A fresh approach, with Espresso Workshop

Part three of our weekly series on New Zealand’s roastery industry saw us grabbing a brew with Andrew Smart, general manager and owner of Auckland’s Espresso Workshop.

Andrew Smart is not one to take things too seriously. We asked him what his favourite coffee was these days: his response? “It’s a tough choice between a hand-poured V60 filter coffee using Espresso Workshop’s honey-processed Colombian ‘La Cabana’ beans, or an ‘Andyccino’.”

“What’s an Andyccino?” you might ask.

“It’s an adopted name for a restricted double shot 130ml flat white,” Andrew told Restaurant & Café Magazine with a grin.

Andrew is the general manager and owner of Espresso Workshop, one of Auckland’s longest standing roasteries. The brand started roasting in 2008, a year after they opened their first café. “At that stage, we were one of the newer ‘third wave’ style of roasters,” said Andrew, “intent on profiling the unique characteristics in each single origin coffee.” Espresso Workshop continues to roast top-end speciality coffee, encouraging its customers to develop their understanding of the product by providing taste notes with each coffee.

The company is also committed to maintaining transparency with its farming, processing, and roasting practices. And it’s just as well – in an increasingly saturated market, skimping on quality-control is not an option. “We were one of the companies taking a lead role in advancing speciality coffee in the Auckland market,” Andrew told us. “Now, with more competitors in that segment of the market, we have to keep innovating to retain our reputation in the speciality coffee market.”

Of course, unbounded innovation can discourage the paying customers, many of whom are interested in a reliable, replicable experience: “The exciting and unique flavours we enjoy are not always what a customer is looking for at 8 am on a Monday morning.” With this in mind, Andrew and his team at Espresso Workshop tailor each of their beans to the needs of different customers. “For instance, we do believe there is some wriggle room for innovation and variation in black coffee consumers as they seem to be a little more adventurous than the flat white crowd, and the soft brew (filter) offering is where we can completely branch out and we can show our most exciting coffees.” But amongst all this experimentation, a commitment to a ‘central flavour’ around which the roastery can experiment is key. “It is crucial that we retain our innovation in order to differentiate ourselves,” said Andrew, “but also to be conscious that everyday customers - who we are deeply grateful to have – are mostly looking for the flavour profile that they have become accustomed to.”

So how do Espresso Workshop go about ensuring their product is of the highest standard? “We are firm believers that strong relationships produce better coffee. We actively look to strengthen and pursue longevity in our supplier relationships to develop trust,” said Andrew. “The trust we have with our coffee suppliers ensure they understand what we require from the coffee we purchase, they understand the quality we are searching for and they understand that our product must have integrity.”

The company’s commitment to quality and transparency has held them in good stead, with 2 Auckland cafés thriving in the busy neighbourhoods of Britomart and Parnell, as well as their main roastery/café facility, located on the narrow strip of land between the Orakei basin and Hobson Bay. Espresso Workshop also supplies a number of independent cafés with their beans, but are cautious to ensure expansion doesn’t impact their product. “We prefer a model of growth that focuses on the local market and gradually moves outwards in an organic fashion,” said Andrew. A product dependent on freshness like coffee lends itself to short-distance trading, and Espresso Workshop embraces this approach. “We do believe coffee roasting suits local supply and at this stage, we prefer to keep our network within a 2-hour drive of our roastery to allow for effective support.”