Espresso Yourself in the CBD

The yellow sandwich board outside Homebrew Coffee on Hamilton’s London Street has a simple message: make good friends, drink good coffee”.

It says it all, really. You call in here for a quick caffeine hit and you get a warm welcome and a friendly vibe along with your flat white or similar. You can’t do much better than that.

Homebrew is one of a number of spots in Hamilton’s CBD where the coffee is the hero, where there is simple food if you fancy a scone or a toastie, and if you’re a regular it’s likely that the barista will start making your coffee as you walk through the door. It’s like an extension of home, and the coffee is usually damn fine. It lights up your day.

Most, but not all, of the CBD’s espresso spots are open Monday-Friday, reflecting that their regulars are largely city workers. Most, but not all, have a toasted sandwich press as their key appliance in a minimal kitchen, and baked goods are largely bought in.

Kopi Café, on Riverbank Lane, is an exception in the food department, doing its own baking in a more highly specced kitchen. Top tip: order a bowl of spicy, golden and delicious Sri Lankan dhal at Kopi, made by Manjula Weerasekara. It is great value at $14.50.

Espresso spots typically run on tight staff numbers, and tight profit margins. Veteran Hamilton barista Dave Tourelle, who co-owns Kopi Café, says they keep things simple at Kopi and while there is not as much at risk, there is not as much income.

The espresso spots are all a bit quieter at present, missing many of their regulars, the city workers now based at home during the Covid pandemic. So we’re giving these places a shout-out in an espresso-fuelled walk around town (south to north), drinking good coffee and making good friends along the way.

Anne Fern, South Bloc, 19 Knox St, Monday-Friday:

Owned by Cilla and Al Kinnaird, Anne Fern fits neatly into the North Lobby of South Bloc.  Cilla trained as a barista at Hamilton’s Rocket Coffee Roasters and she uses Rocket beans at Anne Fern. Staying local, she has Dream View milk from Raglan, and most baked goods are from Volare Bread on Kahikatea Drive. They make their own excellent banana bread in a small oven at Anne Fern, and their sturdy cheese and pickle toastie is warmly recommended. Cilla says while her place is mostly about the coffee, you need some good food too.  Anne Fern’s diverse customers include lawyers, judges, nurses and doctors (from nearby work-sites) plus general coffee lovers. Says Cilla: “I love coffee and it is awesome having a spot you go to every day. It such a good start to the day. We know our customers by name, we know their orders; we’re a friendly place. It’s a crazy time (the Covid pandemic) to have a coffee place. We’ve been really well looked after by our landlord, Stark Properties. We’re thankful for that.”

Sentinel Outpost, Union Square, 32 Hood St, Monday-Friday:

Sentinel Outpost is in the Rabobank building, occupying a chic space in the foyer. As the name indicates, this recent espresso spot is a little sister of Sentinel Café in the northern end of Victoria St, with Al Belcher as owner-manager. Sentinel Outpost opened in November, and barista Becs Gillman is at the helm of the super-shiny, top-of-the-line Victoria Arduino espresso machine.  The coffee’s from Hamilton-based speciality business Grey Roasting Co, founded by Dove Chen, and the food – wraps, bagels, cinnamon scrolls and other treats – are from the kitchen of the Sentinel mothership.  Becs knows her customers by name; she says a lot of her regulars are still coming into work, and she loves Grey Roasting Co’s coffee. “It’s a game changer.”

 Kopi Café, 298 Victoria St (entrance to Riverbank Lane), Monday-Friday.

Dave Tourelle’s had this laidback place for three years and in the past year he’s been in partnership with chef Manjula Weerasekara. They’ve revamped the light and airy premises, they do their own baking, and a brief menu includes the spicy dhal, soaked oats, bagel, sourdough toast, scrambled eggs, and avocado on sourdough. “The food enhances things,” says Dave. Some customers bring their laptops to Kopi and they do a spot of work alongside their coffee and toastie. The tight staff team includes Sumin Gurung. Before Dave, this was SL28, part of the Rocket group, and (of course) Kopi uses Rocket organic blend beans. Dave’s been turning out coffee in Hamilton for about 30 years. “I love coffee. You have a little chat to people all the time, it’s about looking after people. And they come back. ” Things have been pretty quiet due to Covid but Dave remains optimistic: “We’ll get out the other side.”

