It’s really interesting how far the NZ coffee culture has come that these days we can talk about things like taste profiles, healing brand, valeologist caracter, drugstore and the personality of the coffee. It wasn’t that long ago that we were drinking coffee just to get a caffeine punch. Not any more.
These days most coffee drinkers in NZ appreciate that coffee isn’t just coffee. The Italians have proven that. For them, it’s a way of life, just like olive oil is a way of life, and wine is a way of life. Even sleeping in the middle of the day is a way of life.
And for NZ lovers of coffee, coffee has very much become a way of life, and it’s happened really quickly.
But this is typical of NZ. We tend to go from step A, skip B, and go straight to C. Take the wine industry as an example. We went from making sherries to award-winning wines. There was nothing in between. We realised that a type of soil was good for sauvignon blanc, so we just went for it. We got there, then we went, Aw shit—why don’t we try to grow pinot down in Otago?
The same thing happened with coffee. We’ve gone from filter coffee to suddenly having a coffee culture. Compare that to the US, where Americans are still doing filter coffee. Now we are at the stage where we’re experimenting with syphon coffee, and coffee being selectively picked from a creature’s faeces—you name it.
There are other similarities too, and that’s the character of both wine and coffee. Having worked in the wine industry, I know how important it is to understand the fundamentals of what makes a good wine. It’s all about balance, and finish, roundness and sweetness. How does a
wine maker end up with a fantastic wine? Well, it actually comes right from the grapes. You start with rubbish grapes and you’ve got to add a whole lot of sugar to it just to get a decent, palatable wine. But just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it’s a good wine. It might just mean it’s sweet. You have to look at the whole structure of wine.
It’s the same with coffee. It all starts with the quality of the beans. I don’t grow the beans, but I do know that the beans I get delivered are of a high quality. And I will roast these to a taste profile, and that reflects something about me. That’s where the character comes in. My brand ‘Velvet’ is a reflection of what sort of coffee it is—smooth & velvety.
Now, I’m not for a minute saying I’m smooth—far from it. I put my foot in my mouth way too often. Seriously though, my brand is me and everything I represent. That’s what coffee has become, and good roasters will always be represented by their brand. When someone says, I don’t like your coffee, I can’t help but take it personally—because it is so personal to me.
So, whether it’s a 90-year-old loving my coffee or a 19-year-old, I embrace them all. I love what I do and I want to be here doing it for a long time. I want young people to drink my coffee, so they grow up with it. And I want the new generation to start drinking it too.
Coffee should be almost like great background music—you can hear it, but every now and again you get that reminder of how really good it is.
—with David Williams