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Kōkako turns 20: A story of grassroots and gumption

Auckland specialty coffee roasters, Kōkako, is turning 20 this September. The New Zealand-owned and operated business has been through many changes over two decades, from humble beginnings as a coffee cart in Aotea Square, to a roastery in Mount Eden, to a state-of-the-art coffee bar in Commercial Bay.

Their commitment to quality, organics, Fairtrade, and carbon offsetting has remained steadfast, and they remain big proponents for innovation and a design-led approach in the coffee sector.

Founded by Helen Olivier and Christian Lamdin in 2001, Kōkako has always been committed to organic coffee. Becoming certified, however, was something Mike Murphy brought in after purchasing Kōkako in 2007, and the business became Biogro and Fairtrade certified in 2009.

With a healthy concern for taking action to mitigate climate change, the Kōkako team advocates for regenerative organics, not just in coffee but across the agricultural sector. In 2016, Kōkako became one of the first coffee roasters in New Zealand to offset the carbon on every kilogram of coffee they roast. During the same year, Kōkako started producing biennial sustainability reports. This commitment to sustainability comes at a cost, and Kōkako estimates that it adds around 30 percent to their cost of doing business.

The Fairtrade premiums that Kōkako pay through the certification mean farmers are able to create initiatives that improve their community’s day-to-day lives. Farmers and workers make their priorities clear by how they choose to spend their premiums. Equipment to improve coffee production and yields, water supply to their remote villages, new classrooms and resources for their schools, and repairing housing for members of their communities facing extreme poverty, are just some of the things that have been achieved through these premiums.

In the formative years, a consistent supply of specialty grade Fairtrade coffee could be hard to come by. Rather than giving up and moving to conventional coffee, Kōkako persevered and worked closely with Will Valverde of Fairtrade, who has worked alongside coffee farmers in Papua New Guinea to vastly improve the quality of their product.

These days, roasters from all over the country are purchasing beans from Papua New Guinea for their unique flavour profile and exceptional quality.

As well as the many staff that have contributed to Kōkako over the years, some of the Kōkako shareholders have also helped guide and support the business in different ways. Chris Morrison from All Good and Karma Drinks has been instrumental in educating the team on regenerative organics. Chris Stevens and his team at CTRL Space designed the Kōkako flagship store in Commercial Bay, and Johnny Templeman and his team at Design Dairy are behind most of the design and brand work.

“So many exceptional people have shared in the vision to make Kōkako what it is”, says Murphy. “It’s true that if you create a business that has genuine values and a big focus on quality and community, good people want to participate in the journey.

“Our people have helped to shape and refine our direction, pushing us to be a better company. This has created a progressive and innovative culture where working at Kōkako is more than just a job.”

As Kōkako celebrates their 20th birthday, they reflect on the shared values and power of supporting local and building community that have helped them get to where they are today.

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