In conversation with Josie Evans of Excelso Coffee Roasters
Much of the time, we’re talking about waste, compost and why we all need to use less plastic, and that is not as exciting as sharing the stories of our partners doing all the above. So last month, we went on a road trip to the Mount and passing through, we dropped by Excelso in pursuit of a strong cup of coffee and a chat—all distilled in the interview below.
How would you describe what you do?
You know that's a tricky question. General Manager is the title, but when it comes down to the general day-to-day? It's kind of a bit of everything. I'm still working through a pretty lengthy back-to-work program with ACC after some major injuries a few years ago and figuring out the best fit for my time at work.
The parts of my job that I am currently falling in love with again are -
— Communicating sustainability; educating and creating real, positive change for customers.
— I love writing, so taking over content creation has been a great fit!
— Researching and trialling new products and equipment is always fun—we have a few exciting things coming next year with some awesome local suppliers.
You have been roasting since the early 90s. What has changed?
Absolutely everything!! (except for our love of coffee, of course). Our business has constantly been evolving since launching in the early 90s. While our love of coffee was always what drove it, our passion for our community and giving back has become a real force.
The biggest thing I think would be the roasting itself. The technology going into roasting now is incredible. When creating and refining profiles for every coffee, we have much more control than ever before, and it's fun to see what we can create. Also, the increase in roasteries now working directly with the farms and growers has had a significant positive impact on product refinement, yield and production. We’re also seeing increased access to new and unique coffees and varietals than ever before, with a few interesting new processing methods coming through as well.
How did you come to be in the Mount? How long have you been in the business of serving people, your community?
Carrie and Jeff grew up on opposite sides of the world, Mom from Vancouver, Canada and Dad from Wellington. While we started my life in Canada, Mom and Dad decided early on that they wanted us to grow up in New Zealand and Tauranga was the first choice. I've travelled a lot since leaving school, and while I loved adventuring, I really fell in love with Tauranga and Excelso again when I came home in 2014.
How would you describe your space?
We've always struggled with the somewhat elitist attitudes that come with the specialty industries, and the coffee industry is no different. We never wanted Excelso to feel like that. We wanted to create a space where people could learn and experience with us everything that we love about coffee.
We have a small retail space with our brew bar, but it's bright, open and has such a welcoming feel. A customer said it well recently. He described it as his favourite intimate community hub.
You roast 100% Arabica beans, fairly traded green beans, and are a member of the Specialty Coffee Association. What made you choose this path?
Well, I guess there are a few different paths, and not all are specifically chosen. We are incredibly proud to be a New Zealand Coffee Association member. They are an endless avenue of support for members, and we are so grateful for the community they have created in the coffee industry in New Zealand.
While we are currently roasting 100% Arabica beans, that is not set in stone. Some truly incredible and unique robustas are coming out, and if we find the right one, there could be space for it in our lineup. And then fair trade, I can't say that we use 100% fair trade coffee beans and we haven't ever. It is a specific certification and often a costly one. While we dream of a day in the future where all coffee is grown and traded ethically right now, we work with our suppliers to ensure that we are confident that all of the coffee we purchase is from sources using ethical trading practices.
You referenced Tauranga as historically being referred to as Ten Dollar Tauranga. How challenging is it to inform those accustomed to $4 coffees that this is not reality?
Haha, I'm not sure that everyone will love that reference, but regardless of the Tauranga mindset, the cost of coffee has needed to change for everyone for a long time.
I think rapidly rising costs have encouraged the shift much sooner than expected, but it has opened a dialogue for meaningful conversations. Owners from a few bigger roasteries did great interviews with Stuff and Newshub and did a great job breaking down the customer cost. While I can understand the concern about rising prices, coffee, as a product and a service, has been undervalued for far too long, and everyone needs to understand the time, work and skill that goes into their favourite brews.
You spoke of an increased focus on retail during the pandemic—providing coffee beans as opposed to flat whites. How do you feel people's habits have shifted? How are people buying and drinking coffee?
I think it's all down to the way that you market and educate. Coffee is the second highest traded commodity in the world for a reason, and I don't think that position is being challenged any time soon.
Changes we made during the pandemic were similar to those made during the last recession. I think the ritual of coffee is just as important as the caffeine kick for most, so customers are going to satisfy that need whether they can afford to do it out at a cafe every day or make it themselves at home. The key is knowing how to do it well and having access to great coffee—that's where our barista and brewing courses set us apart, I think.
We noticed the worm bins and compost bins. You also spoke of disruptions to your recycling and compost collections recently. How are you managing your collections now, and how much food and other compostable materials are you able to divert with private collections?
I guess waste management is always a tricky business to get things right. We are stoked to have a worm farm from the team at Why Waste. They check in on the worms once a month, ensure that they're healthy and that their environment is well balanced, and teach our team along the way.
Compost has been a bit tricky over the last few years with changes in compost management and a discontinued project from the council. Fortunately, Carrie and I both have pretty spectacular composts at home that we can take everything back to if and when there are issues with collection. Last I checked, we are diverting around 88% of waste from landfill with private collections.
What will the second half of this year hold for you? Your business?
Dreaming big here, I would love to get back to full-time work by the end of the year! It's been a long time coming, and I'm almost there, so fingers crossed!
For the business, there's plenty of activity. We have a new La Marzocco to go into our espresso bar! It will be the first in Tauranga, and we cannot wait to show it! We also have new origins from Cofinet coming up for release over the next two months and a Gesha that we will do a limited release for Jeff's birthday in August.
And finally, what are you drinking currently?
Well, speaking of that, Gesha. I actually have a cup in my hand from Gus' latest sample roast and am about to start writing up tasting notes and creating content for the release. I'm not looking forward to running out and waiting for the proper release, but we have another Colombian coming up that'll be a tasty replacement.