Written by Vicki Holder
So, it’s Ponsonby where Kiwi Ray van Wayenburg has distilled his love for coffee, inspired by his Japanese wife, an architect – like Ray, but she is also a world-renowned bean authority with over 20 years of roasting experience. For them, it’s not just about the taste, but the art of elevating its enjoyment in a café enriched by the coffee roasting experience.
Coffee House Organic is set up differently from most cafes, explains Ray.
“Most buy in their coffee. For us, the product is really important. Freshness is key to our philosophy. Beans are roasted fresh every 24 hours as coffee oxidises fast. The idea is to serve the best product we can.”
The whole process from hand-selecting certified organic, fair trade beans to roasting to the design of the graphics, signage, packaging and the café itself is part of a refined ritual.
“We compare it to the tea-house ceremony in Japan. We are uncompromising on quality. Everything is very considered.”
In Japan, the tea-house ceremony represents harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity. It is delivered in a specially designed architectural space where the performance of serving tea can be fully appreciated. As architects concerned with the aesthetics and meaning of place, the concept resonates with the couple. Which is why they have mimicked it in their approach to establishing Ray’s coffee business here.
It helps that Ray’s wife also owns the only certified organic coffee roasting shop in Japan, unusual in many respects, not the least of which, she is a woman at the helm.
Since her youth, she has been an advocate for environmental and health issues. She learned the chemicals used for spraying the tiny insects that live in coffee beans are toxic to humans. So, she embarked on an experiment that began with selecting organic beans from better, safer sources to create high quality more healthful coffee.
Now, her regular customers back home have developed a healthy addiction for her chemical-free, natural organic coffee products.
Ray’s wife (who does not wish to be named) followed her elder daughter to New Zealand in 2012 when she heard it was a peaceful place of beauty, where there was respect for the environment. Although she is patiently awaiting her visa so she can work in New Zealand, both her children, Rina and Yusuke are studying at Auckland University and are coffee roasters and baristas at Coffee House Organic. They understand how to control the process from the green bean to the cup. Between studying, they both work in the café while Ray runs his architectural practice upstairs.
Rina has embraced the role. She explains, at Coffee House Organic, each bean is hand-selected for its mellow natural flavours and safe, health-giving attributes from the world’s finest organic plantations.
“Most coffees are not organic so the fertilisers and pesticides kill the tiny insects that live in the beans. Organic beans are healthier but it makes quality control more difficult because some of the beans are mouldy and infected with insects. We have to sift through them and take them out before we roast them.”
Every bean type has an optimum roast time, which they tweak to make a lighter or darker, richer flavoured roast. “It’s not down to a specific time,” explains Ray who is fascinated by the roasting process. “It’s more about looking and smelling and tasting. It’s a real art form,” he says.
For the graphics design, Ray sourced two advertising guys on the web with offices in Greytown whose work he loved. “Young and fresh, they take more of an architectural approach with graphics that are subtle and elegant.”
Vertical lines of red type filter down across black coffee leaves on a white background, introducing the colours and aesthetic of Japan. “Rather than a design that hits you in the face, it is a restrained counterpoint to other coffee producers.”
For premises, Ray chose the old Cozy Dairy, located in the row of Edwardian buildings by Williamson Ave. The shop had operated as a traditional store for years. Everything was covered in gib, says Ray. “We stripped it off and found old timber sarking walls which add a lovely character along with smooth kauri floors.”
Centre stage behind the serving counter, a striking red roasting machine flavours the café atmosphere with the rich aroma of coffee beans while anime figurines and manga novels contribute a taste of modern Japanese culture - of which Ray is a fan.
A mural by young Korean artist Lynn Choi references a series of animated movies by Studio Ghibili and Tim Burton. Shelves display Ki-Gu-Mi or wooden art craft from Japan, Japanese crockery, matcha and JOCO reusable glass cups for sale, creating an environment that immerses guests in the Japanese experience.
At the moment, they’re putting the word out that they exist. But the intention one day is to host in-store classes to teach others how to perfect the art of roasting green beans to bring out the special characteristics. Rina wants to demonstrate how the roasting time and heat affect the bean to create different tastes and qualities.
For now, if you simply want a great, fresh-tasting, health-giving coffee to either make at home or enjoy in a warm, characterful setting, Coffee House Organic is definitely worth a visit.