Coffee capital of the world

Wellington is a city where most things in life happen over a locally roasted, freshly brewed cup of coffee – served double shot as standard, always.

Havana Coffee Works

Peoples Coffee founder Matt Lamason points to an Italian espresso machine and a barista churning out a run of coffees in a Wellington cafe and says: “Imagine our city without these!’’

Wellingtonians are all about coffee. The capital is fueled by an estimated 40-odd roasteries which roast and grind beans for cafes here and around New Zealand. It’s no surprise that Wellington is New Zealand’s coffee capital - those in the industry point to its weather, bohemian culture, and the compact city which makes it easy to get around. Wellingtonians like to chew the fat about politics and burning social issues over a flat white.

The city has about 850 cafes and restaurants - more per capita than New York City - and every one of them as a coffee machine

Matt Lamason Peoples Coffee
Peoples Coffee barista making coffee
Lamason making coffee espresso machine cafe stock
Peoples Coffee Matt Lamason

In 2004, Matt founded Wellington’s first fair trade roastery, Peoples Coffee. Describing himself as a second-generation coffee entrepreneur, he began roasting coffee at a time when Wellington was already ensconced as New Zealand’s coffee capital. “I remember drinking my first coffee in the late 1990s at Olive Cafe on Cuba Street and it was life changing. Coffee became the central part of creating ideas and talking about things.’’

However, Matt realised that the city really needed fair trade coffee. Peoples' coffee is grown by small fair trade farmers in Africa, and Central and South America. It is roasted in Newtown and served in two of its own cafés, along with other cafés around town including Lamason Brew Bar on Lombard Lane, owned by Matt’s brother, Dave. “Wellington is a melting pot of liberal, bohemian culture. We sit down and make decisions, start businesses, get married, all over a cup of coffee.’’

“There is enormous pride among Wellingtonians about our coffee culture. The way our psyche is wired is that we think our coffee is the best in Wellington and everything else is second rate.’’

The first decent coffee was in fact made in Wellington in the late 1980s, when Geoff Marsland and his friend, Tim Rose, returned home from a trip to Vancouver with an espresso machine. Geoff was 22 when he and Tim set up Midnight Espresso on Cuba Street, followed by Deluxe Cafe, and the duo began roasting their own beans in 1990 under the Havana brand. Back then, Wellingtonian’s coffee of choice was a cappuccino or a specialty coffee in the evening. “When we opened Midnight, there were only four coffee roasters in Wellington. We were known for our specialty coffees back then, because the pubs stopped serving at 10pm and everyone came in for a specialty coffee and a game of pinball.’’

Midnight Espresso coffee drinkers in window Adrian Vercoe
Prefab coffee making counter staff Adrian Vercoe

“There was a line out the door. So many people came. There were suits and cops and strippers and students. We were opening a coffee shop and that’s what people wanted.’’

Geoff, Jeff Kennedy and Chris Dillon were Wellington’s caffeine trailblazers, respectively founding Havana, L’Affare and Supreme coffee brands - still among the city’s biggest coffee roasteries. Over the years, the coffee barons have been joined by others - Mojo, Acme (Jeff and Bridget Kennedy’s brand at Prefab), Flight, Raglan Roast and Good Fortune Coffee, among others.

The art of making coffee has become more technical over the decades, and a variety of coffees are now being made, from standard flat whites, to siphon, Chemex and Aeropress coffees and cold brews.

About 30 years since they started, Midnight Espresso still whips up coffees, and Havana - now owned by Lion Breweries - operates a roastery a few blocks away. Havana sources coffee beans that Geoff describes as "beautiful rebel and organic coffees that are ethically traded". Geoff - who has travelled extensively to source coffee and also for pleasure - says that combined with what he describes as the best milk, Wellington has the best coffee in the world. Now the international brand ambassador for Havana, the coffee baron says: "It doesn’t matter what day of the week or what the weather is doing – Wellingtonians are out in cafés, getting together and drinking coffee."

Havana Coffee Works roastery
Havana Coffee Works coffee

Wellington is one of those places where you literally wake up and smell the coffee

Ute Junker, Traveller Australia

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