This April we caught up with our mate, Charlie Self,  at Little Drum Coffee, a small batch roaster in the Mount. Charlie has been roasting coffee for years and been on the coffee competition scene since around 2008. He was the Huhtamaki NZ Cup Tasters Champion for 2014,  he’s and experienced sensory judge and was even one of the judges for the recent New Zealand Barista Championship. With all that under his belt we thought we’d dig even deeper into the characteristics and flavours of the single origin coffee featured this month.

You guys recently moved down to the down the road to a new roastery on MacDonald Street. What’s the new place like?

Yeah we did, it’s much roomier! We’ve created a custom fit-out that is quintessentially Little Drum – fresh, inviting and focused on building community around coffee. When you walk through the door you’ll be greeted with our espresso bar – we’ve always made coffee for customers on site but now we have a dedicated space for you to come and enjoy a brew. True to form you’ll find lots of plants, seating, likely some beats playing and our staff getting shit done. At the back you’ll see our little drum roaster – small batch premium roasts are still our jam and that won’t change. We’ve got big plans for community coffee events within the space so we’ve set things up to lend itself to this purpose.


What coffee will we be drinking this April?

That’s easy, our Arsosala Wash Station from Ethiopia. This Bourbon varietal is naturally processed, the beans are dried on raised beds for 8-20 days depending on sunlight. We’ve roasted them to bring out flavours of mixed berry jam balanced by Meyer lemon and floral earl grey with a lingering milk chocolate finish.


What’s the recommended recipe for this coffee?

Start with the ubiquitous 19g in 27g out, but play around see what works for you.


What region of Ethiopia is this single origin coffee from?

It’s from the Guji zone, Oromia region known for its berry and milk chocolate flavours.


What should we expect in the flavour profile of an Ethiopian coffee? How is it different from other regions?

No two Ethiopian coffees are the same but they should all showcase traits of specialty coffee which tend to have pronounced brightness of acidity with bold sweet notes and balanced bitterness as well as clarity of flavours.


What advice do you have for someone just starting to branch out from their typical reliable morning coffee beans in search of something new and different?

Go and visit your local roaster! If they’re worth their salt they’ll figure out what flavours might appeal to you and then sort you out with a single origin to get you started, along with any relevant brewing advice. You can develop your palette and knowledge from there – one single origin at a time. The most important thing to remember is that it’s all about taste, and that is completely individual so you can’t really get it wrong, just trust your instinct… and your tastebuds.


What’s behind your decision to keep it local and only supply to wholesale coffee to cafes in the Bay of Plenty?

Keeping it local allows us to be fully focused on three things: quality and exploration in roasting premium beans in small batches – that’s where the magic and passion lies,  proximity to our cafe’s so we can be truly responsive, available and supply them in person year round, building local education and community around coffee. Of course we do sell retail from our website and welcome walk-ins to the roastery any time, it’s a treasure trove of specialty coffee and all the associated paraphernalia you might dream of.


What do you think is the biggest benefit of being able to talk directly to the people who roast your coffee?

Nothing is lost in translation, and there’s always a chance to learn something new. As you get to know your roaster, your roaster can build an idea of your personal palette and make recommendations to suit… you’ll also get the inside scoop when really exciting stuff comes in like peaberry beans.


For the cafe’s we supply; a direct in-person line of communication means we can customise the roast profile to the needs of the cafe’s clientele, ensure supply is not disrupted – even in the busy seasons, and we can provide easy access to hands-on education for staff.



You guys change your single origin weekly? How do you choose what comes next?

Yeah, we tend to go with the seasons, and of course we have to work within what we can get our hands on, this all helps to inform the flavours and origins we choose. We’re constantly working with a variety of green beans and test roasting to bring out interesting flavour profiles, and when we hit on something that really sings we’ll share it with everyone. It’s especially exciting when something off the wall comes available like extended ferments from Colombia. You’ll find that stuff in our Left Field Series.


What’s one of the most adventurous coffees you’ve ever roasted?

Hard to say – a lot of experimental processing is out there these days like extended ferments, carbonic macerations and crazy stuff like that. It leaves you feeling like a kid in a candy shop. Lately we’ve had some rum barrel aged coffee, it truly tastes like rum + raisin which tends to put people firmly on one side of the fence or the other, like marmite does. When your palette is being opened up to flavour possibilities like that it’s great.


Coffee varieties work just like wine varietals and can vary in price. How can you help home baristas navigate and understand the value of different coffee beans?

When navigating the varietals of coffee first figure out if you’re into the base notes (chocolate, caramel, malt) or if your tastebuds are leading you down the rabbit hole of bright singles. It’s like deciding if you prefer red wine to white. Then go and see your local roaster. When it comes to value, it’s a simple fact: premium products should cost more. Not just because the quality is a cut above but because of the level of care and passion that goes into producing them.


Sustainable beans often carry a higher price because of ethical requirements both for the environment and the well-being of coffee producers. Does Little Drum prioritise this when choosing beans to roast?

Absolutely, we think most people when asked explicitly would agree you don’t want to drink a coffee that’s tainted because it’s been produced in unfair working conditions and for stupidly low wages. For us, it’s not out of mind… it’s top of mind. We can prioritise getting fairly traded and ethically sourced beans by looking out for certification – this verifies the claims of the producer. We think of it as the true price of coffee rather than a higher price.


You’ve been in the coffee competition scene for quite some time, including acting a as sensory judge. What tips do you have for a novice home barista interested in learning more about flavour profiles and tasting different coffees?

Tasting coffee shouldn’t be treated any differently from anything else you put in your mouth. If you’re a culinary aware human then trust your palette to tell you what you’re tasting. Find a picture of a coffee flavour wheel – a quick google search will turn up multiple options – this will give an idea of what’s to be found in your cup flavour-wise. Then stop by your local roaster and see what they have available, go regularly and buy lots of different coffees – especially ask for the weird ones. You’ll begin to hone your ability to detect differences, find preferences and appreciate speciality single origins. When you’re there, hit them up for their tasting evenings; all good roasters will be doing flights to bring the coffee community together in your hood.


What’s your favourite coffee that you’ve ever tasted?

I try not to have favourites – high end coffee always amazes and delights. The really good stuff should slap you in the face with how obvious the flavour is, the cup clarity will leave you saying ‘Wow! That tastes of…’ and that never gets old. It’s kind of like asking an artist what their favourite colour is – they like to paint with all the colours – we like to drink, and appreciate, all specialty coffee.


What advice do you have for someone brewing espresso coffee at home?

Experiment. Playing with the brew ratio is the easiest place to start. Check your equipment e.g. how’s your grinder, is it sharp? When were the burrs last changed? Make sure you know how to use your specific machine, understand it’s quirks and how to work with them. Keep in mind different coffees need different ratios, no two are the same so figure out what works for you, for the coffee, the water and the machine. And remember to back yourself – if you like it, don’t let anyone tell you it’s bad, we all look for different flavours in a cup.