Coffee is complex. It immediately conjures up ideas of morning cups of fuel, rich taste and a plethora of preferences. The act of grinding coffee itself is full of mystery and myth. This week we met Glenn and Sam of Eighthirty coffee who spend most of their day working magic with the dark bean.
How and when did you begin working in the coffee industry? What was your first coffee job?
Glenn: The very first ever coffee job was establishing a little cafe on a 100ft yacht in Wellington harbour in
2002-03. We'd just taken the yacht around the South Pacific and thought it would be great to put a little cafe on it for summer. At that point I hadn't realised that Wellington doesn’t actually have a summer. It didnt go that well.
Sam: Around 2001 there was a diner called D72 and my first day on the job I was put on the coffee machine with zero training. From there, getting paid to talk smack fitted well with my intellectual abilities.
At what point did you know that you were meant to roast coffee for a living?
Glenn: It really was a slow burn. I think I was actually doing it before I realised that I loved it. It took a couple of years of paying close attention to the baristas at my first cafe before I even attempted to make coffee. From then it wasn’t long before I was researching roasting.
Sam: Much like my first job, it just happened.
What have been the most notable moments that have shaped your career?
Glenn: It really would be moving to Auckland 6 years ago. Auckland had just embarked on a transformation - Britomart was just kicking off, as was City Works and Wynyard Quarter. Most of the growth was centred in the Auckland CBD and we were able to become a part of Auckland’s hospitality revolution.
Sam: Coming on board with eighthirty. BOOM!
Who has been the biggest inspiration or mentor for you in your coffee life?
Glenn: There are so many people that have influenced where we are headed, from other coffee roasters overseas, coffee specialists and barista champs to architects and designers. Coffee is about culture as much as beans or beverage.
What are some of the trends you have observed in coffee roasting over the years?
Glenn: Coffee trends are much like any other business trend - it’s sort of the rise of the consumer which has been facilitated by technology. For a very long time, “marketing” constituted smoke and mirrors, or to be honest, outright lying. So many business tags lines are blatant lies: "you’re loving it” - nope, well not unless its 4am and I can’t walk straight. What this means is that businesses need to stand apart, not by the colour of their logo but by their mission. Mission statements have become the new brand story. For coffee this is the crop to cup stories, community engagement, traceability, as well as general customer trends for better quality coffee.
What advice would you give new roasters who are just starting out their careers in coffee?
Glenn: Well thats a bit of a tricky one - NZ already has more roasters per capita than any other country in the world so apart from “just don’t do it”, I guess my advice would be to remember that the purpose of every business, ultimately, is to solve a problem. The bigger the problem, the bigger the (potential) business. People don’t necessarily need to know there is a problem, mind you - you’re free to create that also.
Sam: Buy a bar instead, way more fun!
Coffee roasting is a scientific practise, how did you come by the skills? Can you explain how the process of roasting affects coffee flavour?
Glenn: At the time we bought our first roaster, a couple of friends were also roasting so I managed to glean a few pointers. But there was also a lot of reading, trial and error and a LOT of bad coffee. Roasting coffee is sort of like browning meat and baking a cake at the same time – that’s the abridged version. For the full rundown you'd need to spend a few hours with our head roaster on the intricacies of the various chemical reactions involving the breaking down of starches and the caramelising of simple sugars.
Is it important to your business to know the source of the beans and the farmers involved?
Glenn: Absolutely. It's sometimes easier said than done though, as some of the organic coffee we use comes from lots and lots of very small farms, so it's more the co-op or washing station as source. It’s much easier with larger farms and all of our single origin offerings can be traced back to the farm.
You have a variety of coffees available; do you have any personal favourite? What is your most popular product? Are there defining features for coffees from particular countries?
Glenn: Our eighthirty blend is still my favourite. We spend a lot of time refining this and making sure that it tastes great as espresso, either black or white. In saying that, we had a special Colombian blend that Heesun, our head barista, came 4th with in the recent NZ Barista Champs.
Sam: If I was stuck on a desert island with coffee from only one country, I think I'd pick Kenya. Oh hang on, Colombian! Definitely Colombian.
What inspires you and keeps you passionate about coffee?
Glenn: There are a lot of reasons, but mostly it’s about the people that we get to share our life with. Customers are fantastic and we love the interactions in a cafe - I’ve seen so many strangers meet (or introduced them) and those human connections have fostered all sorts of relationships, from business to friendships and more. Our staff also spend quite a lot of time together, creating a pretty inclusive culture that’s certainly fun to be a part of.
Sam: Working with a rad team; the fact that coffee is so expansive, there's always something new on the horizon. And I've got a sweet van.
What’s next for 8.30? Any plans on the horizon that you’re able to share?
Glenn: We're currently designing our new downtown roastery which we're hoping to open sometime in October. We've also got a new joint venture in China and of course our Sydney joint venture is coming along. These sorts of joint ventures in far-flung lands are what we intend to be doing plenty more of in the coming years.
Who in the world would you most like to sit down and enjoy a brew with? And what particular brew would you choose?
Sam: It would have to be Elon Musk - and sorry coffee, that brew would have to be a beer.