While most 10 year olds would be asking for a can of Coke, this sophisticated young man had an acquired taste for plunger coffee. 20 years on Hugo Macdonald has made a career out of a love for coffee. What fascinates Hugo about the industry is not just having the perfect brew but the whole story of it’s origins, the processes and the diversity of taste with each brew.
Hugo studied philosophy and politics at university in Dunedin and while he paid his way with a part time job in a café making coffees he was unaware he’d be making a career out of it.
At 21 years old, like most Kiwi’s, he went on his OE to London where he worked at Nude Coffee Roasters as a barista. It was there that he saw others choosing coffee as not just a part time job, but more of a career path.
“I was interested in the coffee industry because of the whole other aspects to it, more the economical and human impact of coffee.”
Hugo decided to study to be a Quality Grader, a course that values coffee for its worth, a course with a 90% fail rate for first time sitters?! This respected certificate is passed by 18 sensory tests and a written exam.
After this he went on to help set up a successful coffee roastery in London, until he missed his family and decided to move back to NZ. Hugo realised that this was a risky move for his career as there were really very few jobs in New Zealand for a role with his type of qualification and experience. So he decided to create his own luck by contacting growers in South America directly to encourage them to break into the New Zealand market.
He now represents 2 exporters/growers, 1 in Brazil called 3 Brothers Coffee and 1 in Colombia, Cofinet. His clients are friends which helps make representing two companies easier. These companies are very experienced, they source coffees from farmers all over their countries and also from their own farms. They have around 5 people each on the ground helping support farmers to produce premium crops and pay them well above fair trade levels.
This industry is incredibly competitive with coffee being at its lowest price in a long time due to a current excess of coffee beans in the world driving the price down. We must remember the countries that produce coffee are developing countries so they have their fair share of disruptions, from trucking strikes in South America, to a record production of coca (used to make cocaine) being produced in Colombia. Keeping farm land from switching to a product that’s worth a lot more than coffee is actually something very real and dangerous in Colombia.
Colombia produces some of the highest quality product in the world, it’s kind of like the “sexy bad boy” of coffee. Larger amounts come from Brazil and while traditionally known for volume they are starting to gain a reputation for high quality and interesting mircrolots. They are the largest producer of coffee in the world and are the base of most quality espressos, they know how to produce great coffee.
As development manager Hugo has his work cut out for him breaking into a market with an already established and respected supplier of beans, but after a few months, some serious tastings and developing great relationships with some real characters in the industry, Hugo is starting to make leeway in New Zealand.
Hugo joined us at the Workshop earlier this year, he likes how productive he is not working in cafes or from home.
“I like the open casual work space of The Workshop, there are so many people doing different things here, but because it’s such a big area you don’t notice what everyone is doing so I can whip into one of the meeting rooms to roast small amounts of coffee when I need to see clients with samples and it doesn’t feel awkward or weird.”