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Coffee has taken Bink Bowler from barista to managing director and back again, as he steps away from management to once again do what he loves – roasting and serving ‘guests’ the best coffee he can at his New Regent Street baby, Belle, in central Christchurch.
How did you get started in the coffee industry? I was 15 years old. A friend had an espresso coffee. I had a sip and the flavour blew me away so I went to a café and watched the barista and immediately was captivated by the artform of coffee. It was one of those moments I will never forget. I understood the weight of café culture immediately and knew this was going to be my life.
Tell us about arriving in Christchurch and setting up Black & White Coffee Cartel? I came to Christchurch to reset my life – I had a great time in my late teen years and early 20s but at 24 I crashed after a few rough years. I am a recovered alcoholic, I’ve been sober five years and Christchurch was my reset – it is a special place to me, it has provided me with a firm base. When getting sober I had to get back to work – we all have to eat. I saw a CBD full of plots of land being cleared and it was a no-brainer, this was a city of opportunity – each plot of land would house office blocks full of people who need coffee. But aside from that, I knew Christchurch had lost its café culture almost entirely and I thought how special it would be to invest here and with others give the people of Christchurch their café culture back.
Now you are back running your own café – what prompted that move? Running the B&W group as the managing director was rewarding but I was getting further away from what I love so much – cafés. When you advance up the ladder in your field, you lose touch as you get further away from the grassroots. So I negotiated a way out of that job and now I sit here content that I have what I want and need – I am so excited to be back at grassroots level, roasting coffee and being with my guests.
Do you consider yourself an expert coffee cupper? I’m out of practice from being off the tools for a few years, but yes I am good around the cup – I am a coffee roaster by trade. I was placed second in the 2012 NZ Cup Tasters Championship. I was right into it.
Any rules of coffee we should know about? Never feel guilty for ordering a coffee you love. There is a lot of bullshit in coffee these days from a barista’s point of view; the idea of hospitality has been lost in many ‘on trend’ cafes. Coffee is more than a drink, it’s a culture. If you like a single-shot vanilla latte – good for you, you are a part of café culture, you are a guest! If you drink the finest short black – good for you, just like Mr/Ms single-shot latte, you are a guest. Be proud of what you drink because that is what you like.
Coffee has taken you all over the world – what have been some highlights? It has given me a life beyond my wildest dreams – there are too many to note. I live alone and wake up every day and have my morning coffee and look out to my deck in peace with a heart full of gratitude for my life. So many great memories in the past – and many being made. I am completely optimistic; I have good reason to be, I guess.