Where the tea flows + conversations brew
Warm smiles and friendly greetings from the crew at Blak Brews have become a fixture at music festivals, markets and local events across the region.
And now the beloved food van has found a more permanent home slinging specialty coffee and jaffles on Bellarine Street in Geelong.
Housed on an empty lot with seating fashioned from milk crates, it’s a no-nonsense though inviting space that prioritises good food, quality brews and conversation.
Troy Benjamin loves the simplicity of it.
“Zip ties, milk crates – that’s enough for me and that’s what I want people to have, just the basics,” he said. “You keep it simple, you can keep it quality. We’re not a three-star restaurant…we’re your new local.
“Everyone loves to have a local…because you’re going to get looked after. They’re going to know your name.”
While it’s the first space he has opened in Geelong, it’s by no means Benjamin’s first hospitality venture.
For seven years, Benjamin was the owner of one of Melbourne favourite café haunts, T-Roy Browns on Flinders Street.
An experienced barista, it was there Benjamin forged a reputation for treating his customers like family and delivering toasties deemed ‘too good to resist’.
The Blak Brews brand, which Benjamin operates with his wife Cerisa, is now just over one year old and those unfamiliar with it may be surprised to learn it began with a range of tea celebrating Indigenous ingredients.
The range is locally made, all natural and highly medicinal.
“The cuppa is an instigator for some quality time,” Benjamin said.
“I think most people would have heard ‘Put on the kettle’, ‘Come over for a cuppa’.”
He said he loves thinking about what life was like for his mother in the ’80s, when deep conversations were frequently had over a cup of tea.
“The kettle was on, and something was brewing, and it wasn’t about the cup. You’re not coming over for a little surface ‘How’s your day going?’. There’s something going on here. You’re hanging out for a bit and you’re telling us about your life.”
And it is tea’s powerful ability to initiate and inspire community that forms the heart of the brand.
“The Blak Brews brand, it’s not just about tea. It’s about putting people together in positive situations.”
And it’s important to him that the brand remains authentic, and he doesn’t become a “never-to-be-seen operator”.
“Who we are is just local people and we want to continue to hear people. We really want to make sure that people understand us, and we understand them and it’s a mutual conversation going on at all times.”
He said acknowledgement was an important aspect of this.
“People love to be acknowledged. When you’re not acknowledged, it hurts. We’ve forgotten to prioritise it. It’s not like we don’t know how to do it. I definitely want it to be one of the reasons people come here. I think that’s important.
“[My wife and I] do acknowledge people. We remember people.”
A proud Wadi Wadi, Tati Tati, Mutti Mutti, and Wemba Wemba man, Benjamin also wants his customers to know the Blak Brews food van “is not a political truck”.
“We want people to enjoy the product. Just because we’re Aboriginal doesn’t mean we’re activists. All humans are activists in their own world, whatever you want to stand for. If you want to fight for it or talk about it or stand for it, that’s activism.
“But I want to make sure people know that this truck, and this brand, is very very inclusive. It’s about relationships with people that are different than yourself.
“I think common ground’s the first step. Not you agree with me and then we’ll work it out. We’re talking about relationships and friendships. It’s all cool if you think something different – but do you like the tea?”
And while the van may be small, Benjamin’s ambition isn’t.
He’s hoping to see the brand eventually break into the international space.
“I think the world’s really excited about Australia, way more than Australians are.
“They love it. They’re fascinated with the native produce space. They know it’s rare, it’s premium, it’s exciting [and] it’s still connected to our ancient methods.”
Blak Brews operates at 51 Bellarine Street, Geelong from Monday to Friday from 6am-2pm.
To find out more, head to blakbrews.com