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Coffee Talk – meet Sam, the Kiwi behind Zurich’s Cafe New Zealand

Cafe New Zealand opened its doors in Zurich in April 2015 unofficially, in June officially. So it’s almost time for their first anniversary.. In this short period the cafe has catapulted itself to the forefront of the Zurich coffee scene, currently on trip advisor only second to the Swiss institution Confiserie Sprungli for Best Zurich Coffee & Tea. It’s barely comparable to Sprungli, possibly offering a slightly more interesting, or at least different, people watching spot in the middle of Zurich’s hip Kreis 4.  The Langstrasse based coffee shop has not only built up a reputation by boosting the popularity of flat whites, dirty cappuccinos and double shots in Zurich, but also with great hospitality welcoming all guests who walk in, which certainly isn’t the most famous Swiss trait. This friendly welcome is thanks to Kiwi owner/barista Sam, who was traveling through Europe and lucky for Zurich coffee lovers decided to make Zurich his new home.

In between dishing up pies, creating one of his famous pieces of art, also known as the dirty cappuccino, and further developing his Cafe New Zealand brand, Sam found some time for some coffee talk and answer a few questions I threw at him. Thanks for that Sam and raising the bar when it comes to coffee in Zurich!

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How did the idea of Cafe New Zealand come about? What’s the story behind the name?

The idea of cafe New Zealand started when I couldn’t find a proper pie or flat white in Zurich. So I came up with a simple concept for the cafe, we create a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy New Zealand style coffee and pies. The location, Backpacker Langstars, on Langstrasse is the perfect location for Cafe New Zealand. Cafe New Zealand is often humming with travellers from all corners of the globe, mixing in with Zurich locals. We like to have fun, and we keep the atmosphere informal.

How did your coffee career begin?

I have many years experience making coffee. When I was 15 I walked into a cafe, and asked for a weekend job as a barista. The cafe was really nice, located in an old restored barn on the beach. A year later I won my first barista award. Ive had an interesting life, with many different jobs, adventures and passions. Coffee is just one of my passions.

What style of coffee do you serve at Cafe New Zealand?

Cafe New Zealand has its own style of coffee. We create coffee to be enjoyed. Our cappuccino is a fun, sexy coffee. We call it the Dirty Cappuccino, served dirty with heaps of foam and finished with chocolate. Often the chocolate foam is slowly overflowing. Our flat white is considered by Kiwis as a proper Flat White experience, with its unique extraction and thickened milk it has super smooth texture and mouth feel. We always have 2 different espresso styles to try.

What kind of coffee beans do you usually have and from which roaster/s? Which espresso machine?

I have 2 grinders so there is always the choice from 2 different beans. At the moment I’m using a single origin from my local roaster Black and Blaze. Its a beautiful honey processed arabica bean from El Salvador. My second grinder has a medium roast blend called Supreme. Similar to one I was using in New Zealand. Claude the master roaster at Black and blaze uses a mix of science and passion in his roasting.
The coffee machine is a La Marzocco, and in my opinion it’s the best there is. Very reliable and powerful, not to mention beautiful. I was lucky to get looked after by the guys from Kialoa the Swiss La Marzocco dealers.

How does it feel to have your own coffee shop and what do you like most about your job?

It’s my dream to have my own cafe and I love it. It’s not really work when you get to have so much fun. I meet people from all over the world. I have submerged myself in a new culture. I love Zurich. It’s a beautiful city with so much to offer. In the winter I can go snowboarding, in the summer I can go hiking in the alps, swimming in the lake or jump off a bridge into the river. There are parks around the city to grill. People are very friendly and welcoming to me.

What are the most popular coffee drinks at your coffee shop and what’s your favourite?

The most popular is the Flat White. It’s a coffee that was discovered in New Zealand (or Australia) and is now becoming popular in Europe.
My favourite is our Dirty Cappuccino.
I’m always tasting our espresso, the double ristretto with a stain of milk is my favourite.
Our large Americano is perfect for a hangover cure, served on 300ml of hot water.

Do you have any exciting plans for the future?

