One of the most fun parts of attending the World Barista Championship in Melbourne, Australia, for me and Ken was the random meeting of some of the wittiest, most hilarious coffee people on the scene: Nick Clark, Richard Corney, and Steve Hall, the team from Flight Coffee of Wellington, New Zealand, that was at the event to judge (Richard) and to compete (Nick, the New Zealand Barista Champion). Over dinner at a wickedly spicy and garlicky Chinese restaurant in South Yarra that Café Imports (which supplies a lot of coffee for Flight, and is good friends with the group) invited us to, we got to know these three characters and in between fits of laughter, learn more about the philosophy of their company. By the end of the evening, I had not only been well entertained, I was really impressed.
Alas, we didn’t have time for a jaunt to Wellington, New Zealand, to see Flight Coffee in action, but I’ve been in contact with the guys since returning home to Portland. I was excited to hear of a new venture Flight is taking on: a cocktail bar in their cafe space. The location is called The Hangar (yes, an aviation pun), and was designed to be a forum for geeking out and celebrating coffee.
“We opened The Hangar in September last year,” Richard told me. “We moved our roasting and production into one location in central Wellington after our production and myself were based four hours away from a small town where we started roasting almost four years ago. The idea of The Hangar was to literally be a coffee geekery hang out, [and] we wanted to add to Wellington, and New Zealand, something that we believe there is a major lack of, that being speciality coffee houses.
“Focusing on quality, education and experience, we built The Hangar to house our Slayer, brew bar, and roasting operation. (which we’ve now out grown and are about to move production to another site),” Richard continued. “We wanted it to be a place without pretension, a place that isn’t intimidating for first-time coffee drinkers, a place that accepts people’s beverage preferences, but at the same time challenges them to try something new in the hope we can shift mindsets around coffee and educate people about what they’re drinking.”
Last weekend, the guys were thrilled to open the Flight Coffee Hangar Bar, which not only features classic cocktails, but coffee and liquor signature drinks, as well. Incorporating beautifully crafted coffee cocktails into a successful espresso bar has been a challenge throughout our industry, so I was excited to hear about this new venture for Flight that is poised to be a winner, and I thought you readers would be, too.
Sarah: When did you come up with the concept? What was the inspiration?
Richard: We acknowledge that we’re not just in the coffee industry, but also in the trade of hospitality. Nick, Matt, and myself have always had a love of coffee, food, and wine, and The Hangar is a perfect canvas for us express the same way we feel about hospitality. We wanted to bring to Wellington a unique experience which ties in our love of coffee and hospitality with cocktails, wine & beverage selection.
Admittedly, we don’t run bars and never have. The credit for the inspiration behind the cocktail menu belongs entirely to Jake Searell and Corey Thompson. Jake is the Australasian Angostura Cocktail Champion, he competed in Trinidad and Tobago in February this year and placed 8th in the World for this competition. Jake and Corey are both ex barmen from a bar which has been around in Wellington since the 1970′s, The Matterhorn. Jake left to come and learn more about coffee and quickly mastered espresso and pour over, Corey already had quite a bit of coffee experience and they both worked on the Hangar floor as baristas while we went through process of applying for a liquor licence.
Flight Coffee’s mission is to “Develop excellent coffee and outstanding people”, both Jake and Corey epitomise this for us, we more or less gave them free reign to design, set up and organise the bar operation. It’s quite incredible what happens when you let talented do what they’re good at!
The Hangar runs as a speciality coffee house and brew bar from 7am – 5pm and transforms into a boutique cocktail wine bar Wednesday to Saturday 5pm – late.Sarah: You just opened; what was the reception from the public like?
Richard: The response has been awesome so far. For the most part we’ve had a huge response from the local hospitality scene. On the opening night, we had guests who thought the bar had been in operation for the entire time the Hangar has been open—which is awesome! We’re about to start shouting the bar from the roof tops and we’re expecting a really positive response.
Sarah: What was the process of building the menu?
Richard: We wanted the philosophy behind our bar menu to be the same as our philosophy behind our coffee. This being, traceable, having relationships with the people we buy from and quality. Jake and Corey understood this as fundamental element of our business anyway, and for them it was a no-brainer in how to approach who we buy from.
Jake has been working on the cocktails for sometime now, what’s quite remarkable with a few of them is that they’re not your standard cocktail in a glass. Again, it’s the same as how we feel about the delivery of our coffee – experience. For example, Jake designed his Breakfast White Russian by flavouring rice crisps and presenting them in a small bowl, he then designed a yoghurt based vodka with sweetened milk and orgeat syrup and serving fresh chunks of pineapple. So its, in effect an alcoholic breakfast, but served in three parts as a cocktail.
The menu was created around the philosophy surrounding our coffee. Nick and I had no real input into the cocktails, but we did want to see a seasonally changing wine list, with boutique producers being represented when and where possible. The wine and beer list doesn’t house any big brands, it’s all about the finding the quality from smaller producers and letting their products speak for themselves. The other thing we wanted from the wine list was to be able to offer wine by the glass. One thing that frustrated us at other establishments is that if we wanted to try a different, or boutique wine (which are generally much more expensive and rarely sold by the glass) we had to buy the entire bottle and part with $70 – $80. We want people to experience wine by the glass the same way as we offer our more expensive, less readily available coffees.
Sarah: In the States, lots of cafes are still hesitant to incorporate liquor into the menu. Why is it a positive thing for you guys? In other words, why should people try it?
Richard: The hospitality industry has, and I believe, always will evolve. Particularly with food we could talk about the changes in approaches to preparation, presentation and combination. The Larousse will always have its place, but it’s not the 1920′s anymore and traditional accompaniments no longer feature as a mainstay on menus. Fusion, East meets West inspiration and the fact that the world is a lot more accessible to everyone now than it was 20 years ago has seen amazing evolution in how food is prepared and presented.
Change really is a fact of life and change can be a good thing. Especially when it challenges mindsets, creates precedents and helps better an industry or a way of thinking. We embrase change, we relish the opportunities it presents us and hopefully capitalise on the benefits that it brings us.
A positive for us is that we’re trying something new, something that maybe hasn’t been done before, or at least to the scale that it’s being done now. It helps us educate our customers and hopefully gives them an appreciation from where something comes from. Its the same as when we give someone a new coffee experience first the first time. You see the light bulb flick on, they get it, job done. This is the positive, helping change or educate someone.
Why shouldn’t people try it? This is the question I would ask. We’re not selling out by adding liquor to our coffee and making a cocktail, we’re trying new things and using liquor as a canvas as another way to celebrate and express coffee for what it is and can be. We still offer espresso during the bar services, so you can totally have a latte or espresso through the Slayer at 10pm if thats what you want. The market response will be the ultimate indication how well received it is and so far, it’s been all positive for us.