A former staff member at Square Mile Coffee and United Kingdom Barista Champion, John Gordon's life took a turn when he and his wife, Jessica, moved from London to Auckland in 2014. Rumors swirled about what might come next for the Gordons in New Zealand, but the end result—Framework Coffee—wound up more multi-faceted than anyone could have guessed.
Equal parts training center, home delivery roaster, green coffee sales and consulting, John and Jessica Gordon are making major waves in the New Zealand coffee scene, and beyond. We sat down with John Gordon digitally from Framework HQ in Mt. Eden to learn more about this project.
What is Framework coffee?
So basically, it's education focused. Training courses, green bean sourcing, and an online web store for roasted coffee and equipment.
So does that all happen out of a facility?
Our factory is in Mt. Eden, in Auckland. We have a lovely training space upstairs, which is 3 separate rooms—a main cupping room & sample roasting lab, another room that’s set up for espresso training with two full World Barista Championship spec competition setups, and a third room that’s for brewing training courses. It’s nice to have that separation between everything. We have all the water, waste, and power services in the floor, and can change and swap around the setup depending on the kinds of events and training that we’re doing.
And then around the back, we have a lovely huge storage area for green coffee. We also have our roasting area with a ridiculously modified Probat UG 22 roaster, from the 1960s.
Tell me more about these ridiculous modifications.
So the roaster was refurbished by Schuilenburg in Belgium. A lot of the ideas that I wanted for the roaster had come about through experiments at Square Mile, and things I’d wanted to be able to look at in the roasting process, but weren’t able to due to the limitations on the UG 15 at Square Mile. So we went over to Belgium and had a chat with the guys before they got the machine, because I wanted to separate everything. Traditionally on a Probat UG 15 you’ve got one motor that runs everything, so you can’t change the speed of anything without effecting all the other functions. I wanted to give us more flexibility on our batch sizes—on everything really.
So now we have a motor with a gear box on the back of the drum which is controlled by a frequency drive, then another motor for the roasting air, the exhaust air, which is actually on top of the cyclone—usually on the UG 22 the fan is right on top of the roaster, and I wanted to change that to make sure we had control over the air circulation through the drum. So we use a frequency drive there as well to control that air flow.
Then the cooling air and the stirrers for the cooling tray are on individual motors as well, and you can control them—speed them up, slow them down, depending on their batch size. We can speed up the fan on the cooling tray and get that working a lot more efficient.
Schuilenburg have designed and built their own burner system as well, which was really a good choice, taking away the old burner system. Their own one is a large stainless steel tube with stainless steel mesh on it, and it gives you fantastic flame coverage on the drum with 0-100% flame adjustment. The burner is also height adjustable as in the standard UG's the burners are fixed, and depending on the type of gas you burn the flame can be at different heights, so I wanted to be able to adjust the burner based on batch sizes, speed of the drum, things like that.
There’s also, at the moment, three temperature sensors—a bean probe at the front, one at the back of the drum, and in the roasting exhaust as well, and then we’re running all that through Cropster to gather as much data as possible. At the moment, we’re running 5-kilo batches in a 22-kilo roaster quite successfully. It’s nice to be able to see that the modifications were not only worth it, but extremely effective as well.
How did the green coffee partnerships come about?
Before we left London, it was always a long-term goal for us to get into green coffee. It’s a bit more enjoyable than sitting behind a roaster 12 hours a day, roasting huge production batches. We’d spoken with a few people over time, and within all our travels about what we wanted to do in New Zealand, and once we actually got to New Zealand, the biggest thing that we noticed was that there was a shortage of quality green coffee in the country, and a lot of roasters struggling to get hold of really good green coffee because of where we’re situated. So it’s quite difficult and expensive to get coffee shipped here, and for the smaller roasters it’s not viable to have one bag shipped every few months from the other side of the world. So we wanted to be able to bridge that gap between all the roasters here in the country and the green suppliers around the world.
So it was just a case of finding people we wanted to work with, and respect, and to be able to bring some interesting green into the country, so that there are smaller lots available for smaller roasters to have access to, and long term, to be able to give those roasters access to origin trips and such—to bridge the gap between farmer, barista, and roaster here in New Zealand. So we have teamed up with both Cafe Imports and also more recently the 2015 WBC champ's Project Origin based in Canberra, Australia.
So you are personally warehousing green coffee? Tell us about it.
At the moment, we’re basically on the verge of finishing the fit-out, and the end goal when we start to bring in larger volumes we will be to be able to hold 4 containers at any one time. That’s not including our own green supply for the roasted retail online store that has it’s own space. The long-term goal is to ensure that the room is temperature and humidity-controlled and sealed off to maintain the longevity of the life of the coffee.