I’m a dreamer, I have soo many plans, soon I plan to air freight some fresh roasted beans from a top roaster in New Zealand. For a month you will be able to visit Cafe New Zealand on Langstrasse and order a Flat White, made by a Kiwi, in the New Zealand style with fresh beans roasted in New Zealand!

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What makes coffee good coffee?

Without recapping the history of coffee and boring you with too many numbers, coffee is the world’s most consumed beverage and hence pretty important for a fair number of people. An estimate of about 1.4 billion cups of coffee are drunk every single day. Based on the assumption that plenty of people drink more than one cup per day, there are still a fair few who drink coffee daily. If all of them were asked for their definition of good coffee, we would have millions of different definitions. Of course we could group some definitions together, but nonetheless, what makes a good coffee for one person can be something completely different for another. Despite all coffee critics, the cup of excellence etc., good coffee is subjective.  Hence, everything I write about coffee here can be taken with a pinch of salt, as a lot of it will be based on what I personally perceive as good coffee, which could be completely different to what you or anyone else thinks.

Especially over the last six months, I’ve been able to immerse myself into the world of coffee, focussing mainly on the third wave coffee movement. This has included visiting numerous coffee shops in Europe, the U.S., Colombia, Central America and South Africa, going to coffee roasters, taking part in cupping sessions, visiting coffee farms and also attending Zurich’s first coffee festival. I had the chance to deepen my knowledge about coffee and the “bean to cup” journey by talking to some very knowledgeable and passionate people along the way, including baristas, coffee shop owners, roasters, fellow coffee bloggers, coffee farmers… All of this has helped me identify my personal “good coffee”.
With the third wave coffee movement, particularly with the rise of the so-called specialty coffee roasters, the “bean to cup” journey is of great significance. A roaster or coffee shop, which is serious about their product, will take pride in the “journey” of their coffee. Where the beans are sourced, is it single origin or a blend, what’s the roasting technique, is it a fine or coarser grind, what are the extraction methods, these are all variables which need to be considered by places serving coffee. On top of that, coffee machine, grinder, temperature, pressure, moisture, milk, and many more, are further variables, needed to be addressed.

img_0753I didn’t start to drink coffee until I was in my early 20s, at first only espresso, which I started drinking in Italy, before also including cappuccinos. At the time I found it pretty easy to get a decent coffee pretty much anywhere I went in Italy. Every place had a proper machine, La Marzocco, Wega, La Cimbali or similar and were able to make a nice crema and good foam for an Italian style cappuccino. I drank both drinks adding plenty of sugar, especially my espressi were saturated with sugar. Only when I was back in Germany and ordered my first cappuccino there, did I notice that I wasn’t able to get a cappuccino to my liking everywhere I went. Nonetheless at the time I didn’t really start paying too much attention to coffee yet.

Nowadays my personal “good coffee” still tends to be coffee with milk, a flat white, a cappuccino, a cortado or a macchiato, no lattes – too much milk, not enough coffee. If it’s super hot, then also different kinds of iced coffee, especially inspired by my time in Athens where after being reluctant at first I got used to drinking a freddo cappuccino. I also still love drinking a “good” espresso! For me personally, two key factors are temperature and consistency. I don’t want to burn my tongue and nor do I want to have to wait half an hour for my coffee to cool down so that I can drink it. For espresso as well as the milk-based drinks, flat white, cappuccino and cortado consistency is key for me, I like them more viscous, more thick and creamy. With the milky drinks the coffee should kind of blend in with the milk, especially for a flat white, if it’s made the way I love it, creating a sweetness so that even I don’t need to add sugar anymore. My espresso taste hasn’t changed much. The espresso (crema) I like most is a classic Italian espresso, so thick that one can almost stand a spoon up in it. I do appreciate and also drink the third wave movement espresso where you can taste different fruits, vegetables, chocolate, nuts and what ever else, but personally still prefer a good Italian style crema, and should I dare admit it, with sugar.
Dear third wave coffee shops, please don’t hide the sugar, I do try all or at least most of my coffees without adding sugar immediately…

