In The Roast
Christchurch takes its coffee very seriously– in fact, we probably have one of the highest proportions of coffee-roasters-per-population on the planet. With that in mind, Cityscape stepped up its never-ending pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee and caught up with the people behind the grinds who are blending and roasting the city’s favourite coffees. From the fine art of selecting and blending beans through to the importance of origin and the alchemy of precision roasting, Cityscape discovers what goes into Christchurch’s premium coffees.
“Anyone can roast coffee beans; the skill is getting up to 7 different single origins each individually-roasted to perfection and masterfully blended to create a really great cup of coffee,” says Hummingbird Coffee’s general manager Nick Cowper. “I think it’s important to have a wide range of unique, special and, above all, memorable coffees. It could be a beautiful single origin, or a complex blend.”
Having spent more than half his life in the coffee business (16 years), roasting is in the blood for Nick, who puts the family’s roastery success down to starting with a great product. “Everything starts with the product. We’ve been dealing with same growers for 14 – 15 years, heading over at harvest time to sort, cup and choose the best possible coffees we can.”
This pursuit includes becoming the first company to import Fair Trade organic coffee beans into the country, and their recent certification in becoming 100 per cent organic. Despite being one of the city’s bigger operators (Oomph! is the number one selling fresh coffee in the country), the Cowper clan has resisted temptation to go larger, maintaining a boutique nature with 2 x 60-kilo roasters to retain control of the product. “Everything is done in small lots – it’s very hands on.” And like many roasters, they don’t stop at the bean trade, providing espresso equipment, machinery and its servicing, along with barista training.
Coffee roasting is also a family trade for Vivace Espresso director/roaster Bernard Smith, whose parents set up the city’s first coffee roasters Browne and Heaton on Cashel Street in the 1940s. Founding Vivace in 1997 with a small roaster and café on Hereford Street, Bernard would barista during the days and roast beans at night – fast forward 18 years and Vivace coffee is being drunk around the country.
Describing their roasting as “purist”, Bernard roasts origins individually and then creates recipes that are complementary. “Every bean is different and we roast each origin to its optimum. Coffee is an agricultural product. It’s a lot like wine, some years are better than others.” Their roasting technique comes down to temperature, time and sound – “hearing those cracks”, says Bernard.
That method is out for Dan Brown (el capitano) and Lewis Fitzgerald (head roaster) at Underground Coffee Company, though. Because they utilise Christchurch’s only fluidised hot air roasting machine – one of the noisiest (and most expensive) roasting routes – the 100-decibel racket the machine makes means Lewis wears ear muffs and is unable to hear the coffee beans cracking as drum roasters do.
Instead he relies on precision timing and heat to achieve the perfect roast, with numerous trials, tastings and notes to ensure the coffee is at its peak. A qualified chef and avid homebrewer of spirits, Lewis uses these skills and extensive hands-on experimentation to draw out the subtle flavours. Air-roasting coffee, says Dan, is all about investing in bringing flavour and control, allowing for cleaner, sweeter flavours and giving subtle nuances a chance to come to the fore.
“With air-roasted coffee you taste the coffee, not the roaster. It’s the air that roasts the coffee, not the surface of the roaster. So the coffee has a very clean taste that is intensely aromatic.” At Underground their beans are pre-blended and roasted together, and then aged/degassed for 3 – 5 days. They offer twice weekly delivery – although it has a shelf life of 14 days, they prefer their coffee to be used within a week to maintain integrity – as well as barista training and coffee machine maintenance. “It’s all about putting great coffee into people’s hands.”
The desire to put great coffee into people’s hands saw Aaron Lee and Mike Turland of New City Coffee release their signature blend Blackbird following the earthquakes. The pair started roasting for the family’s Café Metro venues and Strawberry Fare restaurant to take more control of their product and deliver a consistent cup of coffee. They’re now serving up to 6,000 cups a week at these outlets from their copper, 10-kilo roaster next door to the Strawberry Fare Bake School behind The Tannery, along with selling take-home packaged coffee.
A pre-blend of Columbian, Brazilian and Papua New Guinea Rainforest Alliance Arabica beans, Blackbird is a fruit-driven coffee with a natural sweetness. “One of our regular customers only drinks our coffee as it’s the only coffee he can drink without having to put sugar into it,” says Aaron, a trained chef.
Roasted beans are degassed for 24 hours, then bagged on day 3, with the coffee consumed between days 5 and 6, says Aaron. Small batch roasting ensures greater control and consistency of the end product, while regular cupping, quality control and innovations are ongoing. “Experimentation and working out the chemistry of creating the perfect coffee is the fun side of the coffee business,” says Aaron.
