Starting life as Brew House Coffee, with a small roasting machine located at the back of a café, Undercover Roasters has since grown into one of Melbourne’s leading specialty coffee operators.
We chatted with CEO Hakan Bilal to get his insights into the art of branding, the rise and rise of oat milk, and much more. Let’s dive in.
Known for their top-notch blends and crisp minimalist branding, Undercover Roasters’ range includes DRK, BLK (their signature blend) and WHT, a range which has been specifically curated to match a variety of taste preferences.
UCR HQ is in Abbotsford, it’s their second location and was added to complement their original factory in Bendigo.
In addition to being a central hub for distribution, the Abbotsford space also lets coffee lovers bring pooches — it’s fully dog friendly — while they enjoy a superb cup in a relaxed setting. An intimate café and meeting space was recently added on Little Collins St in the CBD, so those centrally located can get their daily dose of UCR goodness.
Hakan said that stocking MILKLAB has helped Undercover Roasters to expand and become a “one-stop shop for our customers’ coffee needs.” He explained that being able to offer convenience is key to attracting more wholesale customers to UCR’s ever-growing list, as cafè owners seek to better match their offerings to changing customer preferences.
“MILKLAB has proven to be a highly sought after brand in terms of alternative milk,” he said.
While some alternative milks deliver a strong taste that can overpower your coffee’s delicate flavours, Hakan said MILKLAB’s smooth taste ensures it pairs perfectly with coffee.
For busy baristas, texturing abilities and consistency matter greatly, too. “The milks bind perfectly with coffee, they don’t curdle or separate,” he said.
As with most partnerships, success is not only about having products to share, it’s also about having complementary ideas. “[MILKLAB’s] branding is clean and minimal and aligns nicely with our own visual style,” he added.
As one of the MILKLAB Lane partners at MICE 2023, UCR brought the Almond Arthouse activation to life. It came as no surprise that everyone was loving the coffees made with the BLK blend — its balanced flavour profile making it the perfect match for MILKLAB Almond.
Also happening at MICE was MILKLAB’s Barista Battle, which was not only the ultimate latte art smackdown, but also “an exciting opportunity for us to connect with other industry professionals,” he said.
“It was particularly exciting to see how MILKLAB and UCR’s environmental visions align, with the MILKLAB stand being built entirely from recycled cartons,” he added.
[Shout out to our friendsat saveBOARD for their incredible work on MILKLAB Lane!]
As any business owner will tell you, when you have a product that’s growing in popularity, it’s a big deal to change brands. But that’s exactly what UCR did when they made the decision to switch to MILKLAB Oat.
As part of our oat milk reformulation process, MILKLAB worked closely with our partners, allowing them to trial and give feedback to help us refine the product, a process which Hakan said provided the surety they needed.
“Working with MILKLAB to trial their formulations gave us confidence in the product and allowed us to fully back the change,” he said.
Oat milk now plays a significant role in UCR’s own product development, as he continued, “We trial all of our blends and roast profiles on oat milk, and we have been doing that for about a year now.”
Melbourne is known as a pioneer and powerhouse of coffee culture — it’s a place where names are made and trends catch fire quickly.
Hakan explained that in recent times, Melburnians are increasingly keen to discover the world outside of espresso.
“We have noticed a lot more focus on filter coffee and single origins recently. This is an exciting change from the usual espresso focus, allowing us to really showcase particular origins and educate consumers on each origin,” he said.
In addition to a growing interest in single origins, Hakan said there continues to be greater awareness of sustainability, the environment and recycling as consumers seek to make more ethical purchases.
This year will also bring more MILKLAB and Undercover Roasters colLABs, with plans to host latte art comps and industry events UCR HQ in Melbourne. Watch this space!
“Our retail customers love MILKLAB Oat, it has easily surpassed almond in terms of popularity,” he said.
“MILKLAB Oat is also our team members’ favourite — it textures really nicely and the latte art potential is unlimited.”
MILKLAB is proud to partner with Euphoria Social for a second year in a row to celebrate diversity and champion ALL baristas in our community.