26 Jul 2021

Expert on coffee

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 2:40 pm on 26 July 2021

New Zealand café owners are struggling because our coffee prices are too cheap, says champion Kiwi barista Sam Low.

"If you rely on [selling coffee] as your business, it just is unsustainable. If you look at the price of a coffee now - $4.50 to $5. Ten years ago, it was around $4. Over the last ten years, wages, rent, power, everything has gone up and coffee prices haven't gone up much."


Photo: Rizky Subagja via Unsplash

The profit margin is so low with coffee that only cafés selling large volumes and food on the side are able to stay afloat, he tells Jesse Mulligan.


Photo: paulmercurio.com

People who say New Zealand makes the best coffee in the world are usually milk-based coffee drinkers talking about the highly concentrated shots of espresso we use to charge up our milky coffees, Sam says.

New Zealand baristas use more coffee per espresso than those in any other country.

"We like our coffees really strong and really syrupy, really dense."

Sam first got curious about coffee as a teenage F&B apprentice at SkyCity, then went on to a junior barista job at Atomic Coffee Roasters.

Working at Atomic, he got the competitive coffee-making bug and later representing New Zealand as both a barista champion and latte art champion.

Sam now works as an independent barista trainer and coffee consultant (and yes, he's the guy who turned his MIQ meals into art).

Sam Low

Sam Low Photo: Supplied

Sam's tips for making great coffee at home

1. Buy beans from a roastery

Get the beans directly from the roastery if you can - or their website - so you know that they're freshly roasted.

2. Grind them as needed

Grinding fresh is the way to go as coffee beans start to absorb oxygen as soon as they're roasted, Sam says.

"Once things start oxidising it will lose all its aromatic compounds and flavour compounds as well. So grinding it fresh before you brew your coffee, you're essentially slowing down its rate of oxidisation."

A hand grinder is a good investment and doesn't have to be the best-quality machine to do a good job, he says.

3. Store them properly

It's best to buy only enough coffee to last you a week, Sam says.

But if you're you are already buying the smallest bag of coffee beans you can find (200 to 250g), you can store them in vacuum-sealed airtight containers.

Coffee beans and pre-ground coffee can also be frozen in vacuum bags or sealed containers.

Never defrost your coffee beans, though - they'll go mushy. Grind and brew the frozen beans.

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