Wellington's cool coffee scene is no secret – we've covered it previously on Sprudge in this feature by 2013 World Brewers Cup Champion Erin McCarthy – but a trip to New Zealand for the NZ Specialty Coffee Association Symposium confirmed the city's place on any list of global coffee capitals. Companies like Flight Coffee and Coffee Supreme have created warm, carefully considered cafe spaces on par with anything you'll find in Melbourne, or Oslo, or New York City. That's one truly wonderful part of the underlying international character of specialty coffee – a great cafe is a great cafe, no matter where you're located. Like the Kiwi pop star Lorde, it knows no postcode envy.
On our recent visit, Sprudge happened to just catch the opening week of a brand new roaster/retailer outfit called Red Rabbit Coffee Co. Fortunate timing indeed, as all signs point towards Red Rabbit becoming another must-know name from New Zealand. Located on Hannah Laneway in Wellington's Central Business District, Red Rabbit is the work of Steve Barrett, a Kiwi whose previous work experience includes serving Square Mile Coffee Roasters at Opposite Cafe in Leeds, UK.
The space is clean and functional, 1000 square feet or so with a pleasant front service bar, booth and banquette seating, and an intimate row of countertop seating to the side of the register. Mr. Barrett & Co. offer a couple of different filter methods with a menu caveat: “Don't be shy – happy to explain!” That up-front counter bar top is clearly the cafe's catbird seat, affording primo views of a hypnotic kind of perpetual motion as the laneway foot traffic goes wandering past, Mr. Barrett and his team make and present coffee, and the baker restocks his two-way bread cabinet. You'll lose track of time in the best way.
In places like Melbourne, or the United States, there are many different green importing companies offering freedom of choice, information, competitive pricing, and technical support to their roaster partners. In New Zealand there's great green coffee too, brought in by a few importers and established roasting companies, but the overall options are reported to be more limited. This bit of info was mentioned a couple of different times by separate camps in New Zealand, and is something of a fittingly Kiwi problem – it's a long ways for anything to get there from around the world, after all.
Steve Barrett at Red Rabbit was delighted to talk about his company's buying relationship with Mercanta and Café Imports, both of whom ship to New Zealand. Using these sources for green coffee, Mr. Barrett hopes to offer a diverse and distinct menu, different from what you might find at other cafes in coffee-dense Wellington. And roasting is certainly on display inside Red Rabbit, where a Probat and green storage take up the whole back wall.
Up front they're using a Kees van der Westen Spirit espresso machine (its shipping container converted into a coffee table elsewhere in the cafe), paired with Mazzer Robur-E grinders. On this early visit, Red Rabbit offered brewed coffee via Chemex, V60, and Swiss Gold-filter methods. The menu and service style at Red Rabbit is professional, and succinct.
It's worth noting how fun the neighborhood is, because while all of downtown Wellington teems with creative types (and drunken students on a Friday night!), Red Rabbit's little corner of it is particularly cool. Their location on Hannah Laneway means the cafe is sharing footsteps with the soon to open Wellington Chocolate Factory, Six Barrel Soda Co. (revered and served at fine establishments from Welly to Melbourne), a well-regarded thin crust pizza joint called Pizza Pomodoro, and a reputedly excellent international craft beer bar called Goldings Free Dive. It's a neat part of town, and it helps lend Red Rabbit a particularly smart built-in customer base.
Wellington has heaps of great cafes, and they've got a really special little new one in Red Rabbit. New Zealand may be a long ways from everywhere, but if you love cafes and the way cities intertwine with them, this place is closer than you think.
Red Rabbit Coffee Co. is located at Unit 6G, 14 Leeds Street, on Hannah Laneway in downtown Wellington. Hours daily from Monday-Saturday. Follow Red Rabbit on Facebook and on Twitter at @RedRabbitCoffee