In whichever way you prefer to drink your coffee, do you really think that you will stumble upon your perfect coffee simply based on the quality of the coffee itself? In most cases I would have my doubts, as I believe that it doesn’t simply depend on the “bean to cup” journey. As we know good coffee is very subjective but there are other factors than just the quality of the roasted beans and the skill of the barista and his tools preparing your coffee drink of choice. It’s about the entire package, including the interaction you have with your chosen location, the atmosphere of where you choose to enjoy your coffee along with the experience of ordering and drinking it, and sometimes also your company.

p1020203To now not completely downplay the importance of the coffee itself, let’s kick things off with the taste or flavour of coffee. After all it still is the key ingredient and if the coffee isn’t up to scratch, it’s pointless to go any further. Apart from the coffee needing to have a certain quality, for me drinking espresso based drinks, there also needs to be a decent coffee machine present for me to even enter the coffee shop. Not that I don’t think that Nespresso, WMF, Jura or similar haven’t developed a decent product, but I don’t believe that I will ever be fully satisfied by a coffee which is prepared by the push of one button. If I see one of these machines in a coffee shop I tend to do a 180 and head back out the door.
Back to the taste of coffee.. Despite occasionally referring to myself as a coffee snob, and people asking me for my opinion on coffee, I’m not a critique and don’t even believe I’m that great at tasting the nuances of different coffee beans. I have been to a couple of cuppings and will probably go to some more, but I’ll leave the grading to the experts who do this for a living at competitions like the Cup of Excellence or at coffee auctions. Similar to wine, I mainly just judge if I like or dislike a certain coffee. Like with wine, with coffee often judges also contradict each other, again highlighting how subjective good coffee is.

With coffee some prefer a lighter roast, while others prefer darker ones. Some are on the filter coffee bandwagon with increasingly more jumping on it. Others swear by their espresso, some straight, some with milk, some with sugar and again others with both. There are even some who like their instant coffee, i.e. Nescafe. I’m not here to say what’s right or wrong, what ever floats your boat… However having visited some coffee farms and talked to a number of people in the industry, when it comes to the quality of coffee beans there is definitely a better and a worse selection, e.g. for instant coffee versus what you might find at your chosen specialty roaster.

p1020509Having immersed myself into the coffee scene a while ago now, and having visited more coffee shops and roasters than I can remember, hanging out at many with friends or family, with a book or my laptop, or to further my coffee education, it got me thinking. I’ve visited many exceptional and memorable coffee locations, but some I also almost forget as soon as I exit the door, even if the coffee might have been decent enough. For me to “favourite” a place, of course I must have been served a great cup of coffee, but that’s not enough. I believe the x factor is in large part the coffee shop or roaster itself. Similar to with meeting your soul mate, it’s about the first impression, about chemistry, the communication with staff. It’s always nice to come across people who are very passionate about coffee and interested in their customers and their coffee preferences. At the same time it’s nice to see when people take pride in their “art”, are consistent at serving a great cup of coffee, and might not even serve a cup of coffee until they are happy with their work. Regarding this aspect, I believe it’s quite a difficult step for people who started their own coffee shop to take a step back and let others run the show once it’s time to employ staff. Maybe more than in a lot of other industries, it’s about the fit, not only does a barista need to consistently produce a great cup of coffee. As the face of a coffee shop a barista ought to demonstrate a passion for what he or she does and be approachable. They don’t have to be everybody’s darling but should be able to relate to the majority of the clientele the coffee shop would like to attract. Some of the less pleasant experiences are when baristas or coffee shop owners don’t seem welcoming, aren’t interested in their clients or their coffee preferences, or have a bad attitude. With the whole third wave coffee and hipster movement, I feel that some baristas seem to have forgotten that they rely on their customers. With starting this blog, it’s obvious that I appreciate the science and art behind a good cup of coffee and I am always happy when a barista convinces me to try something else than what I actually ordered. It’s a shame when some baristas don’t realise that “serving” a good cup of coffee isn’t quite rocket science, so you guys please step of your high horse… Nothing ruins the coffee experience more than a hipster barista with a patronising, arrogant or snobbish attitude.

I like hearing the stories of the people ensuring I am served the best possible coffee, and the ones I often find the most interesting are when people landed in the coffee industry by accident or quit their 60h work week or 9-5 day job to do something they are really passionate about.

What makes coffee good coffee, for you?

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