Featured Image for New Zealand’s coolest cafe: C1 Espresso, Christchurch

New Zealand’s coolest cafe: C1 Espresso, Christchurch

As one of a handful of quality, boutique coffee shops that have sprung up in the Christchurch CBD, C1 Espresso’s quirky decor, chilled vibe and sustainable attitude provide a unique flavour that is sought after in coffee capitals across the world.

It was a reputation that C1 had steadily built up over the years since opening in 1996 in its intimate venue on the corner of Tuam and High streets, but in 2011 that would come crashing down following the earthquake that decimated the city centre, eventually being demolished like many buildings in the city’s ‘red zone’.

Less than two years later it re-opened in a former 1930s post office across the road from the old site and while the intimate venue is now much larger, C1 has lost none of its character. Everything has been recycled, from large, classic wooden tables sourced from demolished buildings to the futuristic domed lights – from the former Great Hall of the Arts Centre – that hang from its high ceilings.

A Futurama-esque rubber vacuum tube snakes high overhead shooting food orders from the front counter – clad with no less than 14,000 Lego blocks – to the kitchen. Out of sight in the post office’s old vault is a coffee roastery which sends reticulated heat through the building in winter, and a generator and back-up water tanks are also on site. Japanese comic art hangs from the walls, and pinball machines are nestled in the corner.

An original Singer sewing machine acts as a water filter. Penguin book-filled bookcase separates the main area from water-efficient bathrooms. The second floor of the building temporarily houses Christchurch Art Gallery, while on the rooftop a vineyard, organic garden and beehives are located.

It can only be described as an eclectic mix of art, design and culture, yet it works. The result is a space that both locals and visitors love coming to, regardless of the hour. Come here on mornings and you’ll find groups of professionals, such as a team of architects working on the Wikihouses project use the long tables as informal meeting spaces, while on the weekends C1 is bustling as people flock to enjoy the new CBD.

Given the short space of time in which C1 opened following the earthquake, the meticulous attention to detail throughout the venue is astonishing. It is something that owner Sam Crofskey, who with his wife designed and oversaw the entire refit, says is no accident.

‘We want people’s experience here to be memorable, because as with everything in this area everyone got the opportunity to start something new, and people have to go out of their way to get here’, he said.

‘One of the most important things for us to realise in this process was the time involved – at the time I was frustrated because things took so long, but good things take a long time’.

I caught Crofskey as he was preparing to head to Samoa, where he was off to meet with families who farm organic coffee and fruit that C1 then import, a relationship that he initiated back in 2009. But one example of Crofskey’s sustainable, innovative approach, which he says he important not only for C1, but for Christchurch as a whole.

‘If you’d have tried these things five, ten years ago people would have looked at you like you’re some sort of hippy’, he said.

‘The idea of free entity seemed like a burden a few years ago, but after the earthquake we lost access to water, electricity, and communications.

‘We realised some of these things should be free and abundant’.