Eleven years ago Mike Murphy took over a small family run cafe and roastery in Parnell. Today he’s built a fantastic local business brewing not only a great cup of coffee, but a really amazing community that is supporting coffee growers around the world. Whether it be their specialty coffee quality standards or their commitment to the future of coffee farming through Fairtrade Organic certification, we believe Kōkako really are the good guys in coffee.
We shared a cup of coffee with Mike (Kōkako’s new 70/30 Filter Blend to be exact) at their new roastery in Mount Eden and chatted about the driving forces behind Kōkako, the journey of their coffee from crop to cup and what’s next for the coffee culture.
It all started while living in Melbourne working as a food consultant, Mike became fascinated by the emerging third wave of coffee, spending most weekends checking out Melbourne’s best micro-roasteries. He saw a gap in the New Zealand market and came home with the intention of starting a cafe but was presented with an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. He happened upon a business for sale – Kōkako Organic. At the time it was a small cafe in Parnell, opposite the Domain, with a coffee roaster out the back and a mobile coffee cart that has become a familiar sight at Farmers Markets across the city. The couple who founded Kōkako 6 years earlier, Helen Ollivier and Christian Lamdin, had a huge appreciation for conservation and sustainability living in the Waitakeres – hence the name, Kōkako – one of New Zealand’s more modest and endangered native birds.
Mike saw huge potential. “What I realised was that coffee is this amazing elixir. It’s a product that brings people together, it’s incredibly social and the industry is really dynamic, engaging and has a real strong spirit of collaboration as well, even amongst competitors,” says Mike. “I became drawn to the social and community aspects of coffee.”
Over the past eleven years, Kōkako has taken a few different paths in its business journey but it has always remained true to its original values. Bringing people together over a cup of Fairtrade Organic coffee, with shared values and leading the way, right through from crop to cup.
You’ll now spot that distinctive Kōkako bird in some of the city’s best eateries. “Pasture, who brew our coffee by hand, The French Cafe, The Grill, Gusto at the Grand, Cibo as well as many fantastic locally-owned cafes across the country.” And of course in the heart of Farro, as one of our 3 favourite locally-roasted blends available to you daily from our baristas.
Mike sees a huge part of Kōkako’s role being educating and empowering coffee farmers, and to tell their stories to the New Zealand public. “I think it’s always really good to kind of dream of what you could do. The first seven or eight years were literally just surviving in business and it was really hard to understand what impact we could make,” says Mike. “But after I made my first trip to Papua New Guinea in 2013, the penny dropped and I said to myself ‘We can actually make a difference here’.”
“The media may often report on how the price of a cup of coffee has gone up, but there’s no depth involved in understanding the supply chain – how many hands the coffee has passed through in order for it to get to the consumer and what an artisanal product it is.”
Being the second-most-traded commodity in the world after oil, coffee is in high demand. In some cases, with large volume comes a large environmental and social footprint. So that got Mike thinking, how can Kōkako make a real impact?
Although Kōkako buy from a variety of coffee origins, they began working closely with the Highlands Organic Agriculture Coop (HOAC), in the eastern islands of Papua New Guinea, thanks to the help of Fairtrade. “We’ve got a number of initiatives that we are working on to help empower growers. We help them understand the unique nature of their product so they don’t think of it as a commodity. We also educate them in how they can produce a better quality product and what opportunities there are for coffee, beyond selling just green beans to us,” says Mike.
Kōkako are third-party verified by both Fairtrade and Biogro NZ, proving that the beans they roast meet strict social, environmental and economic standards. They have recently become Climate Neutral too, offsetting unavoidable emissions through a Fairtrade programme in Ethiopia. “The Fairtrade model is essentially a safety net for our producers, allowing the growers to know that they are going to be getting a guaranteed income for their product irrespective of the market dynamics, but over and above it’s also a tool for entrepreneurial change and development and puts some social parameters in place.”
Their name sake bird deserves a mention too, the team at Kōkako have worked with a number of initiatives that help restore the flock of our native Kōkako, namely the Rotoehu Ecological Trust initiative that looks after the Kōkako habitat in the Pongakawa forest, Bay of Plenty.
So what does the future hold? Living by the Japanese principle ‘kaizen’, which means ‘continuous improvement’, Kōkako have always been ahead of the game. “We’re constantly searching for new interesting coffees that we could use in our blends or for a new Single Origin. The diversity of coffee on offer has dramatically changed,” says Mike.
This month they relaunch in Farro their special edition, Bukonzo Joint from Uganda. This Single Origin coffee has a fantastic story behind it and $1 from every pack sold goes to support Medical Aid Abroad.
Mike is proud, not only of the support they give their producers but he’s also proud of everyone who has ever worked in the business. “I’m really proud of the professional development of our team – I would have employed 100’s of people over the last 11 years; many of them have gone on to own their own cafe where we now supply them with coffee.”
As we finished our last sip of coffee, we realised it’s near impossible to talk about all the great things that he and the Kōkako team have done for the coffee communities they work with and for the Auckland coffee scene too. This is only the beginning.