Tucked around the corner in Church Street is one of Nelson’s favourite coffee houses, Kush Coffee and I reckon it is a coffee house with attitude – a good attitude.
Anyone who has ever worked with me will tell you that while I love wine it is coffee that makes my world go around, and I insist on having good coffee, so Kush was a favourite coffee stop for me when I worked from an office in Bridge St.
Set up in 2005 by Andy Budd, Kush was born in small premises in Richmond before moving to small premises in Bridge St opposite the Nelson Mail building and then to much larger premises in Church St in 2009 where Kush Coffee became a café serving delicious food to enjoy with their wonderful coffee.
Andy told me “I really tried not to do food but couldn’t ignore peoples’ demands and it just grew, the food took on a life of its own, you have to be flexible enough to give people what they want.”
I am always intrigued by what drives people to do what they do so I asked Andy why coffee?
“Good question, but mainly because I love coffee, I’ve been a coffee person all my life, I worked out early on that if you could make good coffee you would always have friends.
“Mum bought a stove-top coffee maker from Italy (she’s English but loves things Italian) and I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee until I could make it, so at the ripe old age of seven I learnt how to use the machine.
“But I became spellbound by coffee when I went to Europe and drank it everywhere, Italy, Spain, Portugal, every country had great coffee but I figured that in reality the coffee itself was no better than here, it was the personalities that came with the coffee, how people interacted with you, how they served it, the professionalism and mystique around the coffee experience was what really got me hooked.”
When he came back to Nelson to open a coffee shop of course he was going to roast his own beans so he bought a tiny roaster, had it installed in his Richmond shop and started playing, “I had what I thought was success but played around with different roasting techniques for a year until I was comfortable standing behind the product I was producing.
“In any hospitality business all you can do is hope your tastes are going to excite others too, all you can do is do what you like, be it food, coffee or décor and then all you need is people who like the same stuff as you.”
Andy worked in the building industry for many years and he also ran the Kahurangi Employment Trust for a number of years and that has had an effect on the way he does things as an employer, “that is the other key to making a successful hospitality business, you have to have great people.
“I have fantastic staff who look after me so I make sure I look after them, you need to be fair to people and give them job security, people don’t have much loyalty if you don’t look after them.
“I may be more people orientated than profit oriented and while you don’t have to look after your staff you are dumb if you don’t because good staff are so important in this industry.”
Today he roasts coffee in converted shipping containers at the port, “the Port Company have been fantastic to us, they made space available for us and they love coffee nearly as much as we do.”
Kush Coffee has always been made using 100% organic certified, fair trade beans but Andy has recently arranged to import a new bean direct from a producer, it is still organic but is direct trade rather than fair trade.
The other thing Andy insists on is the beans he uses must be shade grown, “shade grown is very important for flavour because it means the beans ripen slowly and develop wonderful flavour, the difference is astounding.
“If you want to make money then monoculture coffee growing in big farms is the thing but if you want flavour then beans grown under forest canopy is the only way to go.
“Birds migrating from North to South America have to go through a very skinny area and when forests were removed to create monoculture coffee farms birds suffered horribly, so people started growing coffee under trees again and realised the flavour is better as well as being better for the environment.”
The beans are roasted in a Has Garanti drum roaster he bought from Australia after doing a lot of research, “I knew nothing about drum roasters but the fact two coffees that won the Australian Coffee Competition two years in a row were produced in a Has Garanti was the thing that convinced me.”
What is the secret to good coffee? “I could talk about that for a life time,” he says “but you have to start with good beans so that is about 50% of the art, 30% is the barista, 20% is all the other factors like the coffee machine, the water, water temperature and lots of other small but important little things.
“I reckon there are a thousand steps from tree to cup and they all need to be right.
“You can have the best barista in the world and give them rubbish beans and they will never be able to make decent coffee, there are so many variables and it is a matter of getting them herded together at the right time to get something outstanding.”
Then there is personal taste, if you are like me then it is about flavour and texture so it is either a double shot short black or double shot long black but as Andy says “you are never going to please everyone, we all have different tastes, you just need to find one you like and keep buying it.
“Most people are honest and say what they think, there is a lot of fashion around coffee but drink it how you enjoy it, people ask me ‘should I have milk or sugar with this’, I tell them I don’t care, just make it as enjoyable as you can for yourself.”
And that tells me Andy has the secret to success at Kush Coffee, keep it honest, make the very best coffee you can to entice the customer back for more, it is called hospitality for a reason.