Coffee: A blend of art and science
Dark Horse one of Ka¯ piti Coast’s finest coffee roasters
I started Dark Horse because I wasn’t getting the flavour I was looking for in the coffee and I wasn’t getting the full experience I was looking for as a cafe owner. Matthew Payne
Dark Horse has grown from roasting a few beans per week servicing one cafe, to roasting 500kgs of beans delivering to 20 cafes around the lower North Island in five short years.
From the scientific molecular structure of the beans, to the chemical reaction that happens when heating, combined with the soil and altitude where the beans are grown and the temperature of your chosen milk . . . coffee is an art form and a science.
Born out of a desire for consistency and flavour, Dark Horse is stamping its mark on the block as one of Ka¯ piti’s finest coffee roasters.
The company’s two main blends, Colt and Bronco, along with the single-origin Pegasus range and decaf Gelding can now be found in 20 cafes around the lower North Island after humble beginnings in 2016.
The coffee roasting business was started by Matthew Payne and his wife Rachael back when they owned Raumati Social Club. After more than 20 years working with coffee, Matthew wasn’t able to find the exact flavour profiles he was after and was unhappy with the inconsistent roasts of beans he received from his supplier.
“I started Dark Horse because I wasn’t getting the flavour I was looking for in the coffee and I wasn’t getting the full experience I was looking for as a cafe owner.
“The roasters we were with had great customer service but I was finding their roast very inconsistent.
“It’s all well and good making the best coffee in the world but if you can’t make it again next week, what’s the point?”
Matthew wanted to aim higher. An opportunity came up for Matthew and Rachael to start roasting their own beans back in 2016 and when they introduced them to their Raumati Social Club customers, the
feedback was just what they wanted — consistent.
At the same time they started serving it at the Raumati Social Club, they opened a takeaway window at Sheffield St in the heart of the Paraparaumu
Doing five days at the takeaway window, five nights at the social club and weekends at the social club, Matthew also helped open Tom Thumb in Kena Kena, working 80-100 hour weeks.
“Originally we just wanted to roast coffee for ourselves, but the feedback was so good that we started catering to the demand from people saying ‘hey, can you do this?’ “Those were the first three places.” Matthew also started delivering to cafes in Foxton and the business continued to grow, no longer just servicing themselves.
“It was very scary going up against these huge coffee companies that have a whole team behind them — but ultimately, I knew how to get the flavour I wanted.
“It was absolutely terrifying and one of those moves where you know you can do it, but all the time questioning, ‘Am I being really stupid right now?’
“The hardest part of having a coffee company is the machinery.
“Anyone can roast coffee but not everyone can roast it reliably to the profile you want and then supply training, equipment and servicing to all the cafes and their staff.”
Investing in a state-of-the-art Loring hot-air roaster in 2018, Matthew said this roaster has unparalleled consistency, with the ability to replicate the same roast time after time.
With a flame that heats the air inside the drum rather than just heating the outside of the drum which most other roasters do, the beans are heated consistently.
“Compared to any other roaster on the market, the Loring is 80 per cent more environmentally friendly too.”
Now with the machinery to create the desired blends, Dark Horse is focusing on refining systems so that as the business grows it is able to deliver what is promised to a high standard.
Part of their recent growth has been opening up Coffee and Flowers on Maclean St and Egmont Espresso, a flagship store in Wellington.
With many options for exceptional coffee in Wellington, the challenge of breaking into the city market has been met head-on by Dark Horse.
“Everyone is responding well to our original dark roast, full-bodied Colt blend.
“We are getting the same people coming in each day because they love it.”
With Matthew moving away from working the espresso machines to focus on expanding the firm’s reach in the lower North Island, quality assurance, training, research and development of new products, it’s his co-directors Blair Harley and Simone Vasta along with a team of coffee enthusiasts who can be found heading up Dark Horse Coffee on Sheffield St, Coffee and Flowers on Maclean St and Egmont Espresso in Wellington.
“I’m now able to zero-in on the coffee, trying to push the products along and create new products.
“The current one is a cold brew which I’m so happy with — coffee is an endless world in itself.”
It’s a blend of art and science.