How many times have we all fantasized about the day when we might pick up our life, pack it in a trailer, and drive towards our dreams? That's exactly what Eighthirty Coffee Roasters founder Glenn Bell did in 2010. Finally prepared to pursue his long-held ambition of coffee roasting, and ready to move on from the cafe he was running in Wellington, it was time to head towards the land of New Zealand coffee opportunity—Auckland—and open a business all his own.
Eight years ago, Auckland was very much a city with traditional tastes—an espresso-based culture looking for consistent, full-bodied, dark chocolate long blacks and flat whites. Bell and his business partners set up a cafe and roasting space on the city’s famed K-Road (Karangahape), with the goal of building a community-based, values-centered business serving great coffee.
“I want our spaces to have a sense of discovery,” says Christy Tennent, general manager and co-owner of Eighthirty, and indeed, discovering each Eighthirty shop has its own sense of newness and wonder, with every cafe very different from the next. Eighthirty's design team, led by architect Dominic Glamuzina, has allowed the bones of the individual spaces to shine through. Eighthirty's branding and color palette are worked tastefully into each setting, sometimes providing the only stroke of color in rooms otherwise dominated by bare wood or black and white. Yet the main accents of beauty in each shop are still the spaces themselves—as in the cement floors and industrial windows at their High Street location, or the vaulted ceilings and crossbeams in the 1920’s Tasman Building on Anzac Avenue, or the huge exposed brick walls at K-Road. The vibe within these spaces is a perfect fit: great music playing, open concept, clean, modern coffee bars proudly and straightforwardly displaying their equipment. There is a youthful energy present at each one of their cafes and it is a breath of fresh air in a city where consumers are still a bit stuck in their old ways.
One glance around the roastery shows a view peppered with some of the best equipment on the market. Espresso is being served on a La Marzocco Strada MP and ground through a Nuova Simonelli Mythos. Move further down the bar past a Mahlkönig EK-43 and you find New Zealand’s first Modbar, serving up pour-overs on V60’s. But as Tennent excitedly points out, the true showpiece of the room is the company’s sparkling Loring S35 Kestrel roaster, which produces their cafes' rotating selection of blends and single origins to please a wide range of flavor preferences—from traditional Aucklanders' to those of a newer school, all under the purview of Eighthirty’s Head of Coffee, Jessica MacDonald. “After returning from London where I was working for Square Mile [Coffee Roasters] I realized Auckland’s coffee felt a bit stagnant in comparison,” said MacDonald. “Customers were choosing consistency and darker roasts over experimentation. Locals were set in their ways.”
But over the last few years, customers have become more curious and aware of different origins and are requesting to try coffees from different countries, rather than just those they are used to, MacDonald says. Still, the company aims to have a little something for everyone. “We value our community and we want people to feel valued when they visit our cafes. That they can feel they are a part of something. Everyone is treated the same whether you are a hipster, homeless, or wearing a suit,” said Tennent. To that end of serving the community, Eighthirty has partnered with a number of organizations including a local male prison where they will be providing barista training to inmates.
It is exciting and inspiring to witness a business that after eight years still hasn’t lost the fire. Looking ahead, Eighthirty has plans to increase training initiatives with their community partners in the months and years to come. And as part of an upcoming renovation to their K-Road space, the company has hired head chef Maxine Woodnorth to create a more extensive food menu for that location, with plans to expand to the other shops soon after. In a time when Auckland’s coffee culture is now rapidly advancing, and when the world is in need of a sense of community, Eighthirty is providing beautiful spaces where people can come together for a thoughtful coffee.
Peter de Vooght is a freelance journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Read more Peter de Vooght on Sprudge.