Talks to New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association executive director Aymon McQuade about coffee bean origins, spearfishing and serving the rich and famous at Notting Hill.
How many coffees do you drink a day?
Usually three or four, mostly at home. If I go a few days without one I tend to get a headache.
Has the coffee industry changed in New Zealand?
In the last few years a lot of companies have employed coffee specialists, who have to ensure the quality of coffee. There’s a growing number of roasters going directly to the source of their coffee and having a direct relationship with the farmers.
What excites you about the industry?
It’s constantly evolving. There’s always a new coffee or people getting involved who are passionate about coffee and about sharing coffee with other people, like I am.
What coffee are you drinking right now?
A Red Rabbit coffee from a farm called Aricha in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia. It’s a co-operative of 400 tiny farms that combine their coffees. Some farms are as small as a hectare. It would be expensive for each farmer to process and export their unroasted coffee beans, called green beans, individually, so instead they collaborate.
What’s your favourite way to make coffee?
Filtered, with no milk and unadulterated. From the farmer to the roaster there’s a lot of work done to create the characteristics in a coffee, so I want to taste them.
What’s the best way to ruin a coffee? By drinking tea! Do you judge tea drinkers, then?
No. I actually work for Bell Tea and Coffee company two days a week. I’ve worked there 51⁄ years as a lower North Island sales rep. When I’m at the company’s Gravity Coffee headquarters in Auckland, I attend cupping events where you can sample the new teas and coffees. I enjoy trying new and interesting things, whether its beer, wine, food or coffee. Do you cook? I love cooking. There’s this really amazing Lebanese dish I’ve been making that uses butterfish or blue moki, which I catch, baked in yoghurt, lemon and tahini. The original recipe came from Greg Malouf’s cook book, Malouf, but I’ve tweaked it. You fish too? Spearfishing and hunting are big interests. I’ve just done a scenic dive in the marine reserve in Owhiro Bay. Normally I dive off the south coast or Makara.
Are you Wellington born and bred?
Yes. I grew up in Plimmerton and have been living in Mt Cook for three years. What do your parents do? My mum’s a physiotherapist and my dad’s involved in the building industry. Mum was the one who got me excited about food, so when I left school I studied catering, hospitality and tourism. I left a qualified chef and spent three weeks at the former Parade Cafe in Oriental Pde. Then I saw how much fun they were having up the front, so I switched.
Where did you train as a barista?
On the job. I stayed at Parade Cafe about a year, then worked as a barista in Sydney, and at a wine bar in Melbourne. After that I went to London. I started working in a pretty crummy bar and grill. Then one of the staff started working at Electric House, a members’ club in Notting Hill, and she poached me. That was good fun. What was Notting Hill like? I love how eccentric it is. You’ve got massive state housing blocks on one side and some of the most opulent pieces of real estate in the country on the other.
The people associated with each mill around in the same community. I’ve been to the carnival a few times. It’s such a wonderful melting pot of cultures expressing themselves in music, food and dance.
Did you celebrities?
The club was mostly for arts
any people, anyone from actors to screenwriters to casting agents. I saw Elle Macpherson, Kate Moss, Sting and Mick Jagger, but I didn’t fawn over them. I just gave them a bit of Kiwi hospitality.
Caffeination, the coffee festival, was on this month. How has it evolved?
The expertise of the competitors has never been higher, but also the variety of coffees available for them to compete with has never been greater. When I entered the barista championships in 2011, I didn’t know much about it, but I was up for a challenge. I won the following year.
Speaking of challenges, how’s parenthood?
It’s great. I have a 6-week-old son, so there’s lots of new challenges, but enjoyable parts as well.