Volare Cnetral Store, 6 Garden Place, Monday-Friday:

This is a popular spot in the heart of the CBD. Manager Amalia Winchcombe greets her customers with a smile, they do Ozone coffee, and the baked goods come fresh every morning from Volare HQ, the vast bakery on Kahikatea Drive. You can grab a coffee and go, or sit for a while and enjoy a toasted cheese scone, a sausage roll or a sammie (the classic ham on rye is excellent). “Everything is from the bakery,” says Amalia. “We set it up, make it look pretty, and we toast the bagels, sandwiches and scones.”

Union Espresso, Monday-Friday, at Snapshot, 391 Victoria St.

Union occupies a small but perfectly formed space at the front of Snapshot photographic. Snapshot has been in business in Hamilton since 1928, and owned by the Boswell family since 1946. Union is much more recent, though. Graham Boswell says his son Sam had the idea for it six years ago, wanting to create something a bit different for Snapshot customers and nearby office workers. Their store frontage lent itself nicely to a hole-in-the-wall coffee spot. Barista Ethan McKinley-Rooke, from the north of England, makes the boss an Atomic flat white as we speak. Graham Boswell says Union is all about people having a warm and friendly experience. They don’t sell food but pre-Covid he had a few tables at Snapshot and he was fine about people bringing in their own sandwiches or muffins. “It’s a great meeting and talking place. We’re missing some of our regulars.”

Rocket Coffee Roasters, 302 Barton St (down the lane), Monday-Friday:

The fragrant aroma of roasting coffee beans is a total bonus when you call in here. Rocket was founded in 1995 by Glen Crompton and Glen Woodcock and they are still at the helm of this Hamilton business legend. Since 2008, they’ve been on Barton St and they have many followers. While the Italian coffee roaster in the back room is doing its thing, you can be assured of a good fresh brew from the staff out front. They don’t do food, although there is a big jar of specialty Dutch stroopwafels if you need a little top up. Rocket sells its beans to customers throughout the North Island and Glen Crompton says that despite the quieter times of the pandemic, local loyalists are still trickling down the lane for a coffee, and to maybe stock up on beans. “People are still drinking coffee; they’ve just changed where they are drinking it.”

Homebrew Coffee, 103 London St (ground floor of the Urban Homes building), Monday-Friday:

Homebrew’s the place with the bold yellow sandwich board that says “make good friends, drink good coffee”. The high-energy yellow theme continues indoors, and on this visit there is a warm welcome from barista Ashley Muir. Homebrew has Ozone coffee, Kaipaki Dairies milk, Volare baking, and tasty toasted sandwiches, all the things that make Homebrew a happy place. It opened in September 2020 and there is a sister operation in Cambridge, both of them established and owned by Blair and Tayler Paterson.  Blair says he and Tayler both love coffee, and the community that is created around it. He says people typically want their coffee fast, and they want it to be of good quality. But there is a unique opportunity to say hello, to put a smile on people’s faces: “We’re in the business of people, and the coffee is the means of the transaction. It’s a quick transaction but it is hugely important.”

Demi-Urgos, 865 Victoria St, open seven days:

Aaron Maisey opened his singular north Victoria St coffee shop, Demi-Urgos, in 2011. Nowadays he works as a financial adviser and long-time staffer Courtney Major manages the business. But Aaron calls in every morning for a coffee before work, and he still loves the community espresso spot that he created. “With a bit of tenacity and grit, we are still here.” Demi-Urgos does Supreme Brazilian blend coffee, and staff make delicious raw slices in their small food prep area. They do Volare scones, toasted sourdough sandwiches, and a few other treats. Courtney Major says they know all their customers, “either their coffee or their name”, and they’re missing some of them at present. She says their regulars are supportive and patient. “When we’re being slammed (a queue for coffee), everyone is super-lovely understanding.”

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