For Bink Bowler, director at Black & White Coffee Cartel, roasting was a natural progression. “I would say I am more a ‘coffee specialist’. For the past 10 years I have been studying and playing with coffee, through tasting, brewing and research I naturally picked up how to roast.”
Preferring a light roast (“roasting coffee dark is the 'old way'”), he lets the coffee speak for itself. “When you roast dark you just taste a roast profile, no matter how amazing the coffee is. When we roast golden brown, true coffee flavour comes out – smooth, sweet, yummy coffee,” says Bink. Included in the raw beans the team at Black & White source are the expensive and rare Nicaraguan honey process and some of the world’s highest-grown coffee off Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Whatever you order, a unique coffee experience and education is the aim, says Bink. “We pride ourselves on connecting coffee with people.”
Supplying their growing chain of Yellow Rocket coffee and bagel outlets was what prompted husband and wife team Deb and Ian Riach of Coffee Worx to branch out into coffee roasting. “We bought an existing roastery in 2007 and rebranded it as Coffee Worx, a coffee roastery and supply company, but we soon realised it was a standalone business and, after losing our whole Yellow Rocket chain in the earthquakes, it has become the full focus of our energy.”
Using a Turkish roaster, the Riach’s roast 8 different blends (many of which are award-winning) alongside improving people’s knowledge and understanding of how to make quality espresso. “We spend a lot of time with our customers to help them get an appreciation of how to make their coffee offer a successful part of their business mix,” says Deb. “The secrets to great espresso are respect for the product you are using and a desire to perfect your understanding of the volatile nature of this incredible elixir!” Look out for a new espresso bar from Coffee Worx in Sockburn, in conjunction with celebrity chef Richard Till, who they’ll be sharing a building with.
Keeping things on the smaller scale, micro coffee roasters David Pai and Andy Norman’s Coffee Embassy shares space inside Café Lumes, which, alongside sibling café Little Merchants, serves their highly sought after brew. According to Andy, their coffee is selected based on what they want to drink using in-season beans that are “cupping amazing”.
“Our philosophy is pretty simple: fresh and interesting is best, which means we change up our bean offerings based on the ever changing seasonal coffee harvests throughout the world,” he says. “Our aim is to bring people an exceptional coffee experience through sharing our experience of over 20 years collectively in the coffee industry. We source, import, and roast coffee that is exciting to drink and share but, more importantly, is traded directly with traceability.”
Fuelled by passion, addiction, caffeine and the pursuit of creating the perfect cup of coffee, Switch Espresso’s managing director Hamish Evans fed his love of coffee by sampling it around the globe before getting more directly involved.
Starting with his New Brighton site 10 years ago, he has amassed a one-stop coffee empire (bean roasting and supply, machinery and servicing, barista training and café layout and design) comprising 32 staff across 3 sites, including coffee kingpin Black Betty’s Café. His advice for this considering entering the market? “You have to be passionate about your product and love every element of it if you’re going to survive”.
Passion, along with curiosity, led C4 Coffee husband and wife team Guy and Paula Griffith-Jones to start their own roastery 20 years ago. “We started a café and were getting our coffee down from Auckland and thought, ‘what if?’,” says Guy. During that time coffee has changed, and is ever evolving, he says. “Coffee used to be a block commodity; now people are out-sourcing for rare and interesting coffees that might not be available every year.”
Coffee’s cup runneth over locally? Not likely! Christchurch is clearly a city that will take as much awesome coffee as it can get its hands on!
The Rise of Cold Brew Coffee
With cold brew coffee booming overseas, get ready to sip this exquisite, time-consuming beverage over the summer. Vivace released Brewista earlier this year; the result of ground beans kept steeping in cold water for 18 hours, stored in kegs and dispensed by nitrogen. Keep an eye out for cold-filtered bottled versions from New City Coffee and Coffee Embassy coming out over summer, too.
Coffee Speak 101
Master the lingo and speak like a coffee pro.
Arabica Making up around 70% of the world’s coffee, this holy grail of coffee is the earliest cultivated and most-grown coffee tree.
Blend A mix of two or more single-origin coffees.
Body The heaviness, richness, or thickness and texture of coffee.
Cherry Fruit from the coffee tree that houses the beans.
Crema The tight foam blanketing the surface of an espresso.
Cupping Professional coffee tasting. Hot water is poured over grounds and tasted hot, and as it cools.
Degassing The process where recently roasted beans are rested to release carbon dioxide.
Green coffee Unroasted coffee beans.