Coffee roasting a growing niche industry about town

Raglan Roast may be a name on people’s lips around much of the country these days but no fewer than three backyard roasteries are also thriving locally.

And each of the niche labels is proving quite a success story in its own right.

One – Coaster Coffee – is concocted within a Raglan West garage where longtime local Malcolm Hutt has a few large, shiny roasting machines resembling robots from an alien planet vying for space with his not insignificant record collection toward the back of the building.

He sees a symmetry in his twin loves for coffee and music. “Both require timing, groove and vibe,” he insists.

And neither is a new interest for Malcolm, who’s been involved in the coffee industry for nearly 27 years. 

In fact he and Raglan Roast’s Tony Bruce together opened Volcom Lane’s ‘hole in the wall’ in early 2000, using beans from Rocket Coffee Roasters in Hamilton where Malcolm – a one-time chef – worked as a barista, brewing up around 200 cups of coffee a day.

“I got good at it,” he told the Local Rag, admitting he received an ‘outstanding barista’ award as voted in 2001 by his peers in hospitality.

With Malcolm’s passion for all things coffee he also learnt how to service the machines, at the same time training baristas and refining his craft. For a while too he worked at Raglan Roast’s Te Uku Roast Office, brewing coffees for an increasingly discerning market. 

Now he’s out on his own – a one-man band in an unassuming garage, ordering and roasting beans, bagging and distributing them locally and online while also working as a coffee machine technician around the Waikato. “Coffee is part of the fabric of my life,” he reckons.

Rata Miller is “pretty much” a one-man band too, and passionate about the Miller’s brand of coffee created by his father in Auckland way back in 1987. He roasts from a converted container – in a cafe called the Garden Club – at Nau Mai business park on Raglan’s outskirts. 

His wife Alicia helps with the website, social media and distribution of the product. They set their shop up at Nau Mai a few years ago and had “a steady flow of coffee-drinking enthusiasts”, says  Rata, but the challenges of Covid saw the business close for a time.

Now it’s open again, with the addition of a 10kg Petroncini hot air roaster imported from Italy which has allowed Rata not only to brew coffee for appreciative customers but also to roast Miller’s espresso blend of beans.

“It’s a small town, not a huge market,” he says of the move to diversify and get his coffee out there – in and beyond Raglan – as quickly as possible while at its best. Coffee is ageing as soon as it’s roasted, Rata explains, so roasting two mornings a week ensures the product is delivered fresh both locally and online. 

Customers also get to see – and smell – this process for themselves, which adds another dimension to Rata’s boutique roastery.

Morning Glory Coffee Co, by contrast, has grown from a one-man band to a point where owner Paul Peterson can now proudly say he’s created jobs for six people in the community.

And 50 cents from every kilo bag of coffee sold goes to local conservation group the Karioi Project.

Like Malcolm, Paul began by roasting beans in his garage, but subsequently shifted his operation from Flax Cove to a small shed downtown behind Indi’s Cafe, which also sells the brew. 

However, his roasting process outgrew the shed and was moved recently to a basic black barn opposite Te Mata School grounds. Indi’s remains an outlet but Paul also has his distinctive yellow coffee cart in town and at events such as Raglan’s monthly creative market.

Paul says he made a conscious decision early on – after initially working at the busy Te Uku Roast Office – that he’d be a small boutique coffee roaster producing “100% organic and ethically traded coffee”. 

So after travelling to Indonesia and establishing connections with small-scale coffee farmers he now trades directly, visiting their plantations regularly and buying beans by the pallet each time for his specialty roast. It feels good to “represent the little guy”, he reckons.

Says Rata of his fellow aficionados: “There’s a lot of symmetry between the three of us.” 

Rata adds they may have a different approach to that of Raglan Roast’s Tony Bruce – all having worked with him roasting beans at one time or another – but basically observe the same etiquette in delivering fresh, high quality coffee.

And a thriving coffee culture ultimately stimulates good social interaction within the community, he believes.       

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