Geoff Marsland and Tim Rose first met in the ‘70s at an alternative primary school called Matauranga in Wellington. Both were keen on conceiving and putting into action numerous (boisterous) schemes.
Many years and adventures later they fortuitously met up in Vancouver late in 1988. It was here they discovered “Joe’s Café” – Geoff recalls a dismal night outside revealing a nondescript building, where the air was filled with the delicious aroma of strong coffee. Great music filled the room overflowing with locals. There were grease stained sailors, business men, film makers, artists, women breastfeeding babies, punks and all sorts, all talking loudly and enjoying themselves without an alcoholic drink in sight. They went back a few more times, Geoff realising it was a feeling he had been seeking all his life.
There was nothing like it in Wellington, so without wasting precious time they sought out and bought their first espresso machine while still in Vancouver. The pair flew home and after waiting months for the precious machine to arrive in Wellington they eventually found a possible premises. “The Hob” an old greasy spoon in the down-heel quarter of the Nation’s capital. The landlord said the lease was month to month, they agreed and shook hands - with shaking hands.
Havana Coffee Works Book
“Midnight was an unruly mix of drop-in centre, depot, creche, catholic church confessional, community hall, nightclub and bank”
Havana Coffee Works Book
"Wellington couldn't help but notice ‘the boys’ by this point, and in honour of their fresh and boundary-pushing style, friend and artist - now film director – Josh Frizzell, created Frankly & Stan, a regular cartoon strip that followed and mimicked their antics."
Geoff Marsland, Coffee Baron
“The ambition was to roast coffee that tastes as good as it smells. COFFEEUFEEL is, was and always will be our mantra”
Having little to no money in the first place meant the transformation of the place was daunting. Ten days of frenzied renovation began, they went gang busters with friends and ripped the place apart. They wanted a place where you could wear jeans and not have to worry about having to wear fancy shoes. They wanted to establish a tone and set a style so firmly and unapologetically that no one would dare ‘tut tut’. They also needed a name, Tim wanted Havana Coffee Lounge, it had the echoes of their address on Cuba St. Geoff wanted Midnight Espresso because it said what it was, late night coffee. They compromised and on March 14th 1989, Havana Midnight Espresso opened its doors for the very first time. It soon became known as “Midnight Espresso” and brought something different and bohemian to the Capital when it wasn’t the norm.
Not long after, Geoff and Tim were offered a street-front cafe site in a theatre that was operating as a temporary cafe during Wellington Film Festivals. On learning that the Embassy Theatre had previously been called The Deluxe, Deluxe Cafe was born.
Huge coffee consumption at Midnight Espresso and Deluxe combined with frustration over bean quality and flavour prompted a shift into the roasting market. In 1990, driven by a desire to roast coffee better and cleaner than what was then available, Havana Coffee Works was born.
Rather than buy a traditional drum coffee roaster, which tend to 'over-bake' the beans, the pair engaged the services of ex-art director and inventor Russell Collins to configure New Zealand's first ever fluid-bed hot air roaster that ran on electricity. Beans were soon tumbling on the roof above Midnight Espresso in the first prototype, a bizarre-looking contraption that delivered the goods.
The coffee was marvellous, it had flavour and ooh la la!! Rapidly they got a following of loyal caffeine addicts. What was originally intended as a solution to provide coffee for Midnight and Deluxe progressed into a national business. Before long demand saw Havana on-selling to other cafes and very quickly they had a following from Bluff to Cape Reinga, plus the reputation that became the company slogan – “COFFEEUFEEL”.
Feeling more addicted? Read the whole delectable story! check out the Havana Coffee Works book “COFFEEUFEEL”
By Geoff Marsland and Tom Scott.