees to the market and are excited to be a destination point for roasters no matter their size, origin, or quality needs,” Guy says.
Chris adds that he’s eager to keep building LCM’s momentum and the foundations for multi-generational relationships with coffee producers.
“I’d love to think that as we grow, we can also help our producers build resilience and prosperity for their families and communities in the years to come,” he says.
“[And] as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we can’t wait to welcome all members of the coffee community who share our passion for quality.”