Coffee date with: Sonam Sherpa

Shopfront Coffee is just as the name suggests: a small aesthetically designed shop-front cafe with space just for the beautiful white coffee machine and a handful of customers. The intimate space, designed and built by barista and owner Sonam Sherpa, invites conversation: a perfect fit for his vibrant and welcoming persona. With the myriad projects Sonam has on right now aside from his main gig Shopfront – we’re talking pop-up cafes and small sustainable farms – I was lucky to get in for a chat. Here’s what went down.

Yarra Reporter: So tell us about your background in coffee and how you got started in the industry.

Sonam Sherpa: So I started making coffee parallel to when I went to Uni. I started when I was about 19 and I kept doing it while I was at Uni, and then I traveled intermittently as well. I actually went to Uni for 7 years and made coffee at the same time. I got offered an opportunity to open a shop at the same time I was finishing Uni, so I thought I’d try and open a shop.

YR: What were you studying at University?

SS: I did my Masters in Landscape architecture. I still do stuff related to it; I’ve started a little farming project out in the Yarra Valley. So my studies do fold back into it, [for instance] I’ve designed and built all of the cafes I’ve opened.

YR: Where are the other cafes you’ve opened?

SS: There’s another one in Brunswick at the moment, It’s a pop-up called Phase One Coffee, and there’s another one out in the Yarra Valley called Manna Lane. (Like Manna Gums, an Australian eucalypt, he explains).

Shopfront coffee from the front. Photo: Roxanne Fitzgerald

YR: Where did you learn to make coffee?

SS: So my first job was at Gloria Jeans, that was just making coffee. Then when I was living in London I actually learned how to make coffee properly with some hard-core career baristas… that’s when it started. That [cafe] is called Climpson & Sons.

YR: How did you establish Shopfront?

SS: When my pop up on Smith Street (Place Holder) finished it was just logical to open up another [cafe] nearby. I was looking around this area for a space and I found this place for rent. I just went for it. (The old building was apparently previously a butcher, but now co-exists as apartments and the relatively new Shopfront Coffee).

YR: What is it you love about the coffee industry? (Customers walk in for a coffee just as I finish my question and he greets them enthusiastically).

SS:  This part. Hanging out, catching up with everyone, the social aspect. That’s why you do it. If you don’t like people, then you’re in the wrong industry.

YR: And on the flip side, what don’t you like?

SS: Probably the early starts. You kind of miss out on a fair bit if you’re starting work at 6:30 every morning. And then you have to go to bed early. I live with my girlfriend, and it would be nice to wake up with her and do stuff with her in the morning before going out to start the day. We have people who come in and they have their morning coffee together before they go out and start their day. I miss that I reckon.

YR: If you could work anywhere in the world as a barista where would it be?

SS: I would really like to try Mexico. It’s a heavily prolific coffee producing area and you get to eat Mexican food!

YR: Have you ever dabbled in roasting and would that be of interest to you?

SS: I’ve seen enough of it, done enough. I’ve been into different producing areas, like, I’ve been to Kenya and other coffee farms. The roasting part doesn’t really have any interaction with people, which is what I enjoy. I completely respect it as an art. But for me, it’s not thrilling.

YR: What do you think makes a good barista?

SS: A good attitude and a steady hand.

Baristas at Shopfront. Photo: Roxanne Fitzgerald

YR: If you weren’t making coffee what would you be doing?

SS: I’d love to be a dive instructor, I think that would be awesome! I love to go diving and snorkeling. A tour guide or something would be fun as well.

YR: Where’s your favourite place to get a coffee?

SS: There’s a place around here called Long Street Coffee. I love those guys. Whenever I’ve got a day off I go there. They’re such nice people and what they’re doing is really respectable. Not many people are that ethically minded.

YR: What’s next for Sonam Sherpa?

SS: Next up I’m starting a furniture trading company with my partner. Just to spice things up a little.

Written by Roxanne Fitzgerald 

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