Helen Twose

Personal finance and KiwiSaver columnist at the NZ Herald

Success: Waking up to coffee on wheels

Home deliveries of fresh beans aim to break the instant habit.

David Burton is keen to get New Zealanders drinking better coffee at home. PICTURE / CHRIS GORMAN
David Burton is keen to get New Zealanders drinking better coffee at home. PICTURE / CHRIS GORMAN

Kiwis are waking to the smell of freshly roasted coffee, thanks to early morning deliveries from an industry veteran.

As dawn breaks, David Burton, 55, is out in his car delivering beans to customers around his home in Auckland's eastern suburbs.

Coffee lovers further afield get a fresh caffeine fix of Burton's "Jack's Coffee" beans on their doorstep, via regular courier deliveries.

Burton, one of the names behind coffee brands Burton Hollis, Columbus Cafes and Gravity, is passionate about getting people to drink better coffee at home.

Although we take pride in our quality cafe coffees, the reality is that 85 per cent of coffee consumed in New Zealand is instant, he says. "That tells me that the grassroots of hot beverage drinking is not like you'd find in Europe; not what I'd call bean trade coffee."

Burton is steeped in the tea and coffee business. His father and grandfather both worked as tea tasters, and some of his first memories are of blending tea samples.

He also trained as a tea taster with Quality Packers, who owned the Choysa brand, in the mid-1970s, but became involved in the coffee side during the 80s.

Burton still remembers inviting people to his flat and wowing them with fresh coffee made simply with a filter over a cup.

"That freshness and that taste really was something that drove me and that's probably the passion I've had from the start."

After selling his previous coffee brands and the Columbus roasting business to Bell eight years ago - he and his original partners, Frances Hollis, John Burton and Lance Wyatt, still own a share of the Columbus Cafe franchise business - he worked for Bell for five more years.

But he still had an itch to tackle the home market where, if they weren't drinking instant, most people were using pre-ground beans from the supermarket.

Burton says he wanted to get out, talk to individual people and convert them to a cafe experience in their homes.

"That doesn't mean buying a $3000 espresso machine. It just means buying fresh coffee, grinding it up and making it in the format that you're comfortable with, which for most people is a plunger."

He compares freshly ground coffee to champagne or beer - you wouldn't touch the bottle if it was days since it had been opened, but most people happily buy coffee beans or pre-ground coffee that has been sitting on a shelf until it is past its best.

"People don't understand what freshness is in coffee, so that beautiful smell and aroma you get when you're grinding your coffee is all the flavour profiles and beautiful textures coming out.

"Coffee should be ground and consumed."

Burton says there is now a shift away from consumers getting all their food supplies from the supermarket. "I firmly believe that there is a segment of the population out there that is saying 'you know, I think I can get my meat better from the butcher on the street'.

"They haven't realised that with coffee yet, so there's my crusade, but I think more and more people are going back to the professional who gives them that personal and professional experience."

His home delivery model, based on the milk and bread deliveries of the past, gives customers the option of a subscription or one-off purchase starting at $12.90 for a 250g bag of beans.

While Burton is happy for cafe owners to come knocking, he is focused on converting office and at-home coffee drinkers to a better brew.

He's also keen to pop around and help customers create the perfect coffee, although few have taken him up on the offer, with most people getting their advice from videos he has created for his website.

Burton may be a coffee pro, but 30 years in business have taught him to seek out professional advice in areas where he is weak.

With Jack's Coffee still in its infancy, he brings in marketing and financial help on a contract basis.

He hasn't paid himself a salary for two years, so the invoices can sting a little, but Burton says it's an effective way to put his efforts where they count.

"It's important to have your finger in every pie in the office and everything that is going on but don't put your whole hand in, don't jump in there 100 per cent."

The only full-timer on the payroll is Burton's son-in-law, ensuring the hot cuppa heritage continues for another generation.

- NZ Herald

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