Sometimes the coffee business can be like a summer holiday romance. You meet that special person on a trip in Europe, and two years later end up being together. Only this time, it’s a friendship turned into a business partnership. On February 1, 2017, Catalyst Coffee in Auckland, New Zealand officially opened by two very passionate baristas.
Hanna Teramoto and Xin Yi Loke are two enormously accomplished baristas. Both won national barista championships back in 2014—Teramoto representing New Zealand, Xin Yi Loke representing Singapore. They first met in Remini, Italy at the World Barista Championship, when as fate and luck would have it, their backstage preparation tables were right next to each other. From there the destined friendship began, with the duo helping each other polish equipment, taste-test coffees, and bonding over their shared experience at the WBC.
But when the competition came to an end, the friendship didn't. Xi Yin Loke visited Teramoto in New Zealand in 2015, and the idea to go into business together began to take shape. It was a huge change for the Singaporean champion, to think of leaving the dense city and hot weather of her teeming metropolis for the comparatively mild, sprawling South Seas vibe of Auckland. The name, Catalyst Coffee, was born out of this moment—it means “beginning of changes”, describes the challenges of leaving your home, starting a new business, and developing what the duo hopes is a fresh take on the cafe experience.
Catalyst Coffee is nestled in the Remuera Village Green, a shopping block in Auckland that was first built in 1928. Being tucked away from the noisy main street is what they both wanted—that way Catalyst can strive to be a backstreet shop with “character and good coffee,” the owners tell me. All the coffees are served in takeaway cups, but this is more than just a takeaway shop—only single-origin coffees are offered, no blends. The Catalyst team wants to highlight the inherent flavors of origin while sending the message to customers that coffee is a seasonal, agricultural product. Elements of the menu at Catalyst will change regularly, including coffee roasters.
Espresso drinks are pumped out from a custom two-group La Marzocco Linea PB, and filter coffee is manually brewed with a Clever Dripper or V60, or other methods on request. Current coffees on offer are from New Zealand’s own Red Rabbit Coffee Company (espresso), Onibus Coffee from Japan (filter), and Ninety Plus Coffee (espresso and filter). Teramoto herself processed the special lot at Ninety Plus Magokoro Estate in Ethiopia as part of the green coffee company's ongoing promotional relationships with select national champions worldwide.
If you're hungry, there are also pastries such as croissants, palmiers, and caneles from Auckland’s French bakery La Voie Francaise. If you're not in the mood for coffee, single-origin chocolate drinks and select teas are also offered.
I asked the owners how their experience as barista champions influenced their choices at Catalyst. Both firmly agree that the competitions have made them better baristas and better people because they have been competing with their “inner selves.” When asked to describe their relationship, Teramoto answered, “We cover each other’s weak points.” Loke handles all the numbers and accounting; Teramoto oversees the shop's music selections and vibe.
Together this shop is the culmination of Teramoto and Loke’s dream and a physical representation of their strong friendship as kindred spirits in the coffee world. The road is long and a lot is planned for the future of Catalyst, including a roastery sometime down the road. But for now, they're deep in the daily reality of small business ownership.
The most difficult part of setting up the shop? “Labour!” they shouted in unison. Both are looking like real shop owners these days, covered with paint from a touch up here or there, exhausted, smiling, and open for business.
Dianne Wang is a Sprudge contributor based in New Zealand. Read more Dianne Wang on Sprudge.