This February our Roaster in Residence is Underground Coffee Roasters based in Christchurch. We’ll be giving a free bag of Underground coffee with every home espresso machine purchase this month. You can also grab a Roaster in Residence coffee subscription, (1 year or 6 month) so you can experience a new coffee from a different roaster every month.

We caught up with their head roaster, Tim Gurr, who cut his teeth roasting in the Wellington scene before departing for a long stint in London where he spent time working as part of the team at Flat White , a cafe that’s become a popular rendezvous spot for Kiwis living abroad in London’s soho district. He was also a part of  helping to crack open the doors of their sister cafe Milkbar.

After spending some time with Kōkako Coffee, he’s returned home to the motherland and is helping to continue to develop the future of Underground Coffee Roasters.



What coffee will we be drinking this month?
This month you will be drinking our house blend, Avant Garde. It’s where it all began for Underground Coffee Roasters, and continues to be poured far and wide by cafes, and coffee lovers around the country.

What are the tasting notes?
Avant Garde is full bodied, balanced, and chewy – think toffee apples with a lingering dark chocolate bitter-sweetness.

What’s the recommended recipe?
21g in the basket. Make sure you restrict the initial flow for about 7 seconds looking for some big syrupy drops packed full of body, and run it to about 27 seconds for a 30-35ml result.

You guys are called Underground because you were quite literally born underground. Tell us about that.
Underground Coffee Roasters was born in a basement garage in the Cashmere Hills of Christchurch in 2003 – this commitment to DIY spirit is in our DNA, and independent innovation has carried us through the past 18 years and still permeates how we do business in 2021. With a small team of passionate coffee people, we try to embody the indie ‘Underground’ spirit – even though we’re supplying cafes the length of NZ, we never lose sight of our humble beginnings.


underground coffee roasters liberation


How would you describe the Christchurch café scene?
Obviously the Christchurch hospitality scene has weathered some serious disruptions over the past decade, but this has made us an even more innovative and resilient bunch. The owners and personalities who are still going strong have shown their ability to work through some pretty major obstacles, and adapt to a rapidly changing landscape. We can’t say it hasn’t been tough, but the last few years have seen some inspiring success stories, and this latest wave of new cafés has shown how vibrant Christchurch is, and will be in the future – we’ve been here through it all, and it’s exciting that Christchurch is getting it’s time to shine again.

Among the cafés that you supply, is there a spot you might describe as a hidden gem, somewhere off the beaten path, but definitely worth the trip?
It’s too hard to choose from such amazing wholesale cafés pouring Underground Coffee Roasters, but one that stands out is Sol & Mar Espresso in Mount Maunganui. Keryn is pouring outstanding espresso with an absolutely dreamy space – for those in the Bay of Plenty, it’s a must hit.

Sol and Mar cafe
Sol & Mar

I was recently out shopping with a mate who is loves a flat white, but is just beginning her home barista journey. While we were perusing bags of beans, she asked me what hot air roasting was and why it’s important. How would you explain this technique to someone new to making espresso at home?
Simply put hot air roasting is a technique where the beans are heated and propelled by hot air to roast the coffee – it doesn’t have the characteristics of other roasting techniques where the beans are tumbling and touching metal, or interacting with smoke. We find it creates a consistently clean and balanced roast which really highlights the flavours of the coffee beans which in turn translates to a cleaner cup. Consistency in coffee is paramount to us and our customers, it’s so important to get right!


What does it do to the flavour of the coffee when a bean gets scorched?
It’s like when you burn anything; that smoky, bitter unpleasantness is going to come through and taint the flavour. Coffee should be a finely balanced cup full of flavour, body and sweetness. If you throw some scorched beans into the mix, it’s most likely not going to deliver the results you want or a complex flavour profile.


hot air roasting coffee


Does hot air roasting give you more control over the flavour of the coffee?
Having used all types of roasters I’d say hot air roasting certainly makes it easier. We roast on a modified Sivetz hot air roaster with a PID system we helped design. The results ended up being better than we had hoped – the control we have over the roast is excellent which in turn translates to the flavour profile of our coffee. We have three house blends, and each one has its own distinctive flavour, a lot of which has to do with hot air roasting and the systems we have created to aide and control the end result.


What should a home barista know about storing their coffee beans?
Fresh is best – coffee isn’t a shelf stable product, so buy less more often to get the best result. You wouldn’t want to use old produce in your dinner, so don’t use old beans for your morning brew – we recommend using our beans within 2 weeks of the roast date handily stamped on the back of your bag.

Hot Tip: Dig into your Mum’s pantry and pull out that one year old bag of supermarket plunger grind, and replace it with some fresh roasted coffee – she’ll thank you for it.



Do you have any tips for someone making espresso at home?
Great espresso comes from repetition. Put in your 10,000 hours and don’t be afraid to make some mistakes along the way – it’s how every great barista learnt to pour that perfect cup you enjoy. Chat to your local roaster, watch some quality tutorial videos, and take some notes about your extraction when you nail it to make sure your coffee making skills are repeatable.


What are some your coffee rituals?
For us, coffee is something that is built for sharing and socialising. Some of our favourite times are spent bringing our team together around a perfectly poured Chemex to sample a new single origin, or watching big groups of happy people brought together around a cafe table – our newest obsession here at HQ is a shot of espresso poured over tonic water and ice in the sun after work.


I know you guys supply lots of cafes. What can you do to help out a small office that wants to provide café quality coffee for their staff?
Don’t settle for average coffee at work – like all of our partnerships, we like to build bespoke arrangements for people wanting to pour our coffee, be that in a cafe or in an office. We have a tonne of resources at our fingertips; equipment, training, great coffee, simple online ordering – if you are looking to level up, touch base to let us build a custom package for you.



2020 was a crazy year for a lot of us, what are your predictions for what 2021 has in store for you guys?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – customer service is everything for us, so it’s about continuity, gathering industry learnings to share freely, and supporting our wholesale partners through the challenges to come. We know that the hard times aren’t over yet, and so we want to be the calm spot in the sea to help our cafes not only survive, but thrive.