Foreign bodies: Brixton blender

By Arthur Hawkes
Photography by Sarah Burton

Featured in Capital #81.
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Foreign bodies is a 4 part series about locals living overseas. To read the next one, click here.

We spoke to a few Wellingtonians who’ve established themselves overseas, asking about the depths and differences of their new locales – and whether they still reminisce about broken brollies and the town belt.

Nick Mabey, 35, co-founded roastery and coffee specialists Assembly Coffee in London. He got into coffee in Wellington, at a time and place he describes as the best in the world for coffee culture. He lives in Surrey, just outside of London, but the suburb of Brixton was where Nick originally lived and grew his business. Before directing at Assembly and sourcing beans and blends for Volcano Coffee Works, Nick was a drummer with his band Mooga Fooga.

Tell us about Brixton
Brixton is famous for its diverse and rich culture as a centre for the Caribbean community. This is still palpable everywhere you go despite the gentrification. Brixton has changed a lot since we set up here, and has become more and more a focus point for the young creative industry, hospitality, and entrepreneurship.

Is London more affordable than Wellington?
London is about as expensive a place to live as you could imagine.

What are some of the biggest differences?
What I think strikes me time and again is the real palpable difference in the pace and ease of life in New Zealand relative to anywhere else I’ve lived. This is probably a huge cliché and I don’t want to suggest that living in New Zealand you are immune to stress and economic realities. However it’s clear to me that most of the time, when you are in New Zealand, it provides a perpetual bubble, and most people adopt the mentality that results from that, whether consciously or not.

What’s your connection with Wellington?
It’s where I lived and studied, completing my Bachelor’s at the New Zealand School of Music; it’s also where my career in coffee formed in its infancy. I worked at L’affare, probably then the best café in Wellington, under the direction of Jeff and Bridget Kennedy. My music career flourished in Wellington. It was certainly an exciting time to be a musician in New Zealand around 2005–2009, when there was a distinct transition from Kiwi music playing a novel role internationally to establishing itself with a real identity.

What are some of the highlights of your career?
I spent my twenties avoiding all responsibilities and playing music which is exactly what I set out to do. From a coffee career perspective I’m very proud of what I have created with my partners at Assembly, and have been successful in global coffee competitions (UK roasting champion, Coffee Masters champion). Assembly is known in the industry as one of the best coffee roasteries in the world and I am immensely proud of that.

What skills did you need to survive in London?
I’m most proud of my ability to adapt and succeed in a really unforgiving marketplace. London can be really taxing and you need a purpose to survive here. And if you create one it can be an amazing opportunity.

Is there a memento from home that you have with you?
I have some gifts from my family from years ago that I’ve carried with me ever since I left Wellington. A St Christopher medallion from my mother, and pounamu of the Ngāi Tūhoe iwi from my two wonderful sisters.

Have you taken on any characteristics of
British culture?

I distinctly remember having to curb my directness with people when I moved here, less in a personal setting, but very much so in a professional one. One thing that you cannot escape about British people in general is that they are very reserved in their opinions.


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