With a mysterious name like Mr Black and a tagline, “coffee crafted for darkness”, Inside FMCG needed to know more about the story behind this cold brew coffee liquor. Managing founder Tom Baker shared the humble beginnings behind this complex coffee and vodka concoction.
The story of Mr Black starts in 2013 with a chance meeting between Philip Moore, one of Australia’s foremost distillers, and Tom Baker, coffee-nerd and designer. “Holy … this is delicious”, Tom exclaimed after taking a swig of Philip’s coffee liqueur, “every bar world needs a bottle of this”. Together, they founded Mr Black Roasters and Distillers in August 2013 with a simple mission: take Australia’s coffee culture into the night.
“Our worlds collided. He was a distiller making a cold brew liquor. I was a coffee lover and saw the product’s potential,” said Baker. Mr Black is an Arabica bean coffee concoction that’s blended with Australian wheat vodka to create a 50 proof drink.
No business is easy to get off the ground but with the recent third wave of coffee, Mr Black’s craft drinks are on the radar for those eyeing a fresher take on coffee and alcohol. Baker said the drinks category is mostly dominated with “genuinely terrible, commodity products” wherein most are already household names in the market. Their product needed to be different.
“I don’t know too many coffee drinkers that get home from work and pour themselves a giant glass of Kahlua. In coffee terms, the world is drinking instant while we’re brewing speciality. So we’ve had quite the job to do to convince both drinkers and bartenders that we’re not just a posh coffee liqueur. We’re a bona-fide, high-quality spirit that’s bittersweet, complex and damn tasty”.
So how does one create Mr Black? The cold brew liquor concoction is easy to drink but harder to create. It generally contains four specific ingredients of coffee, alcohol, water and sugar. Sounds easy? Not quite. It’s a nine day hard-graft to make a bottle from start to finish.
“We source the best coffees we can from reliable, high-quality growing regions in Kenya, Colombia and Papua New Guinea. These amazing coffees are roasted, ground and cold-brewed in house by our head of Coffee, Dr Detlef Mohr. After brewing, we commence a complicated process of separation, maceration and blending before bottling by hand.”
The company has also strengthened its relationships with local growers, collectives and importers to source the best coffees in Australia. These days the emphasis on sustainability and fair trade has paved the way for a better bond with local farmers in the coffee industry.
Mr Black is competing with coffee liqueurs such as Tia Maria, Kahlua and others, but what makes their drink distinct is that their competitors’ products contain very little real coffee thus “the difference in taste is night and day”.
“In reality, there are very few companies in the world that do what we do. We are the only high-quality scale producer in the world that roasts in house. We’re for real.”
For a hybrid type of drink, certainly it would cost more than the average beverage. Baker revealed that it cost a seven-figure amount to build the business from the ground up.
“It’s not cheap or easy, but few things worth doing are. We could have done it for less, but it would have taken longer, and where’s the fun in that. Thankfully we’ve got a great bunch of investors that believed in our mission.”
The drinks company recently launched Mr Black Coffee Amaro (‘Bitter’), which is citrus driven and can be served with Tonic Water. The Amaro is a combination of Baker’s love for coffee, and Moore’s “30-year botanical obsession”.
The Mr Black product range is available in Australia, New York and London.