The bright yellow ‘Squadron Coffee’ van near the Hobsonville Point Information Centre is a cheerful sight in the mornings for locals. Ferry commuters and Catalina Bay office workers get their caffeine fix here every morning, with many of those who work from home popping out later for a coffee and a chat, too. But owner Michael Rockell is no ordinary barista. With 15 years in the industry, Michael’s twin passions are coffee – and his community.
Michael trained under a NZ barista champion at Gravity Coffee in Wellington, arguably Aotearoa’s coffee headquarters. He moved to Auckland and honed his craft at Planet Espresso while fuelling thousands of health workers at Greenlane and Grafton hospitals. “It really turned me into who I am today as a barista,” admits Michael. “When you have such a massive customer base, you have to become very good at what you do to survive!” He met his future wife Amanda here – she’s an anaesthetic technician.
Michael has lived in Hobsonville Point for six years now with Amanda and their two children, and to say he’s happy about that seems to be an understatement. “I’m constantly amazed by what an awesome place this is,” he enthuses endearingly. “My customers are just the best; I know quite a bit about them now. Sometimes I’m even able to connect them up when I know they have similar interests, which is very cool.” It’s certainly a perk to be able to live and work in the same area, since Michael opens Squadron at 7am seven mornings a week for his early commuters.
Michael has competed in barista competitions at a national level which has ensured very high standards when it comes to the goods. “I buy my product from BE Specialty Coffee Roasters in Birkenhead because I’ve known the guys that run it for years and I reckon they’re one of the best in New Zealand. They direct-source from growers around the world – Kenya, Guatemala, Colombia and others – who are well paid for their top-quality beans. Speciality coffee is actually a specific grading – it means it’s in the top ten percent of coffee in the world.”
But there’s usually more than one ingredient in the perfect flat white, and Michael has clear ideas on the milk he uses, too. Plant milks can be challenging when aiming for a good texture; he has narrowed it down to three but steers away from almond milk because of environmental concerns. “I use oat, soy and coconut milks – the special barista versions because they give a better foam.” Michael needs that to create his free-poured latte art – he’s won awards in this field and can create some amazing pictures in your crema!
Excellent coffee is not the only bond Michael shares with his community however. His family owns two very cute dachshunds, Juno and Zelda. After noticing quite a number of the low-slung pooches around, Michael started the Hobsonville Point Dachshund Society and was amazed to discover about twenty dachshund families living in the area! He laughs: “It’s gotta be another reason to love the Point!”
Coffee is Michael’s life, but as he says, “I’ve done the full circle – from being a pretentious professional barista to knowing now that the most important thing is connecting with my customers.” Pop in for a morning chat with Michael at the Squadron Coffee van soon – you’ll find the perfect blend of excellent coffee and community connection.