Australia’s Indigenous owned, operated, and controlled coffee brand Dhuwa is the result of an unstoppable drive to end Indigenous disadvantage and intergenerational trauma, a partnership founded on respect, and a mutual commitment to delivering a premium product in a highly competitive market. Kim Berry speaks to founder Shawn Andrews and business partner Peter Patisteas on how a cup of coffee can change the world. This article first appeared in the August/September issue of Food & Drink Business.
Shawn Andrews, a descendant of the Mununjali people of South East Queensland and the Palawa people of Tasmania, was 10-years-old when he knew he would one day be fighting to end Indigenous disadvantage and the cycle of intergenerational trauma. In his young life he had lost four relatives in gun violence and he was experiencing the systemic bullying and racism our First Nations people endure.
“My ancestors and country talked through me, telling me that one day I would be where I am today, I just needed to find my way here,” Andrews says.
As he grew up many saw Andrews’ skills and leadership qualities, with accolades, scholarships and opportunities afforded accordingly. But by his 20s he was battling a severe gambling addiction and episodes of homelessness before he “started sorting myself” out in his 30s.
“You have to understand that you have 220-odd years of colonisation sitting on the shoulders of every single Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian.
”When any Indigenous person walks into any space, they’re carrying that trauma with them, whether it is intergenerational trauma or lived experience; whether it’s direct or indirect racism; whether it’s your grandmother’s stolen generation; or that every year for two weeks around January 26 you have to lock yourself away because every piece of news you see or hear is about whether your people are good, bad or something in-between whether you are the bravest Indigenous person in the world or not.
“You have to be aware of that trauma, and non-Indigenous people need to understand that we carry it with us always.
Finding what’s next
After founding Indigicate, a curriculum driven Indigenous education cultural program, and Supply Aus – a 100 per cent Indigenous owned and operated procurement company, Andrews was asking himself, what’s next?
“I thought, what products do I love and how can I turn them into something more. I love coffee but there are many outstanding coffees out there, so how could I do it differently?”
It was the realisation that nearly all the important conversations we have happen over a beverage, which is more often than not, a coffee.
“It was such a natural fit. A great cup of coffee connects us as we share stories, build bonds, and nourish relationships. We call it ‘reconciliation in a cup’,” he says.
Andrews knew exactly what Dhuwa (pronounced Dee:Wah, meaning ‘to feel alive’ in Bidjara language) Coffee stood for – a celebration of Indigenous people, their cultures and the 300-plus languages they speak. He says it is a reconciliation ecosystem, from the coffee it creates, the people it celebrates, and the opportunities it brings to other Indigenous people.
“The bigger picture is to create a successful coffee enterprise that will train and employ Indigenous people to enable them to contribute to their communities,” he says.
The challenge was finding the right business partner to deliver his vision.
“Everyone we were meeting with didn’t pass the test of, ‘are they really serious about working with an Indigenous business’, ‘are they going to put the effort in to understand us’, ‘are they good people’, and ‘do they understand what we need to do, do they understand coffee, and can they do the things we can’t’.
“We knew exactly what we wanted to create and had access to all the sales and distribution channels but not the skills or knowledge to produce the coffee,” Andrews explains.
And then Andrews and business partner Adam Williams met with the co-owners and directors of Griffiths Bros Coffee Roasters, Peter Patisteas and Chris Togias. It was immediately clear to Andrews and Williams that the pair had done their homework.
“Peter and Chris had spent the time doing the research and learning about us as a business and as individuals.
“For an Indigenous person, that is how we do business. We work on the relationship. Many people see us and see dollars and a vehicle to exploit Indigenous procurement spend. It was clear from the very beginning that was not their intention,” Andrews says.
For Andrews it was the perfect fit, Griffiths Bros was the oldest coffee roaster in the country and they were the oldest culture. It could not only produce the coffee but also had the capacity to scale.
From idea to action
Patisteas says from the outset what attracted him to the project was the truth telling component Andrews and Williams brought to the table.
“As simple as it sounds, the actual roasting and packaging side of the business is something we know backwards, that’s the easiest part of it.
“It is the relationships that take time and a lot more effort to understand.
“Shawn and Adam were so clear about where they were coming from and where they wanted to go it was easy for us to see how we could support their endeavour, and that wasn’t just about producing coffee,” Patisteas explains.
The Griffiths Bros pair were drawn to the opportunity to develop a product that supported a new enterprise on a large scale with an Indigenous ownership structure.
“I really like understanding the individual and what motivates them. Shawn’s work, particularly in supporting kids in care was really telling of the individual and very powerful.
“From our perspective we could draw energy and motivation from that and deliver a premium product, but the relationship was still key,” Patisteas says.
Critical to both parties was the clear definition of Griffiths Bros role – that it would add value, but as a supporting structure, not a leading one.
