McClure is the New Zealander who founded espresso bar Flat White in Soho in 2004 in partnership with Australian ethical investor Peter Hall, a key moment in the specialty coffee boom in the UK capital.
McClure sold his share in Flat White and its sister cafe, Milk Bar, in 2012, and returned to New Zealand, where he has just launched Rich Coffee Roasters in Wellington with another London Kiwi, Richie Russell.
Rich’s coffee has just started pouring at Milk Crate in Wellington’s Te Aro neighbourhood: right next door to Coffee Supreme’s Customs Brew Bar and a few minutes from Red Rabbit Coffee Co, another of Wellington’s premier coffeehouses.
“I think it’s a great spot,” says McClurel , speaking from Milk Crate, where he was doing some training with the baristas. “You want to be by your peers. Make it a little bit of a coffee destination off Cuba Street.”
“The whole city is essentially a coffee destination to be fair,” says McClure. “But walking up and down Cuba you’re going to find somewhere to eat, you’re going to find a good craft beer place, great coffee. There’s a lot going on in this part of town. It’s a little bit more casual than the Lambton end. To me it’s the true Wellington.”
McClure says the focus with Rich Coffee Roasters is on helping cafes like Milk Crate educate their customers about specialty coffee.
“We’re really concerned with raising quality within cafes, seeing how we can help places develop their trade. With Milk Crate we’ve been directing them but letting them have a say in how things will be for them – because they know their customers – then trying to show them the ways of light roast coffee. We’re talking clean cup, longer shot, and using that knowledge to pass on to their customers,” he says.
McClure and Russell: old friends
McClure and Russell go back a fair way: “We knew each other in Christchurch, before London. I’m originally from Christchurch, Richie’s originally from Wellington. I would have known Richie since I was 18 or 19 … I’m 37 now, so we’re coming up to 20 years.Richie has definitely brought the attention to choosing quality coffee from his time at Monmouth,” says McClure. “We’re tasting every day, we’re even cupping roast to roast, making sure that things are good. We’re looking at our documentation. That’s something that we’ve developed together. Our aim is constant improvement. We want to constantly be bettering ourselves and learning more.”
They’re roasting in a space they fixed up themselves in Newtown. “We’re going to do some open cuppings up at the roastery soon. As soon as we get our fresh crops,” he says.
Rich’s current range is an espresso blend that’s 75 per cent Brazil Sitio di Toro and 25 per cent Kenya Kamwangi. They are also roasting the Kenyan as a single origin, along with an Ethiopia Birnahu.
“The Ethiopian came from John Gordon at Framework Coffee in Auckland. It’s just amazingly sweet and delicate and one of my favourite coffees,” says McClure.
“There’s a few different channels. We’ll never say never to exploring anyone really. We just want to have a roster of really good coffees,” he says.
“These coffees are really changing things. The processing is getting a lot better, so we can now showcase what the farmers are producing. It’s just letting the coffee do the talking. Our job as roasters is to choose good coffees, trade direct with these farmers, and push that knowledge onto our customers.”
Rich Coffee Roasters: a long time coming
The pair have been trying to get roasting together for years. “We thought we were going to do this in London at one point through Flat White,” says McClure. “But at the time we were both just so busy. Richie had a really great job at Monmouth and I was flat out at the cafe so we just didn’t get around to it.
“When we both found ourselves back in Wellington and we pretty much just caught up, said, Hey, how’s it going, are we going to do this here now? And it was just like the stars aligned and lit the passion.”
So far Milk Bar is the only retail customer – “we’re talking with a few people, but obviously we can’t name names yet” – and also selling online.
“We’re sending quite a bit of filter out. We’ve been getting quite a few queries from the UK, for domestic use. People are interested in getting our coffee over there and tasting it. Given our bond with London, it does kind of make sense, but I still feel like there’s so much great stuff happening in London, why do they want us?” he laughs.