Enjoying a cup of Havana Coffee

By: Jill Malcolm, Photography by: Jill Malcolm, Bill Savidan, and supplied


NZMCD couldn't resist a cup of coffee from Havana Coffee Works, an extraordinary store that sprang from a desire to provide high-quality coffee

I literally fell to my knees for cup of Havana Coffee. For several hours, I’d been walking the halls of Peter Jackson’s absorbing Great War exhibition in the Dominion Museum building, and was desperate for a java fix. Down the hill on Tory Street a sign emblazoned on the wall of an avocado-green, art deco-style building read Havana Coffee Works.

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The artistically decorated factory and shop

My brain’s synapses fired. That’ll do me. I wheeled to the right and in my haste, caught the toe of my left foot on the edge of the gutter, which landed me on the pavement on all fours. Apparently this was not a graceful sight.

I lived – with the help of a strong macchiato in the cafe – and as I recovered my dignity, and started to look around, I made an amazing discovery. This was no ordinary coffee house. The ambience, the simple interior with small rounded tables, a marble counter and an enormous espresso machine, conjured up the atmosphere of a cafe in Cuba or South America.

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But that was not it; right next door through an open roller door, I discovered the engine room of a coffee empire. It housed a monster stainless steel, hot-air roastery that deals to 25 to 70kg of beans at a time, and creates an aroma as seductive as the beverage itself.

From the roaster, coffee beans were being hand-packed and loaded into waiting vans to be delivered to caffeine addicts around New Zealand. Each week around nine tonnes of coffee are roasted in the factory.

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The takeaway coffee counter

These work stations opened out into a spacious room made into a kind of coffee wonderland, festooned with photographs, maps, paraphernalia, artwork and keepsakes.

Geoff Marsland, owner of Havana Coffee Works, is sometimes referred to as the Godfather of coffee culture in New Zealand. Thirty years ago, it was a single cup of espresso that had brought a fortuitous opportunity into this likeable man’s life.

On a visit to Vancouver, a school friend, Tim Rose, who was living there at the time, took him to Joe’s Café on Commercial Drive, where the ambience enraptured Geoff as much as the coffee.

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Entrance to the works 

The patrons were of all ages, stages and walks of life, just hanging out together over cups of coffee in a way Geoff had not experienced before. He turned to Tim. "We could do this back home," he said.

Joe’s was owned by a Portuguese ex-bullfighter who advised them of an address in Vancouver’s Italian quarter that dealt in commercial coffee equipment. They went there, bought an espresso machine and arranged for it to be freighted back to New Zealand. Nothing like jumping in the deep end.

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The colourful Havana Coffee Works van is hard to miss!

In 1989, back in Wellington’s Cuba Street, Geoff and Tim launched Midnight Espresso and then a little later opened The Café Deluxe in Courtenay Place. Havana Coffee Works sprang from their desire to provide high-quality coffee for these two enterprises. To this end, they travelled from Cuba Street, Wellington to the island of Cuba to source the best beans and learn about the procedures.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the company, now driven by Geoff, sells 15 single origin coffees and seven blends. The beans are sourced from many places such as Cuba, Sumatra, Bolivia and India. And in 2012, Havana Coffee Works instigated the development of Realtrade coffee plantations in the fertile soils of Tanna Island, Vanuatu. Tanna Havana coffee is now another favoured origin.

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The mighty coffee-bean roaster in the factory 

"Coffee’s flavours are just as varied as wine’s," said Geoff. "And its production is just as complex. Every cup of coffee is influenced by where the beans are grown, how it’s harvested, shipped, stored, roasted, ground, and made. The place and the process has its own energy.

"It was in Cuba, back in 1997, that I discovered the romance and magic of the cult that has grown up around the bean. I think it has a lot to do with hospitality and the sense of community that it engenders."

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Beans heading for the roaster 

At Havana Coffee Works some of that magic can be passed on through a tour which takes in the coffee process of the roastery, the history, and Realtrade philosophies. This can be followed by a barista training session in the Havana lab, also in the building on Tory Street.

I’m a twice-a-day coffee addict and I’m very fussy about quality and the way my daily fix is made, so I really wanted to do the barista training. But I needed to get back to the exhibition. I’ll do it next time and I think I’ll spend more time in Wellington. Who knows what I might trip over next!

Win a Havana Coffee Works tour and barista training session

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Havana Coffee Works has kindly offered two lucky readers a tour of their roastery, plus a barista training session in the coffee lab at Havana HQ in Tory Street, Wellington to the value of $250.

To be in to win, enter here before 8 March, 2019.

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