Emily Oak, Sensory Lab Coffee Roasters

Emily Oak is a very important woman at Sensory Lab Coffee Roasters. She will be caffeinating us during Make Nice - seriously, who would be able to be nice without coffee?! She's on our blog today sharing her wisdom about our favourite golden brew and everything else important in life. Thanks, Emily!

Hi Emily, what do you do?

I manage new and existing business for Sensory Lab Coffee Roasters in NSW and Queensland. We’re a Melbourne based company that we expanded north in 2013. I live and breathe the specialty coffee industry – from working with individuals in cafes and restaurants, right back to the farm where the beans are grown. Specialty Coffee is different because we work on a model of traceability – right from cup to crop ensuring that everyone is fairly treated and properly paid throughout the whole supply chain.  As a result every cup of coffee we make has a positive impact on many levels.

Do you have a maxim that you live and work by?

Nothing specific, but at the end of each day I take a minute to think about what I’ve achieved (or haven’t achieved!) in the previous 24 hours. Just taking stock of each and every moment, appreciating it in anticipation of the next. In recent years I’ve really made sure I’ve had a focus on balance across all aspects of life.

What are the three milestones that have led you to where you stand?

1). Early on in my career I had a work opportunity I was overlooked for because I was "too young and also a girl and that was just the way they operated". Honestly, until that point in life I hadn’t really experienced anything like it and it was a big reality check for me. In the end I pushed hard enough and was given the job and did it well. Later that year they chose not to renew my contract. It helped me realise that life wasn’t always fair and I had to learn to fight a little bit harder for what I believed I deserved, even if it made other people uncomfortable.

2). My first trip to a specialty coffee conference in Miami in 2001. I was completely naive as to what I was going to experience or as to how many people globally shared my passion for the industry. This was practically pre Internet so it was much harder to gauge what actually happened outside our little Sydney bubble. Suddenly there were literally thousands of people wanting to do the same things, learn the same lessons and share the same ideas. It lit the fire for me and from then I knew it could be a career.

3). In 2013 I became a partner in Sensory Lab, being offered the opportunity to own a piece of the company that I was helping to grow. It was nice to be recognised as making a meaningful contribution to our collective futures on equal footing with a handful of influential employees within our business. It’s an organisation with an excellent culture that fits me like a snug glove and we’ve got big plans for the next decade!

What is your dream project?

Oh dear, this is such a broad question. The work I do isn’t really project based. Rather, it’s ongoing relationships with people in all aspects of the specialty coffee industry. I would certainly like to spend more time at origin working and learning from the people who grow the coffee! I still haven’t let go of the idea of going into politics one day (it’s what I originally studied at university!).

If you could choose to hear any female contemporary present at Make Nice, who would it be and why?



What projects do you have in the pipeline?

We have a new retail collaboration, plus new retail stores in Sydney and Melbourne. As a medium sized company we always have a number of new and exciting things going on all across Australia (and the world!)

I also volunteer with the Australian Specialty Coffee Association working to improve all aspects of our industry in Australia. We’ve got a number of education projects, conferences and competitions coming up. We’re always looking to add value for our members.

What is the best advice you’ve been given, or wish you had been told sooner?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, or to admit that you can’t do everything. For too long I felt like I was imposing on others when I reached out, so I struggled trying to manage alone, but at the end of the day it’s not my decision if others try to help or not. Now I ask all the time! It’s significantly changed my life.

Do you have a supportive female network in your field? Was it always this way?

The coffee industry is slowly catching up with the rest of the world. Traditionally it has been very male dominated alongside hospitality and service with very defined roles for men and women. Because specialty coffee underwent a renaissance about eight years ago it’s started off on a more balanced foot but still isn’t always an attractive career option for women. In recent years there has been a vocal and active push for women to be heard within specialty coffee, but also to look after each other. It’s really just starting now.

What are you listening to and/or reading that is inspiring or entertaining you?

I’m obsessed with podcasts on a whole range of topics – particularly science, history, space and current affairs. I’m going through reading a bunch of classic books I missed out on when I was younger (think Treasure Island and Huck Finn) as well as re-reading a lot of the history and politics texts I read at university trying to understand the world! I’m also reading some of the books my 10 year-old son is reading just to make sure they’re suitable. I read a lot.

TV – Doctor Who and House of Cards, Rake and Adventure Time.

How can we find out more about your work?

Sensory Lab website – sensorylab.com.au
Twitter – @em_oak
Instagram – @em_oak
Australian Speciality Coffee Association website –