Inner-city coffee roaster forced to act after resident smell complaints

Tom Cowie
Discolouration on the roof of Small Batch's factory.
Discolouration on the roof of Small Batch's factory.  Photo: Justin McManus

Not everyone wants to wake up and smell the coffee.

An inner-city specialty coffee bean processor is facing objections from residents in nearby apartment buildings over the smoke and smell produced by the company's roasting machines. 

Small Batch Roasting Company in North Melbourne has had to take steps to improve the situation after its Little Howard Street factory was the subject of a detailed complaint to the City of Melbourne and EPA concerning coffee emissions.

Benjamin Fisher said he first raised concerns about the exhaust billowing out from Small Batch's roasting chimneys on behalf of residents in 2014 because he was worried the smoke might be toxic.

He recently followed up with council after not hearing back about the matter, which he said had continued to affect not just those in his apartment building but also a neighbouring childcare centre.

The factory's location in the middle of a group of taller apartment buildings meant the smoke tended to swirl around and settle instead of blowing away, he said. 

Andrew Kelly from Small Batch Roasting Company.
Andrew Kelly from Small Batch Roasting Company. Photo: Stefan Postles

"It's a strong acrid smell, like a really nasty burnt coffee. It's not that pleasant aroma of coffee, which everyone likes and is quite refreshing," he said.

"It's got more of a chemical tone to it. Even with the windows and doors closed it still comes into the apartment; it's quite pervasive."

Small Batch owner Andrew Kelly, who also started the Auction Rooms cafe in North Melbourne, said the smoke given off by the roasters was the same as any other cooking process.

Advertisement

"There's nothing toxic about the smoke," he said. "The smell we recognise some people don't like."

The visible exhaust, which is the result of green coffee beans being cooked at super high temperatures for around 10 minutes, was mainly moisture released into the air, he said. 

The factory is surrounded by apartment buildings and a childcare centre.
The factory is surrounded by apartment buildings and a childcare centre. Photo: Justin McManus

The company roasts around 1500 kg of beans a week across four days. 

Emissions released during coffee roasting include alcohols, aldehydes, organic acids, and nitrogen and sulfur compounds, according to the American EPA. 

Mr Kelly said his company had been consulting with council about how to solve the problem after receiving complaints from people connected to the childcare centre.

Small Batch roasts about 1500kg of coffee beans a week.
Small Batch roasts about 1500kg of coffee beans a week.  Photo: Stefan Postles

Solutions included extending the flue on the factory roof so the emissions are released higher and installing an ozone generation machine and fans to combat the odour as it was produced.

"We want to be good neighbours, we thought we had a solution that suited everybody," Mr Kelly said.

"Some people think the smell is great; others obviously don't."

Small Batch's is located on Little Howard  Street in North Melbourne.
Small Batch's is located on Little Howard Street in North Melbourne. Photo: Google Maps

Mr Fisher said he did not want Small Batch to close down and was happy that the business appeared to be doing well.

However he wanted to be told about what was in the emissions so he could know for sure that what he was breathing in wasn't a health risk. 

"I want them to succeed, but we have laws and regulations that govern their operation," he said. 

Neighbours have complained about the smell from Small Batch's coffee manufacturing in North Melbourne.
Neighbours have complained about the smell from Small Batch's coffee manufacturing in North Melbourne. Photo: Stefan Postles

The issue of people living near food businesses in the inner city has become a major issue, after a Carlton steakhouse was forced to closed its doors when nearby residents complained about the smell from cooking meat

Mr Kelly said coffee roasting in many ways was the perfect light industry to operate in the inner suburbs of Melbourne.

He said his businesses had a long connection to North Melbourne and he wanted Small Batch to continue operating in the area. 

"We really don't make any noise, we're cooking food that is consumed nearby in a city that obsesses about that kind of thing," he said.

A City of Melbourne spokesperson said that in addition to the initial complaint, council had also been told about damage to a vehicle allegedly caused by the factory's emissions. 

The spokesperson said that matter did not fall under council's jurisdiction and the complainant was advised about other courses of action.