These New Zealanders are turning London tea drinkers into coffee fiends

Brewing a bean scene

In a startling burst of reverse colonialism, Auckland baristas are schooling Londoners in the art of good coffee. Here, we talk to five local exports boosting London’s bean scene.

It’s unseasonably warm in London and the commuters outside King’s Cross Station are eating lunch with collars loose and feet half-freed from hot shoes. I’m eating brunch from a Leon-branded cup – poached eggs, salmon and avocado sogging the paper base. Packaged to-go and priced at £3 ($5.80), it’s a perfect, albeit sacrilegious, example of how brunch culture has infiltrated the London food mainstream over the past four years, spawned by Instagrammers, YouTubers and takeaway food chains. It’s one of the most significant changes in the capital’s dining culture in the past decade, and can in part be attributed to the influence of Antipodean coffee companies establishing themselves in the capital.

An oral history of New Zealand coffee in London often begins with a little cafe in Soho called Flat White, before covering off a series of names that are to London as Depot is to Auckland: Caravan, Climpson & Sons, Allpress. An Australian and New Zealand-led coffee revolution suddenly inspired the notion that if the tips jar read “tups” and there was a jandalled barista behind the machine, the brew would be good. The phrase “flat white” slowly entered the British vernacular, most frequently prefaced by the words “what is a?”, because up until that point, a cup of coffee usually meant half a pint of milk with a drop of generic espresso, or was shunned entirely for a brick-hued mug of tea. But the dent has been made. Caravan Coffee, founded in Exmouth Market in 2010 by a trio of New Zealanders, now has three restaurants and a coffee wholesale business with a turnover of $18 million a year. They also have future plans to expand their offering with a dedicated roasting and retail facility.

Nothing’s more New Zealand than flying 18,389 kilometres to be served coffee by someone who knew your order by heart at a cafe back home. We interviewed five such faces: former Aucklanders working in coffee in London. We asked them about life in the capital, their view of New Zealand coffee culture as an export, and just how hipster they really are.

Nicole Ferris

The managing director of Climpson & Sons coffee roasters moved to London in 2010.

“I moved over here after a year’s travelling in desperate need of a job, and struggled at first because I really didn’t want to work in events like I had back home. It’s a long story, but I ended up working for Climpsons after a chance meeting with two Kiwis on the side of the road in Brazil, of all places. I joined six years ago, when we were a lot smaller, before the coffee industry exploded. We started as a market stall, and then we turned an old butcher’s shop into a cafe, which is why we took the name Climpson and Sons. I’m from Takapuna, and had always worked in cafes back home. I think it’s drilled into you as a Kiwi that we do coffee and it’s the best. That commitment to creating quality coffee, and making it a daytime experience, was new to Londoners, who in the past might have gone to pubs for lunch, where our culture is very much going to meet for a coffee. At the time I joined there were lots of other Kiwi companies emerging too: we all found an opportunity to bring this new concept to the UK. It’s about quality, have a flat white, don’t just have a big milk drink that’s just got a drop of espresso. I’ve found that the London scene has really developed and progressed since then, maybe because they started as such a poor excuse for a coffee scene. We’re quite geeky about what we do here, weighing every shot and creating recipes for every single espresso we have. We have a lot more opportunity to buy fresher coffee and more in bulk too, because the UK is a lot closer to source than New Zealand. I think New Zealand is sort of still riding on its coat-tails a little bit when it comes to coffee. There’s still a lot going on and it’s an exciting place to be, and it’s definitely becoming more of an industry that people seek out to work in. But in terms of the coffee offering, I don’t think the market in New Zealand has quite caught up to what roasteries are trying to do.”

Hone Hartnett

The manager of Bulldog Edition, the cafe at Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel, moved to London in July 2016.

 “Mine is a bit of a classic ‘coffee saves your life’ story. My first job in hospo was packing the fridges at my dad’s pool hall on K’ Road when I was 10 years old, every Thursday and Friday. Then I started doing the opening shifts, then a couple of late shifts. Then I went to restaurants and then went back to bars. But when Kokako opened their cafe Federal & Wolfe, I went on to manage that. Your lifestyle completely changes when you go from working in a bar to coffee. As soon as I started making coffee I was like, I’ve got to go and hang out in Wellington for a bit to expand my understanding of what’s going on. That’s where I met Ralph [Jenner], who I went on to work with and learn from at a cafe in Melbourne, and then eventually to open Welcome Eatery in Grafton with, alongside our chef Mark, whose hands Ralph and I left it in when we both came to this side of the world. It’s amazing to walk away from something and see it being even better than it was. I actually first came to London when I was 11 years old. My mum took me out of school for six months and we backpacked around Europe. I had seen London and fell in love with it as a kid, just the way people dressed, how big it was, that there was a Nike Town here – that sort of shit. I had to take my two-year visa before I was 30, so I took that at the last possible minute. I’ve been here a year now and there’s heaps of cool coffee here, but there’s something about how captive the audience in Auckland is that means any little cultural movement can seem a bit more widespread. Even though there’s lots of specialty coffee here and people doing lots of stuff, there’s still a huge majority of the population that aren’t engaged. At an industry event I worked recently, one of the speakers said, ‘We all know we’ve got Australia and New Zealand to thank for saving our coffee industry.’ I don’t know if that’s necessarily true, but we definitely provided a lot of the manpower to make it work. I remember this woman walked into the cafe I was managing a little while ago, looked at me and said, ‘Are you the Kiwi? Good. Make me a flat white.’ I’ve been hired in the past to represent that in the cafe. You know, Scandinavian furniture: tick. Japanese-style food: tick, New Zealand barista: tick.”