How many total green coffees do you predict will be on offer?
That’s a tough one. What we’ve discovered at the moment is, filter coffee here is getting a little bit more popular. And that’s what people are looking to us for at the moment—for very different coffees, and kind of a wider range of coffees for filter. Obviously, we want to branch out and be able to supply espresso, because it’s a huge espresso culture here, but I think what we’ll end up doing is definitely holding a lot more smaller lots to be able to cater for all of the roasters. We’re looking at 200+ roasters in the country, some quite close together, so we don’t want people to have the same coffees. In an ideal world it’s at least 20+ coffees for us to warehouse but at the same time, we want to be able to help roasters forecast their green coffee buying better—rather than roasters buying spot, we want to be doing regular cuppings, pre-shipment samples, building up smaller lots with roasters, and to get that coffee here direct, so coffee doesn’t stay in the warehouse very long.
I’ve been told before by small roasters in New Zealand—in particular by Steve Barrett of Red Rabbit in Wellington—that access to a wide variety of green coffee is a major issue in New Zealand. Is that changing? Are you part of that change?
We’re very early on in the change. It’s interesting that Steve would have said that to you two years ago—Steve is buying a bit of coffee from us and I think what the struggle is here is, some of the guys that are bringing in the coffee are also wholesale roasters, and that’s a huge challenge to be able to try and sell another roaster some of the green that you have. With the green suppliers we’ve worked with in the past, they’re looking at supplying you with the best possible green they can—because with a green supplier, you are working with a company where that’s their job and business. That’s why we decided we won’t actively search out wholesale here in New Zealand and would prefer working with other roasters to help improve their quality and to give them those opportunities that we have in Europe and you guys have in the US. We want to help people really have access to fantastic coffees.
What we’ve seen so far is roasters tasting the coffees we have, and being intrigued by seeing something very different. It’s definitely been quite good to see that at least people are starting to be interested in something different. Obviously, there’s a lot more education in terms of sensory evaluation that needs to happen, on a broader scale, not just for roasters or green buyers or baristas, but obviously for consumers—that’s the big one. I feel like I will get criticized for saying this, but when I can go around to half a dozen cafes in Auckland and have a flat white from half a dozen different roasters and to be honest, it all tastes the same, to me that’s disheartening.
We love tasting other roasters' coffee. You learn so much by broadening your sensory experience. We were spoiled in London, being able to go around to cafes, picking your choice, with some cafes being multi-roasters. It’s quite an exciting place to drink coffee. It broadens your palate.
So for us, there’s a few guys here that are definitely standing out, which is really nice—Steve of Red Rabbit, the Flight Coffee crew, and possibly my favorite in the country, which is Rocket Coffee in Hamilton. They’re just quietly plugging away down there, roasting what I think is exceptional coffee. I get quite excited when they send us coffee every now and then, and the coffees from Steve have been fantastic as well. I’d like to see those guys have more cafes here in Auckland.
Kiwis have been so used to drinking what they’re drinking for 10-20 odd years, and are happy and proud of that, but with the food industry here really starting to pick up and change, the consumer is starting to ask questions and to ask for more about what they’re putting in their mouth.
You offer a series of educational courses. Some of what you offer is for the coffee professional, but some is also definitely for the home consumer. Most home coffee drinkers don’t need a refractometer…right?
We have a separate home barista course, and to be honest, normally I wouldn’t even look at this, but there is a huge culture here of having a little espresso machine in the kitchen. There’s a few brands of good domestic machines that are out there, Jess’s stepfather and her father both have machines at home, and they love them. It’s something that I really wanted to offer. It’s a quick course, I think people get a lot of value out of giving people more of an experience, but at the same time to be able to offer them the coffees we will sell on our online store, to help develop that broadened consumer palate.
When it comes to the other courses, the foundation courses, I’m a big fan of a belief that no matter where you are in your professional life, you should always be going back to the basics. You need to revisit that constantly, to keep on top of what you’re actually doing. There are some great baristas here, but I’d love to see some of those folks want to do these courses as well. They are foundation courses—it’s not so much the beginning, but the idea is that…we’re putting a modern twist on it. Rather than going down the traditional route of beginner baristas, I want to be able to work with the beginners and the professionals, to explain those modern techniques that we’re using nowadays.
A lot of people still struggle with the idea of building recipes and really dialing in espresso, evaluating espresso, just evaluating coffee full stop. Using the technology that we have now, well…you mentioned the refractometer. Up until last year, I think there was maybe one person in all of New Zealand that had a refractometer. I think it’s quite important to start from the beginning again and add in that modern twist. This will help people push themselves harder and create better coffee.
