Customs is our flagship cafe located just off Wellington's iconic Cuba St, where we've been proudly serving the best coffee in town since 2010. To accompany your favourite drink are a range of seasonal and not-seasonal toppings served on toasted sourdough.
Before he sets off on his next venture overseas, Tim Norriss, ex-Coffee Supreme employee and co-owner of Customs, has shared some words on how Customs came to be the informal toast restaurant it is today.
The New Zealand specialty coffee scene was just developing when Customs opened in 2010 and immediately diverged from the espresso-centric norm. Our small and relatively unheard-of espresso machine (a two-group Slayer, number seven off the production line) was tucked away down the back of the shop to make way for a large manual brewing bar that commanded the majority of the 45m2 floor plan. There was no takeaway coffee, no kitchen and very limited food options. The cafe was very beautiful and immediately achieved what we were aiming for: a space in which we could proudly showcase the diverse range of coffees we were importing, roasted specifically for our customers and with a particular focus on filter coffee.
The food offering slowly evolved to where it is now. We had dabbled with various suppliers — always Coffee Supreme customers who were much better at the food side of things than we were. Long-time visitors to Customs will fondly remember the chicken quesadillas and cherry pie, and it wasn't long until this was no longer financially viable that we started exploring something that we could achieve in-house.
It took an impromptu coffee with Kelda Haines of Nikau Cafe & Rita fame to point us in the right direction. After politely declining to just 'do it all for us', she pointed us in the direction of the evolving artisan toast scene in the US, and we were off. Our research took us to Trouble Coffee (online at least) where they had quickly found fame by serving thick-cut, pillowy slices of cinnamon sugar toast, young fresh coconuts and good quality espresso. More digging showcased The Mill San Fran and their half-metre service loaves, commercial Dualit toasters and bespoke butter-smearing paddles. By the time "US$4 toast" was synonymous with everything wrong with San Francisco, our toast menu had been in operation for a year or so.
We knew it had to do a few things to make it work — thick slices of the best bread we could find; simple toppings that were better than you would have lying about at home, and it had to be hot and fast. It also needed to take up zero space — the galley at Customs has about one metre to work in. We also got lucky that at the time we were sampling bread, Catherine Adams was starting Wellington Sourdough out of a restaurant kitchen. She has provided us with perfect loaves ever since.
Back then, toppings were simpler — organic cream cheese with chives, house-made chocolate hazelnut spread. Now, egg salad, heirloom tomatoes and avocados dominate the menu, but whatever we do, we try to make it interesting, healthy (ish) and seasonal. Fruit toast and salty butter will always remain a favourite, but the best deal is the off-menu cinnamon sugar toast (make it a combo for $8), and no, the grilled cheese is not coming back.
Words: Tim Norriss
Photography: Hamish Johns
You'll find Customs at 39 Ghuznee St, Te Aro, Wellington
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