My aim is not for Dhuwa to just be the premium coffee on the shelf, my aim is for Dhuwa to be Australians’ choice of coffee and an exporting champion for this country.
“For most Australians, Indigenous affairs are peripheral and we don’t really understand it. Shawn working from our offices has given us absolute clarity around hardships the Indigenous community face. That small insight has given us even bigger motivation to change.
“If we can get that messaging through, if we can support that endeavour, whether financially or otherwise, it is really positive. We don’t want Indigenous affairs on the periphery anymore, we want it in centre of every Australian’s culture. Dhuwa is a great vehicle for building greater awareness and understanding,” Patisteas says.
The hurdles to jump
“You grow up hearing ‘no’ a lot,” Andrews says when explaining the systemic lack of trust banks and industry have in Indigenous people and businesses as legitimate enterprises.
Often a business relationship falls over or an employment situation fails in the Indigenous space because people don’t understand trauma and trauma informed practice. It’s a critical part of our pedagogy.
The upshot of that is having to work twice as hard as a non-Indigenous person and even then, it is not enough.
“I’m the first person in my family to stay in school beyond Year 9, I’m the first to get a degree, to get my master’s and to do an MBA. But banks still don’t trust our legitimacy.
“So, we had to find the right partner, one that would be with us for the long journey, would understand racism and the reality that every day I come to work I’m coming with the trauma of my people. And be able to absorb that and get on to produce not just any coffee, but coffee that is twenty per cent better than anyone else’s,” Andrews says.
“Pete has lived firsthand the times I have said ‘I can’t do that’, or when I have left the office half an hour after arriving because on that day I just feel safer working from home.
“It has nothing to do with anyone around me and everything to do with trauma. It is learning to not judge the individual for the action, but the action itself. When you understand that is a trauma response, the education process is working.
“Often a business relationship falls over or an employment situation fails in the Indigenous space because people don’t understand trauma and trauma informed practice. It is a critical part of our pedagogy moving forward.
“My major passion is to end Indigenous disadvantage and that trauma cycle. Dhuwa Coffee is a tool to do that.”
Onto the shelf
In 2020, Andrews’ Supply Aus business established a relationship with Woolworths to supply the retailer with hand sanitiser during COVID-19.
“At that stage we were a small Indigenous business with 120,000 tonnes of sanitiser. We only had $1000 in our bank account and it was a contract worth more than $7 million.
“You either lean in or lean out,” he says.
But even Andrews was surprised with the outcome of their first meeting for Dhuwa.
“We were all heading in, and I was reassuring Chris and Pete that we’d get one or two SKUs into stores. We walked out with an agreement to have 18 SKUs ready in 14 weeks,” he laughs.
It was an enormous effort but one they achieved through the expertise of all involved, Andrews says.
Critically, throughout the entire process every decision came back to Andrews to approve. “Pete and Chris’s involvement was never tokenistic. This is an indigenous coffee brand that has to be led by Indigenous people,” he says.
Patisteas says his Greek heritage meant he grew up in a household where everything was discussed at the table.
“It is very much how we feel working with Shawn and Adam, we meet around the table but at the end of the day, it is an Indigenous company and the decision making has to be theirs,” he says.
“In the space of fourteen weeks, a completely Indigenous led company, took a completely new premium product to market into one of the most competitive markets in the country. Five per cent of our profits go straight to our charity partner Dreaming Futures which supports Indigenous kids in out of home care.
“We are a serious, successful Indigenous business and seen as such but there’s more to do,” Andrews says.
“My aim is not for Dhuwa to just be the premium coffee on the shelf, my aim is for Dhuwa to be Australians’ choice of coffee and an exporting champion for this country.”
Dhuwa is born from a Mununjali man determined the sophisticated and strong Indigenous Australian culture is embraced while the disadvantage and intergenerational trauma experienced by First Nations people ends, and delivered by a partnership built on trust, respect and a lot of hard work.
Andrews says: “We’re all destined to become ancestors. How we start supporting more Indigenous people and businesses comes from understanding we have to be more involved in Indigenous culture. We all have to respect, care, understand and love it for real and lasting change.”
Dhuwa is calling all of us to rise and shine.
DHUWA’s beans are crafted into coffee in Wurundjeri country and are sourced from Brazil, Colombia, India, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The brand has three coffee ranges:
First Light – A lighter blend suitable for a filter method. Sourced from Brazil, Indonesia, India and Colombia, with toffee apple, butterscotch and cocoa flavours.
Kickstart – A medium roast blend that suits a morning latte or espresso. Sourced from Brazil, India, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, with caramel sweetness, jammy plum and chocolate notes.
Bigshot – A dark roast blend for those who enjoy a strong latte. Sourced from Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Ethiopia, delivering a milk chocolate and nutty cup with a vanilla finish.