The Roast – Sam the Man

Sam is one of the most colourful characters in coffee. He’s now wonderfully on show in the Kokako Cafe in Grey Lynn where the roasting area is a gloriously stylish focal point. Find out a little more about Sam right here:
What is your earliest coffee related experience?
Sitting on my Mum’s lap as a youngster dipping my biscuits into her coffee; bad move on her part but from there the addiction started and was never the same!
When / why did you first get working in coffee?
I did a hospo course fresh out of school – coffee was one area I really took an interest in and from there the journey started and here I am today roasting coffee for Kokako.
What led you to becoming a roaster?
I’d been running the original Kokako cafe in Parnell for 2 and half years for Mike the owner and director who was becoming more busy with growing the business. Mike asked if I would like to take up the challenge up of roasting; I figured why wouldn’t you want to take up a new skill – especially roasting as opportunities like this don’t come up very often.
Having been a barista for 15 years it was nice to see the coffee I had roasted being used, tasted judged by all those people really – it puts the pressure on to produce the best tasting coffee you can. Baristas really are the lifeline to your coffee and it’s up to them to put the roasters hard work to good use.
What do you roast on, anything unique about your set up?
Ruby is her name – she is a pimped out 12kg Toper. I’d take her out if I could but she’s just too heavy!
What do you find most rewarding about roasting?
We are lucky enough to have the roastery as part of the café in Grey Lynn and seeing people queue up every day to come drink something I have roasted is pretty cool. I like talking to people who are interested in what we do and helping them get the best out there espresso machine or even plunger. We are big on educating people about coffee that is Fairtrade and Organic and why we champion it. It’s really important to us as a business that customers feel involved – by hearing what they have to say (good or bad) it’s the only way we can keep improving and moving forward.
Even though we roast to particular protocols I like that there are no rules to what you do. There is so much you can do with green beans by roasting lighter or darker to get a different taste or flavor profile to blending with other beans to create a blend that stands out from the rest – and for what your brand stands for!
Talk us through a typical work day
I always say good morning to all the Café staff, then kindly ask our Head Barista Tokiko for a coffee! I write up a plan of attack for the day, turn on the roaster to get her warmed up and then bang out my signatures roasts. My day can be pretty diverse and I don’t like to be interrupted when I roast, but in between roasts or later in the day I will call wholesale customers, grab orders, pack and organise with my delivery driver the drop off of orders. We prefer to deliver direct to our customers in Auckland to maintain strong relationships. I also train wholesale accounts’ Baristas either in house or at their café and I’m responsible for organizing the Cuppings with our Senior Team
Sometimes I’m asked to help in the café which is good to keep your hand in!
Apart from your roasting machine (in its factory floor form), what’s your favorite “tool” you use in your role?
My craft knife opens just about anything and motivates any staff member to move faster….
What are your roles outside of roasting?
As part of the Kokako Management team outside of roasting I am involved in a lot of the decision making for the café operations. I really think that training and re-training of baristas who use our coffee is important in ensuring they understand the quality we strive for and making them passionate about what they do and how they do it.
Have you visited Origin? Any interesting harvest trip experiences or story? or which origin would you most like to visit and why?
Not yet, but hopefully early next year. I’d like to go to Sumatra or PNG as we use both these origins. It would be important to me to make the journey over there to get a better understanding of what the farmers have to go through to produce such amazing green beans often with basic equipment, and also to understand why Fairtrade is so important for the farmers and their village. When I do go I’d like to take them some Kokako coffee and some of our Drinking Chocolate – yum
Any fire stories?
My only flame is with ruby the roaster – she lights my fire! Ask Mike about fires – he’s got a good story!