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Inside Kokako's coffee roastery with Mike Murphy

Kokako's purpose-built roastery is in a converted warehouse in Mt Eden. Currently, Kokako’s coffee beans come from 10 different origins, including Papua New Guinea, Sumatra, Honduras, Colombia, Uganda, Ethiopia and Guatemala.

Photos by Joe Hockley.

Kokako has been roasting coffee for over 15 years. They regularly ‘cup’ their coffee daily at the roastery. Cupping is the industry standard for evaluating the quality and consistency of each coffee origin they buy.

Kokako's managing director Mike Murphy often travels to Papua New Guinea to visit the source of his beans.

Inside Kokako coffee, the ethically-minded coffee company.

Just as owners sometimes look like their pets, Kōkako Coffee managing director Mike Murphy looks a little like his roastery: slight, minimalist and just a bit geeky. “I literally wrote in my diary last night, ‘Nice clothes for photoshoot,’” he says. But despite that note-to-self, he’s dressed in the same denim shirt he always wears, with a thermos-shaped lapel pin worn like a barista badge of honour.

Murphy lives round the corner from this converted 1970s engineering warehouse in the central Auckland suburb of Mt Eden, where Kōkako’s close-knit team roast the beans they supply across the country, so he walks to work when he can. He walks a lot, in fact, for inspiration as well as exercise. “It allows me to be inquisitive.”

Some of the ideas he’s had – most of which centre on caring for other people and the environment – have come to life at the organic roastery: there are bike racks fixed to the wall to encourage staff to cycle to work (plus showers out the back), several doors were lifted from a house being demolished, and the walls are clad in fast-growing, locally milled New Zealand poplar.

Among the initiatives the company supports is the Rotoehu Ecological Trust, a conservation group dedicated to protecting the North Island kōkako population in Rotoehu Forest, in the Bay of Plenty. So the eco-friendly ethos is evident, but it’s not all about being green. Murphy thinks working this way is simply “better business”.

A source of real pride are the images dotted around the walls, shot by Auckland-based photographer Josh Griggs during a trip to Papua New Guinea. Every 18 months, a few members of the Kōkako team make a pilgrimage to the developing nation, where the bulk of the beans used in their popular Aotea blend are grown. The aim, says Murphy, is to ensure workers at the Fairtrade co-operative are getting a fair deal, and to help teach them about optimum bean processing – all the way from coffee plant to coffee cup. 

Gallery - Kokako in Papua New Guinea:

Sikilan village in the highlands, 1148 metres above sea level.

Josh Griggs

A village in Papua New Guinea

Josh Griggs

A pit stop in the Western Highlands              

Josh Griggs

Children of the Neknasi Cooperative coffee farmers. Murphy says before and after school, many of them come and listen to the Fairtrade team’s workshops.

Josh Griggs

Kum Nin Songa, from Alang Daom Coffee Cooperative.

Josh Griggs

Abel Kemi, a senior member of Untpina Coffee Cooperative, takes notes on the correct use and maintenance of a mechanised coffee pulper.

Josh Griggs

Loading sacks of coffee beans onto a truck for export

Josh Griggs

Inside a coffee bean factory

Josh Griggs

Juan Pablo Juarez, a coffee company owner from Costa Rica, shares some knowledge to coffee farmers at the National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) in Lae

Josh Griggs

The coffee cherry

Josh Griggs

This was published in the June 2018 issue of North & South.