Build-Outs season is our favorite time of year here at Sprudge for many reasons. We love learning about fresh new projects, discovering new-to-us brands, and continually broadening the scope of this website's purview in the field of coffee journalism. But we also, like anyone really, enjoy a good bit of nostalgia as well, a chance to revisit old friends or check in on what's happening these days with familiar names.
Kōkako is a well-known New Zealand specialty coffee company, and familiar to longtime readers of Sprudge thanks to our 2014 Auckland cafe guide and additional coverage of the years, including a 2019 Sprudgie Awards finalist appearance in the category of Sustainable Cafe. New Zealand took a community focused, science-forward approach to dealing with the global pandemic in 2020, which meant Kōkako were able to open a new flagship shop in Auckland over the summer. We're excited to be checking back in with them today as the second entry of the 2021 Build-Outs of Coffee feature series.
As told to Sprudge by Mike Murphy.
For those who aren’t familiar, will you tell us about your company?
Kōkako started as a humble coffee cart in Auckland City's Aotea Square back in 2001—twenty years ago! Since then we've maintained a progressive and sustainable approach to specialty coffee, including organic and Fairtrade certifications, and a carbon offset scheme through the Fair Climate Fund—specifically designed for coffee roasters. From our Mount Eden Roastery we supply around 100 hospitality accounts across New Zealand, alongside retail, corporate, and hotel customers, and have a coffee subscription service too. Kōkako is a proud member of the New Zealand Specialty Coffee Association (NZSCA).
We work with several coffee cooperatives in Papua New Guinea, traveling there at least every 18 months (when COVID doesn't stop us!) to foster long-standing partnerships with cooperatives such as Highlands Organic Agriculture Cooperative, where we have strong ties to three generations of one family.
Our Commercial Bay Coffee Bar flagship is our third dedicated coffee shop in our company history (the prior two were cafes we have since sold but we still supply with coffee).
You can read more about our company and our team by checking out our 2020 Sustainability report which can be found here.
Can you tell us a bit about the new space?
From its intimate, considered space, Kōkako Commercial Bay showcases our company’s vast and varied range of coffee, with the aim to encourage our customers to venture beyond the bounds of their usual order. Taking cues from specialty coffee bars around the world, Kōkako has transformed its 40-square-meter tenancy into a tactile, modern space, where customers can pick up their regular takeaway brew or perch at the bar for a moment of calm respite.
Commercial Bay provides us with the opportunity to continue building an awareness and appreciation of specialty coffee with a new community—redefining what coffee is, contributing toward a more transparent, sustainable industry. This is important to us because we are huge advocates for promoting the premium-ization of specialty coffee whilst providing education of the coffee supply chain and our producers.
What’s your approach to coffee?
Kōkako offers two main espresso blends; Aotea and Mahana, alongside a dedicated filter coffee blend (70/30) and the Cascadia Decaf from Swiss Water.
For our original “house blend” Aotea we have selected four distinct origins of green bean from Fairtrade cooperatives in Papua New Guinea (HOAC), Honduras, Ethiopia, and Sumatra to create a floral, fruity, and earthy blend with a medium acidity. This blend has hints of apricot with a malty mouthfeel. Our Mahana blend combines green beans from Fairtrade cooperatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Timor-Leste, Ethiopia, and Honduras and has flavors of dark chocolate and caramel. The heavy body of the Sumatran coffee is complimented by a cacao and spice finish.
Our 70/30 filter blend has an intense stewed plum flavor, syrupy body, big fruity acidity, and a long malt finish. It showcases coffee from the Unen Choit cooperative in Wasu, Papua New Guinea (70%) and the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union (OCFCU) Ethiopia (30%).
We offer a selection of seasonal single origin filter coffees, including a dedicated single origin decaf sourced through Swiss Water (currently this is from Cooperative Federación de Sociedades Cooperativas Cafetaleras de la Sierra Madre FC de RL (FEDESI) in Chiapas, and is a round bodied coffee with a soft intensity. It has notes of brown sugar and butter, and a grapefruit acidity).
Current single origins roasted specifically for filter brewing include two offerings from the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union in Ethiopia—Guji and Limu. Where possible we also like to offer a natural process coffee; we are about to release a new natural sourced from Peru.
Alongside espresso and filter roasts we also provide a nitrogenated cold brew based on our Aotea blend; this is served on tap at our Commercial Bay flagship and is also served at various cafes that Kōkako supplies across New Zealand.
Any key machines or special equipment lined up?
Behind the counter sits the latest in cutting-edge coffee technology; La Marzocco’s KB90 machine and a single-group Modbar deliver daily brews with unprecedented consistency. Kōkako Commercial Bay serves multiple varieties of coffee via various brew methods including batch brews (via FETCO), the Clever Dripper, AeroPress, and Chemex. Hot water for brewing is supplied via a Marco under-counter Eco-smart boiler matched to a counter-top Uber font.
The brew counter also houses four dedicated taps with a nitrogenated Cold Brew, Cascara Kombucha, and a rotating selection of beverages developed in-house and by guest makers.
And for those who do not drink coffee, decaffeinated or otherwise, there is a refined selection of teas from local tea producer Fine & Dandy on offer alongside a rotating single-origin decaf. We brew a beautiful fresh chai by Fine & Dandy paired with Happy Happy Soy Boy Milk, featuring honey harvested from rescue beehives on our roastery rooftop.
How is your project considering sustainability?
One of the most distinctive features of the Kōkako coffee bar is its front counter. A contemporary piece of craftsmanship that speaks to the brand’s values of sustainability and innovation, the counter’s cladding is 100 percent recycled HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)—fascinating material that is created using over 8,000 upcycled plastic milk bottles.
As well as being designed using the most innovative and sustainable techniques and materials, the Kōkako coffee bar features a reusable cup wash station at the point of sale to encourage the uptake and use of reusable Keep Cups. From the outset we have always been committed to quality, transparency, and sustainability. Everything we do is focused on contributing positively to the specialty coffee industry to ensure a sustainable and viable future for coffee producers and drinkers alike.
When exactly did your new project open? What was this process like?
This project had many delays. Originally the entire precinct was meant to open in October 2019. Major building delays with the main contractor saw this pushed out to March 2020; then COVID through us into a lockdown for several months. By March 2020 we had hired all six staff for the coffee bar and we kept them employed even though the shop did not open as anticipated, using the downtime to have them help out in our roastery, do additional training and deliver home coffee orders. We finally opened in on 11th June 2020, with the New Zealand Prime Minister opening the new Commercial Bay retail centre our coffee bar is located.
Are you working with craftspeople, architects, and/or creatives that you’d like to mention?
Working alongside our trusted design partner, CTRL Space, to bring the concept to life, we opted for hardwearing, renewable materials like stainless steel and cedar to anchor our u-shaped bar. Simple and practical, the materials speak to the brand’s focus on longevity, while the structure of the bar itself is all about openness and transparency.
We provided CTRL Space with a clear brief based on research in the USA, Japan, and Australia; taking inspiration from the intimacy of the Japanese Izakaya to the layout of many US-style coffee bars. The intention was to create a sanctuary in the city for specialty coffee—cedar walls and joinery help to ground the space in what is a busy CBD environment. Joinery was made off-site by Cutting Innovations, then installed onsite.