Creating the capital of coffee

04:19, Sep 26 2012
Coffee baron
From left, Bink Bowler, Nick Clark, Richard Corney, Matt Graylee.

Four twenty-somethings are Wellington's latest coffee barons, and, as Sarah Catherall writes, they're making a mark on the capital.

Bink Bowler has been making coffee since he was 14. Now 22, the tattooed barista with the moustache and trademark hat has never known a world where instant coffee is most likely to be served at home, and the best thing you can get in a cafe is a slow-dripping, lukewarm percolated coffee.

No wonder then, he and his twenty- something friends are on a mission to make a difference to the espresso-fuelled coffee world they're making a business out of.

Bowler, Matt Graylee, Nick Clark, and Richard Corney are the owners and/or directors of Flight Coffee, a roastery that supplies coffee to cafes in Wellington and beyond.

They have two cafes themselves - the award-winning Memphis Belle, on Dixon St, and further up the road the newly-opened The Hangar.

There a flash $30,000 coffee machine, the price of a European car, sits on the bench, while a roasting machine whirs on the floor in the former carpark that has been turned into an edgy, contemporary cafe.

The guys and their baristas are having fun, but they're also out to educate people about coffee and push boundaries in the coffee world, and there's a social consciousness to their work too.

Graylee has spent the past year on the road, travelling to the world's coffee hot spots to find coffee farms to buy direct from. Flight has signed up with a coffee farmer in Colombia, and the company is working with him to transform his farm into a speciality coffee producer.

Baristas and staff will travel there taking turns to plant trees, harvest, run experiments, and elevate the coffee to a specialty level. They'll then import the beans both for themselves and to onsell to other cafes.

Graylee says: "It will be a specialty coffee farm and that's the fastest growing market in the world. We pay a premium for this high quality coffee and that's good for the farmer, who is currently only getting $3 a pound. We are so incredibly lucky here in New Zealand. We need to invest in these places."

On his way back to Colombia for the first coffee harvest, he says speciality coffee is like the premium wine market."We found that most companies here are doing little more than buying coffee in from two main coffee importers. This way, we know exactly where our beans come from. We've been on the farm and helped plant the trees."


Flight will continue to import single origin coffees from Nicaragua, Kenya, Brazil, and other destinations. "A lot of our coffee is fair trade too, but we want to be even more hands-on than that and get directly to the source."

The Flight guys aren't the only ones pushing boundaries though and they acknowledge that coffee gurus like Geoff Marsland, of Havana, created the espresso industry as we know it.

Today, Matt Lamason, of People's Coffee, runs the city's first dedicated siphon coffee bar, Lamason's, while Custom's, on Ghuznee St, also offers Chemex, a coffee- making method, where contraptions sit on tables and the coffee is extracted to draw out the flavour of a single bean. Supreme and People's coffee brands are also serving single-origin coffees.

Supreme's marketing manager Douglas Johns says Supreme works closely with one of its coffee plantations in Brazil, which staff regularly visit, and the brand has long-term relationships with other growers.

"The big push now is towards direct trade in countries where that's possible and there's a trend to speciality coffee markets."

Corney says another vision is to elevate coffee to the same status as wine - a goal that's shared by Supreme. Flight has 15 kilograms of a rare specialty coffee that, when it is brought out of a locked cupboard, will be about $12 a cup. "It's from Panama and it's incredible. It's like gold. We need to educate people about trying that and being prepared to pay for it."

Adds Bowler: "People expect to pay $3.50 for a cup, but this is a fruit that has been grown and handpicked and cupped, and shipped, and then it's roasted, and blended, and then made by a barista. Coffee and wine go through the same processes, but people pay $15 for a top glass of wine and that's only because the wine industry has done a fantastic job at marketing over the years."

"We think that in five years, people won't balk at paying $9 for a cup of Ethiopian chemex coffee."


The Dominion Post