Simon Lewthwaite

Wholesale account manager, Caravan Coffee Roasters. Moved to London in 2013.

“I think I’ve probably talked my way into a lot of jobs. I over-exert myself on people and they’re like, all right, you got the job, now shut up! When my wife and I landed here in 2013, one of the first restaurants we ate at was Caravan. By the end of lunch I had a trial shift lined up for Monday. I’ve been here ever since, meaning I’ve experienced it from the early days. When I first started, the London coffee scene was very middle of the road and appreciative to the common coffee drinker. Caravan [established in 2010] was unique in making specialty food and drink approachable, and I guess that’s permeated through everything we do. It’s a British company, but it’s owned by New Zealanders who have been here for a really long time. Provenance is important, which I think is a New Zealand philosophy generally. We go to origin to buy our coffee, directly to the farmer for our pigs. It’s funny how coffee is seen to be so affiliated with New Zealand over here. You talk to anyone and they’ll say coffee shops, the All Blacks and Lord of the Rings. In America, they’d probably say Lord of the Rings only. Brits probably go, ‘Another Kiwi? Another roaster, really? What’s the connection, do you grow coffee? Do you sell coffee? I don’t understand?’ It means there’s probably more pressure for the coffee to be good. I went back to Auckland a few times in 2015, and even then I thought it was changing so much. I did a six-week stint managing a coffee stall in Ponsonby. It was really weird: I was used to making 100 kilos a week at King’s Cross, but I got there and did 10 kilos. I asked if we should try drum up some business, but there wasn’t really anyone else to attract. I left New Zealand thinking it was super-competitive in coffee, and I guess it is because there are so many companies, whereas you look at here and there are maybe five of us doing what we’re doing. In Auckland there’s probably double, with a tenth of the population.”

Andrew Speir

The barista at Allpress moved to London in March 2016.

“My accent meant Brits assumed I’d be good at hospitality. It’s lucky I was. It’s like saying the French are great waiters: not all of them are, they’re just French. And not all New Zealanders are good at coffee, but it does give you an advantage. Back home I was a bar manager, but I made a conscious decision to go into coffee when I moved over. I was sick of losing my nights, but I also figured that it would be a good city to get into coffee: it’s still quite young in that regard so I figured I could learn a lot more. I thought I could make coffee and then I came to Allpress and realised I really couldn’t. I learned so much so quickly. New Zealanders aren’t very unique in London. I still feel like I’m an Aucklander in London. There’s Londoners, and there’s pretend Londoners, which I am currently. I find quite a few ‘real’ Londoners come across impolite, the polite ones tend to be from other parts of the UK. One thing I miss about Auckland is the luxury of being able to drive everywhere without fear of death. I’m terrified of these roads. Despite not really liking cyclists I ride a bike here now – I try and go through the parks and stay off the main roads as much as I can as I don’t want to die. I do like how flat it is to cycle though.”

Hana Jowitt

The co-owner of Flotsam and Jetsam cafe moved to London in 2012.

“It wasn’t until I got to London that I realised how far ahead of the game New Zealand was in terms of coffee and the brunch scene. My husband and I moved over in 2012. He was turning 31 and so to get visas we had to do it then, before we were too old. I was working in marketing, he was working as an architect, and we both quit our jobs to move over. At the beginning we worked full-time, but on the weekends we’d pick an area to explore and noticed that independent Antipodean places were doing quite well. I love cafes but I didn’t have a lot of experience. I’d never made coffee before and hadn’t really been interested in it. After returning to New Zealand to complete the paperwork for an entrepreneur’s visa, where we also met some of the Allpress coffee guys whose beans we now serve, we opened Flotsam and Jetsam in February 2015. My husband still works in architecture, but he often helps on the weekends with maintenance. My parents live in London now too – my mum is a food technologist and pastry chef so she does a lot of the baking, including ANZAC biscuits and Afghans. We wanted to try and bring a relaxed, beachy vibe to the cafe without it being too themed. We painted roughsawn timber white to feel a bit like a bach, the tiles are ocean green and the hanging planters are by Matakana botanical stylist Annie Oxborough. My mum brought them over, I felt so bad as I didn’t realize how big they’d be, but I like how they’ve come all the way from New Zealand. I thought London was going to be a big scary city but everyone’s got behind us in this neighbourhood. When we first opened, people would go, ‘Oh, it’s a Kiwi cafe and therefore it’ll have good coffee’ which was quite nice. We’ve got quite a strong reputation over here, it’s something to be really proud of.”