It’s a warm, windy day as I make my way through the city of Wellington. Somewhat sleep deprived and inordinately caffeinated after a late flight from Australia, I find even more coffee awaiting me when I meet Benn Crawford, Marketing & Retail Strategist for our friends and partners at Coffee Supreme.
This has been an eventful year for Supreme: they’re celebrating their 22nd year in business by opening a new shop in Christchurch, managing more expansion in Australia, and making changes to their core presence in Auckland and Wellington. This includes a brand new concept store in the heart of Wellington CBD at Midland Park. The space opened to the public on Monday the 24th of August, smelling of freshly painted walls, recently worked oak, and of course, coffee.
Designed in collaboration between Coffee Supreme and New Zealand architecture & creative firms Proffer and Bureaux, the space has been pitched as Aesop meets Apple. It’s an ambitious goal, creating a high-end coffee retail space that straddles the line between approachability and conceptual design. In simpler terms, Midland Park isn’t your local corner café—in fact, it’s not really a café at all. It’s a venue for retail coffee, carefully curated products, and extensive coffee education.
On the surface Midland Park is simple and minimalistic, but looks don’t tell the whole story. The building itself served as a police station between the years of 1918 to 1989, and has good bones. High ceilings and large arched windows allow light to stream into the space, adding warmth, form, and textures. Throughout you’ll find oak furniture fixed together by black powder coating, while a smattering of stainless steel fixtures punctuates the pallet. Every surface in the shop shows intentionality, from the massive textural butcher blocks for service and coffee education, to the smooth refined shelves that house the retail items. There’s even a custom-built ladder by local designer Mikolaj Glowacki, using the same oak and powder coated steel found elsewhere in the space. The end result is perhaps one of the greatest rarities in the retail coffee world: a functional ladder for reaching high places that is also beautiful, and does not require hiding away in some cupboard.
Beyond the aesthetic features, the goals for this new space are lofty. Rather than a typical retail environment, wherein interactions are largely transactory, the intention behind service at Midland Park is to facilitate direct engagement and education. Staff here are more like “sherpa guides,” Crawford explained to me. He elaborated the metaphor: “The people on the expedition taking the journey, who are supposed to arrive at the summit of knowledge are our customers. Their journey is the journey that matters…but they need some help along the way, someone has to carry their bag for them and make sure they don’t fall off the path. Sherpas assist you; they don’t lead from the front, they lead from behind, and their expertise and wisdom of the terrain is the difference between success and failure.”
While the flow of the store feels quite natural, and customers are able to stand wherever they please, there is intent and structure behind the space’s service layout. Midland Park is broken into a number of ‘stations’, each with a distinct purpose. Station One is home to the till and service area, situated below a number of mini silos which hold a range of roasted coffee; Station Two is a busy bench, filled with a number of different machines and brew methods, all there for folks to have a play and acquaint their selves with; and from there, the remaining stations are self-explanatory, with a dispensary for sparkling and still water, a big square bench for cupping and brewing, a window display with a happy and healthy coffee tree, and lastly, the shop’s extensive retail display.
For retail offerings the selection is, as expected, carefully curated and beautiful. The standard players are there, such as Hario coffee equipment, Porlex grinders, Chemex brewers and the like, but you’ll also find beautiful cups crafted by Japanese ceramicist Hasami, a bright yellow Technivorm Moccamaster brewer, and even bags of green coffee for aspiring home roasters.
In designing the space, the triumvirate of Supreme, Proffer, and Bureaux worked together to create what Crawford calls a ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ environment, wherein staff can stand alongside visitors rather than hiding behind a counter. This transparency is a consistent theme and ties in with the ‘sherpa guide’ concept, giving customers all the information and assistance they need to make informed choices about which coffee or brew equipment to take home, and where that journey will take them.
In opening Midland Park, Coffee Supreme has set out to create nothing less than a coffee destination: a venue that can help inspire conversation, education, and transparency. On day one, customers were a mix of old regulars swinging by to check out the new digs alongside folks who stumbled in looking for a latte. It’s an interesting dynamic to balance: when you look like a café (with espresso machines and all) and feel like a café, but aren’t really a café per se…well, it’s daring stuff, and will surely make for a delicate dynamic, especially in these early days.
Later, after my my departure from warm, windy Wellington, I sat down digitally with Al Keating, Managing Director of Coffee Supreme New Zealand. It became clear quickly that Keating is a kind of concept and identity guru for Coffee Supreme, as he summed up the approach of the company and their venues eloquently: “Our idea we have here at Supreme is, ‘everybody everyday’. We want to make specialty coffee available and approachable for all coffee lovers, and something great to discover for those whom have not yet found it.”
In this, Keating touches on a unique element that’s in play at Midland Park: that it’s a space designed to directly support the very most average of coffee drinkers, those new to the idea of coffee as something more than caffeine fuel or a sweet, milky treat. The guidance and education mission built in to Midland Park’s DNA is almost cloaked by how inviting and tastefully appointed the space appears to the casual passersby. It’s a space in which the latte-seeking, sherpa-less masses have the potential to discover a whole new world.