Al Borrie

This month our La Marzocco Roaster in Residence is Firsthand Coffee and we’re featuring their Black Bridge Espresso. We caught up with owner and founder, Al Borrie, to find out more about their coffee.

Originally from Hawkes Bay, Al accidentally got into the coffee scene by hanging out at a friend’s cafe in Auckland. After heading back home to HawkesBay, he decided to set up his own shop. Al described Hawke’s Bay as an amazing place to explore the outdoors and a great environment for families.

Al, tell us about the Black Bridge Espresso we’ll be drinking this month
Its our original cafe espresso blend that has been perfected of 10 years of daily cafe use.  It’s actually a medium roast with great flavour and consistency.  Black Bridge is an iconic Hawke’s Bay bridge next to where we live and starting roasting from.

What are the tasting notes?
It’s a pleasant mix of sweet toffee, grapefruit acidity and a ripe melon finish.  Everything is subjective though.

What is the recommended espresso recipe?
In our cafe settings we all use a La Marzocco Linea PB with a dose of 19g.  Output ranges from 36-42g depending on what water is used.  A 2:1 ratio works well.

Do you prefer single origins or blends?
From day one, single origin coffees have always been a focus for us and in our roasting style.  Our two different espresso blends are very simple in composition with only two different origins in each.  Roasted as medium roast, they still highlight their own uniqueness and don’t get lost under a roast heavy profile.  We always try to have at least three to four unique single origin coffees available on offer.  We use and sell these daily in all our cafes as a showcase of what different origins can taste like.

How does roasting light affect the flavour of the coffee?
It makes coffee more interesting.  Roasting is about highlighting the coffee and all the work that has gone into growing, picking and processing.  I think it’s a shame that quality coffee still gets ruined by the roasting process.

What do you think is the most important thing to remember when you’re making coffee at home?
Quality water and scales are two key components to excellent coffee at home.  Whether it’s espresso or manual brewing, preparing coffee is all about ratios and a set of accurate scales makes consistency obtainable.  Water goes without saying, good coffee can be ruined with poor water.

Firsthand is a little over 10 years old now. How did it all start?
I first started roasting in 2010 just to see what it was like and if the coffee was actually useable.  After opening my first shop in 2011, people seemed to like what I was doing and things have just grown from there.  Firsthand has always been about quality and flavour and not just following what was happening at that time.  The name Firsthand is from the notion of knowing exactly where your coffee comes from, whether it’s the barista in a cafe making a flat white or a farmer in Costa Rica growing coffee.  The knowledge of the whole process needs to be transparent and not passed on through invisible transfers.

What is something that differentiates Firsthand Coffee from other roasters out there?
Our roast style has always been different and the quality of our coffee has fuelled our growth, not likes.

You’re the founder of  several Firsthand Coffee projects beyond the Roastery café in Havelock North including  Box, Crazy Good, Cupple,  and Workroom. What has that been like? 

Box Espresso was our first shop in 2011, housed in a repurposed shipping container.  Located on the side of State Highway 2 in the town of Clive, people thought we were crazy and a little stupid.  Almost ten years later it is still going as strong as ever.

Box Firsthand Espresso

Crazy Good came in 2014 and was one of the regions first specialty coffee shops in a tiny shop in Ahuriri, Napier.  Simple and clean with minimal food, it is focused on quality coffee and service. No added fuss, just a small space with consistently great coffee, quality handmade pastries and bread, knowledgable staff and an amazing local atmosphere.

Cupple was opened on east side of Hastings in 2017.  Sharing a building with YaBon, French patisserie bakers, we set out to push the specialty coffee concept even further.  It has a long sleek black bar and minimalistic fit out all housed in a concrete character building. Large glass walls allow you to view the baking process in action, seeing the handmade nature of the pastries and bread you are eating.  It follows our concept of understanding where your food comes from and who makes it.

In 2019 we opened our new coffee roastery and adjoining cafe, Workroom in Havelock North.  This had been in the plans for many years, we’ve been waiting to find the right spot for what we wanted to showcase.   Our previous roasting space was well and truely bursting at the seams and the poor roaster was being maxed out most weeks.  Our plan for a purpose built roasting space was underway and is now a place where people can come and work and seeing work getting done, hence the name Workroom.  Cafe spaces have become more that just a place for coffee and we wanted somewhere where people could come and work, have meetings, catch up with friends or just sit and ponder.

What’s your morning coffee ritual like?
Morning coffee for me is usually at the roastery, a long black or filter coffee to start things off.  It often moves into a cupping session and then a visit to the other shops later in the day.  Too much coffee some days.

What does coffee community mean to you?
I find the professional coffee community can be a bit divided at times, everyone trying to be the greatest new thing.  For us as a company, community is more about the people we interact with everyday.  We try to have all our staff knowledgable on all aspects of the coffee process, from roasting and cupping through to espresso preparation and customer service.  The more the staff are passionate about coffee, the better coffee experience the customer gets.  It’s a balance between engaging customers with useful knowledge and not alienating them with useless cliche coffee facts.