Beans mean business

Beans and machines have been good for business according to one entrepreneur who’s set to introduce Kiwis to a new brew.

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When carefully measuring out single source coffee beans to create the perfect cup of espresso, it’s evident Reiss Gunson is a bean counter in more than one way. The founder of Londinium Espresso – a chartered accountant and lawyer – is committed to serving up the perfect cuppa.

“We’re a small, craft business roasting the coffee ourselves and looking to bring in high end, single origin coffee for New Zealanders to experience,” says Reiss, who recently shifted Londinium’s base of operations from England to his native Auckland.

Reiss headed to London in 1998. While he says he always intended to start his own business – dating back to his days of first studying economics in high school – it wasn’t until 2004 that he took the ‘plunge.’

“I bought my first roaster and started the business then [part-time]. A few years later I chucked in my job, working for electronics and technology company The Laird Group, to tackle the business full time,” he says.

“I still wouldn’t say I’m a big coffee drinker, in terms of volume, and I never had a great epiphany where I knew coffee was going to be my life. I do enjoy coffee and the craft aspect, but I’m commercially focused too. In life you have to balance what you love with what you can make a living doing.”

Named after the Roman word for London – where the business began – Londinium was chosen to represent English identity with an Italian connection. Carving out a niche in the market, Reiss set about supplying single source beans.

“We’re not a roaster which can compete on a price basis; we’re a boutique business, absolutely tiny in comparison to some. We use a London brokerage to locate the world’s best beans. The way we survive is by producing interesting coffees that afford the terroir [special characteristics] of the land on which the coffee was grown.”

He says the best way to understand the difference between single source and blended coffee is by comparing it to wine.

“Coffee has a lot of parallels to wine, but I don’t think those parallels have really come across in New Zealand quite yet. Coffee is blended mainly for consistency, in terms of product and price.”

“It’s similar to Champagne; non vintage is about creating a similar taste year on year, regardless of climatic conditions, whereas vintage is about showing off the unique characteristics of a particular year. Similarly, each single origin coffee will taste different year on year – it almost has its own personality.”

Interestingly, Reiss says once ground, coffee can go stale within just 30 minutes; however, providing beans are packaged correctly and kept in a cool place (but not the fridge or freezer), they can stay fresh for up to six weeks.

A couple of years back, Reiss saw an opportunity to move his business beyond beans. Although the company was already supplying Italian lever espresso machines, as well as grinders, he wanted to make them more accessible to home users.

“I’m not an engineer, I’m a bean counter,” he quips, “What’s different with our own brand of machines is that we’ve shrunk them down so they don’t dominate kitchen space.

“They’re easy to use and reliable, and if there are any problems, we can deliver parts within 3-4 days, with no customs delays or language barrier in dealing with Italy to overcome.”

However Reiss says Londinium machines are ultimately designed to do one thing: “to allow people to make coffee at home which is on a par with any served up in the world’s best cafes.”

While manufacture of the machines remains based in England, Reiss’ return to New Zealand – for family reasons – and the establishment of a showroom in East Tamaki, Auckland sees the business with a foot on each side of the globe.

With the businesses infancy behind it and thanks to the internet, Reiss is set on making Londinium a globally recognised and respected brand.

“Our core market is discerning individuals who’re really into their coffee and small businesses. We’re also looking forward to supplying Kiwi cafes as well,” he says.

“People are loving our beans and we’ve sold more than 300 machines in two years across at least 30 countries. The guy who makes them for us said we’d be lucky to sell 20 a year, so we’re definitely pleased with how the business is going so far!”

By Jon Rawlinson

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