While it's what ends up in the coffee cup that matters the most, what we see of the process is an intrinsic part of the overall experience. The tools used to make, serve, and consume coffee are undeniably important, and their aesthetic leaves an imprint. Of course, things can’t just look good—they have to be functional. In a craft industry driven by precision, coffee gear has to work, and it has to work well.
That’s part of what inspired Charlie Luong to launch ArtisanSmith, a line of coffee accoutrements handcrafted to order, with everything from tampers and dosing cups to aprons. Luong is a true jack of all trades, with experience as a blacksmith, coppersmith, carpenter, leathersmith, and concreter, so you can see where the ArtisanSmith name comes from. Luong’s work is distinguishable for his funky designs—like the ergonomic kettle—and his striking use of copper, be it in a custom-made dripper or a dosing funnel.
But Luong may never have become a craftsman had it not been for coffee; trace his history and coffee is the thread that ties everything together. “My family has been growing coffee in Vietnam for over 50 years, and still do, even though they are robusta,” he says. “You can say coffee is in my blood.” His immediate family fled the country in 1975, and eventually resettled in Australia when Luong was a child.
It was there that Luong eventually stumbled upon the barista profession, and like many in the field, he soon enough had dreams of opening his own cafe. “I found a cheap rent site in the suburb of Gordon in Sydney, and with only $35k in the bank, stupidly I decided to take the risk and sign the lease,” says Luong. But as he learned, $35,000 doesn't go very far when it comes to building out a cafe business, and he realized that to fulfill his dream he would have to do much of the work to get the cafe up and running himself. “I went to hardware houses to attend free courses,” says Luong. He went anywhere he could to get free help or payments in kind, from carpenters to blacksmiths. Armed with the knowledge of what he needed, he would go to junk yards to source the cheapest materials—sometimes even free—that he could find. His career as a craftsman had begun.
Fortunately for Luong, the cafe—Pottery Green Bakers—was a success, and he partnered with his baristas to open even more cafes. Building upon the skills he had acquired in launching the first cafe, Luong went a step further and took a stab at making his own coffee equipment, too. “We decided the products in the coffee industry were either too expensive or not as good as we thought they could be, so we started making our own coffee-related products by hand,” Luong says. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.
From a desire to construct functional and beautiful coffee tools that were also in a price range that cafe owners and baristas could afford, ArtisanSmith was born. Luong has expanded his repertoire from his initial coffee tools, but no matter what he is doing, his focus is always on his craft. “I also started to design and build cafes, bars, houses, etc.,” says this true artisan. “Everything, of course, handmade from only natural materials.”
Luong points out that while copper can be a difficult metal to work with, “the reward is that it looks amazing and has great heat-retention ability, which is so important for the specialty-coffee industry, especially with manual-brewing methods.”
Luong recently launched the ArtisanSmith website, where people can order custom-made tools of all kinds. But for the versatile Luong, this is only the beginning. ArtisanSmith is currently working on the design and build of a new cafe in the Sydney suburb of Willoughby, and the brand also now customizes espresso machines. “There are so many projects and designs that I want to do that it's impossible to put [them] down on paper. I love what I do—I honestly can't wait to get to work everyday, and there are not enough hours in the day for me.”
Photos courtesy of ArtisanSmith.