We’re doing an equipment course as well, to understand equipment. One of the biggest things in my career has been to understand the equipment I was using. So I think it’s definitely something that will revolve around understanding different kinds of machinery—single boiler/dual boiler, heat exchanger, temperature stability, different kinds of grinders, limits on all equipment, and how to maintain them and keep them functioning to the best of a barista’s skills. I don’t want anyone sticking hands in the machinery or something like that, but getting them to understand what their equipment is telling them. Because there’s been a lot of times in the past when I'd get a phone call from baristas, both beginners and pros and they're having a problem, and you ask them a very simple question about “what is a gauge reading” and they don’t know where the gauge is, or what those numbers mean. There’s a lot of good service companies in this country that do great work, so we’re helping them make that job easier by educating the baristas.
What equipment do you train on in the lab?
We’ve got a Marco Uber Boiler and a Mahlkönig EK43 grinder in the cupping lab. In the espresso room we have a Sanremo Opera, it’s basically the first one that’s being used in all-black—I just finished installing that yesterday. I’m waiting on a Mahlkönig K30 grinder which I’ll have shortly as well, and then long-term the idea will be to also have either a Marzocco Linea PB espresso machine or a Simonelli Black Eagle espresso machine. The Black Eagle is an advantage because we’ll be offering competition training as well. It will mean baristas can be working on the same style of machine setup as they'll see in a barista competition.
Would you consider competing again, this time in New Zealand? Will you be training competitors?
Since last year, I’ve been planning for 2017. So the concept and the goal and what I want to achieve has been mapped out for 2017, with hopefully coffee from Sasa Sestic‘s farm that he owns in Honduras, which we’ll be doing a couple of things with next year, revolving around…I don’t want to give too much away…but revolved around some of the technology and a few certain things I’d like to help implement on the farm level, that will then kind of branch off into developing a routine for 2017.
We’ll have the lab open for training and hopefully stocked with the proper equipment people can use. I know that’s a huge thing for baristas, to have a space to go practice—a lot of people end up modifying a space in their roastery or cafes, or don’t have the right tables, or squishing on a little bench, and then you go to competition and the space changes and it throws you off. I want to offer that space to all baristas out there to come and utilize it, a nice big space to come relax and practice in comfort.
What’s happening with the roasting coffee?
Our online store went live just a few days ago, and we’re waiting on labels to be finalized for the bags. Home users—everyone around the world and in New Zealand—will be able to buy retail packs and kilos from the online store. Delivered to your door, all that kind of stuff. It’s not being limited to New Zealand, we’ll be able to send it out everywhere. At the same time we’re also looking at wholesale partners outside of New Zealand. Eventually, I’d like to get some of the multi-roaster cafes in Europe.
Your site bio mentions ongoing work with Sanremo—anything you can share there?
We’re on the verge of starting a little media campaign with the new equipment. We’re launching a new machine at HOST Milan in October—this will kind of come in just under the Opera in terms of price and functionality. It’s more of a step-up to and make coffee kind of espresso machine, focusing on increasing the technology that’s used inside it while simplifying it a lot more. The physical design won’t have any photos released until Milan, but the design is…every time we’ve shown a few distributors, everyone is pretty much speechless at the moment. It’s been taken to a completely different level in terms of aesthetics. It will be fully customizable from the factory, with different colours and the ability to host your own branding on the machine as well.
So that one’s exciting. For me, it’s a little bit more exciting in terms of, I’ve had a lot more control and input from the very beginning, from that blank piece of paper in terms of design and internal system as well. It’s been quite an interesting creative process to really kind of step outside of what we’re normally doing. I’m a lot more involved with Sanremo now in terms of being part of R&D. Since December last year, I’ve been going over to Italy every couple of weeks. It’s taken its toll but has been a really good experience.
And then there’s a grinder which we’ll have a prototype of for Milan, and we’re working on finalizing the prototype for that now. Again, a completely new concept, something that does not exist in the market, but is addressing all the issues we have with current grinders and workflow and any restrictions. We’re addressing traditional issues but giving a lot more flexibility to a piece of equipment, with a longterm goal that the machine itself will be able to be used for filter coffee and espresso, and be able to hold three different coffees. That’s pretty much all I can say about that one.
You sound busy.[Laughs] There’s a bit of consulting we do as well—it’s picking up. I’ve just recently done a week in China, and we’re doing global consultancy as well.
Photos by Michael CY Park for Sprudge.com.