Cool coffee

After the eureka moment that inspired him to create a coffee liqueur, Arjun Haszard needed many...
After the eureka moment that inspired him to create a coffee liqueur, Arjun Haszard needed many hours of experimentation to fine-tune his ingredients and methods.
"Part of the challenge is not getting everything from the coffee. You want to leave a lot of it...
"Part of the challenge is not getting everything from the coffee. You want to leave a lot of it out. You can overextract as well as underextract."
Arjun Haszard at work in his kitchen in Glasgow St, Dunedin.
Arjun Haszard at work in his kitchen in Glasgow St, Dunedin.

Liqueurs, cocktails, cold brews; there are many unusual ways of drinking coffee. Charmian Smith talks to a Dunedin entrepreneur who is exploring interesting ways of using coffee.

One day, when he was visiting a barista friend who worked at Circa Theatre in Wellington, Arjun Haszard had a eureka moment.

People were queuing for coffee at interval and the barista had to work extremely hard, he says.

''It hit me like a freight train that here were people drinking coffee at night. They are sophisticated, worldly, social, clever. They probably liked art and culture and that sort of thing and they are drinking coffee at night.

"So it occurred to me that they might like the sophistication and romance of a liqueur with freshly roasted coffee coming through.''

Haszard, who grew up in Christchurch with an Indian mother and New Zealand father, had been a swimming coach and worked for Swimming New Zealand in Wellington.

However, his girlfriend wanted to move to Dunedin for better house prices.

It was a tough decision but he came. However, he couldn't find work so started studying management, intending to broaden his horizons and get a job, he says.

On the way from Wellington, he had called in to see his mother in Christchurch and found her making feijoa liqueur.

She gave him a bottle and told him to make his own.

He didn't think anything of it at the time, but one day when he was bored he made a basic coffee liqueur with instant coffee.

After the eureka moment in Wellington, he wondered if he could turn his terrible coffee liqueur into something worth drinking.

''I didn't realise how hard that would be, but being a student with few other job prospects, I had enough time on my hands and motivation to do it. That took a year and a-half.''

Coffee is the most complex and volatile food in the world and there are so many variables, he explains.

''You have the species, the origin of the beans, the method of processing, the roasting and the extraction.

''Each of these great big things will change the flavour of the coffee, so for me, just starting out, that was incredibly difficult to decipher. It was like, what does the end flavour taste like, but how can you imagine the end flavour without even trying it?

''In the end, I eventually got so passionate and interested in it that I managed to figure out things one thing at a time.''

A food science student told him that to experiment, you had to keep everything else the same and change only one thing at a time.

So he took the extraction variables, the temperature of the water, ratio of coffee to water, the grind size, turbulence (the mixing action of the coffee and water) and the temperature and figured out what effect each one had.

''From there, I figured out it was the high temperature that was causing the faulty flavour in my coffee. When it was cold, it was really sour and bitter. It's because a high temperature will absorb lots of flavoursome compounds from the coffee but they also oxidise readily.''

He found a method of brewing coffee with cold water and coarsely ground beans that requires 18 hours' steeping and a special method of filtration.

''Part of the challenge is not getting everything from the coffee. You want to leave a lot of it out. You can overextract as well as underextract.''

Haszard blends heavily roasted fair trade organic Colombian, Sumatran and Papua New Guinea beans.

It's a gutsy blend and not one that you would use for espresso, he notes.

After the complicated job of figuring out how to get the coffee right, the rest of the recipe came together gradually.

He uses cinnamon for flavour and viscosity, as he uses less sugar than mainstream coffee liqueurs.

Because he uses no additives such as colour or glycerol, the colour of his liqueur is brown and cloudy.

Shortly after he'd launched his liqueur, he met Mario Fernandez, a coffee consultant from Mexico who was completing a PhD in coffee flavour at the University of Otago.

''Talking to him helped me really understand the coffee and do further research and reach another level of science that I was unable to attain before. He's one of the top people in the world so it was really beneficial to have him in the same city.''

• As a businessman starting out, it took him a long time to figure out the red tape around things such as hygiene bylaws and excise tax and customs control areas.

Nevertheless, he is proud of having managed without any outside help, not even a bank loan.

''It's been three years since I started and now I'm supporting myself from the business, but only in the last six months. It's so much more expensive than I'd ever have imagined at the start.''

He is now selling about 100 litres of coffee liqueur a week to bars and bottle stores in the main centres and also sells his products personally at the Otago Farmers Market in Dunedin.

Following his Quick Brown Fox coffee liqueur, he made a decaffeinated version called Lazy Dog that will be a seasonal winter special, and he has recently developed Harpoon, a cold brew concentrate that has several uses.

He noticed that many bartenders were too busy to make fresh espresso for coffee cocktails, so he developed the cold brew concentrate, which was quick and consistent for the bartender but still has the punch of espresso, he says.

When he found his flatmate using it to make coffee by just adding hot water, he realised it had broader appeal.

''I've been looking at cold brew and keeping an eye on the States, where it's incredibly popular. Cold brew is coffee that has been brewed cold so you can drink it cold,'' he explains.

''If you let a hot coffee go cold, over time it tastes really metallic and bitter. You can brew that coffee at double strength and pour it over ice but it still tastes quite strong.

"What you want is a delicate, light flavour, then it tastes really refreshing. A cold brew gives you that. They've been doing it in Asia for a long time.''

Cold brew is becoming increasingly popular along with the specialty coffee movement, in which coffees of different origins are served unblended, using different brewing methods, and cold brew is just another one of them.

Haszard loves cold brews on a hot day when you want a refreshing drink with a complex flavour.

Harpoon concentrate is also good for making tiramisu and other coffee-flavoured dishes, and even as a marinade for ham, he says.

Besides a professional interest, Haszard has a personal passion for coffee and buys specialty coffees online from around the country.

Normally, he brews them with a Swissgold, a metal filter, or, for lighter roasts, he uses a plunger or Chemex.

But the No 1 tip he'd give any coffee drinker is to get a grinder and grind your beans just before brewing, so they don't oxidise.

Dunedin has been slow to join the specialty coffee movement, which is found everywhere in places such as Wellington, he says.

''It's just because we are a small town. If you are in a cafe, you either do a flat white with a dark roasted coffee and people say yes this is a good coffee, or you want to dabble in something really interesting like a fruity long black coffee.

"It's like that's such a better coffee, but it takes so much time and effort to re-educate.''


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