New Zealanders (quite justifiably) can be proud of a number of inventions and ‘firsts’. From electric fences to eggbeaters, bungy jumping to burglar proof windows, there’s no denying this is a dynamic little nation that just loves thinking outside the square. Some say a Kiwi came up with the idea of the referees whistle- a useful item in the ongoing debate over who should take credit for Russell Crowe, the pavlova, the lamington and the service station meat pie (actually, they can have that one don’t you think?). And the Flat White coffee.
Many Kiwi’s claim this ubiquitous beverage was their brain-child, and that it was formulated by coffee guru Derek Townsend at his iconic, boho cofee hangout DKD in Auckland sometime in the mid 1980s’. Back then, the air under the long white cloud was thick with the aromas of burnt Cona coffee – not to mention the methane discharge from all those millions of sheep. In the intervening years much has changed; the New Zealand coffee scene has metamorphosed out of seemingly no where to win recognition as one of the most sophisticated in the world. There are in excess of 140 roasting businesses throughout the country, a number the local hospitality magazine Grill claims as “the highest number of any country on earth” (per head of population) Wellington is said to have more cafes per capita than Manhattan. When asked why this phenomenon of great coffee has sprung up inNew Zealand, industry observers agree it comes down to what Michael Allpress, of Allpress Espresso, calls the “completely blank slate” that existed in coffee knowledge and culture. “There were no right or wrong ways to do things” claims Al Keating of Coffee Supreme, who reckons that, in the absence of coffee-making rules and traditions, Kiwis evolved their own ways of delivering a perfect cup of coffee.
Standards are universally high and, while it’s not impossible to get a bad coffee inNew Zealand, the chances of drinking a memorable one are far greater than in most places…..even Europe. And it’s not just the coffee that’s stand-out either. The very best cafes are worth a visit for excellent home baking and character-filled interior design as much for their beverage list. While the true believers say the country’s most vibrant coffee scene is in the capital,Aucklandis not exactly short on cafe options either. The following is a guide to some of the best cafes in the City of Sails
374 Karangahape Road,Newton. +64 9 3070076
Renee and Damaris Coutler are legends of the ‘K’ (Karangahape) Road strip, bringing sunny dispositions and a stylish approach to hospitality to an area that can be said to run a little short on both. Here you sit, diner-style, at a long bar and nibble pasties, wickedly rich chocolate cake or sublime home-made meaty pies and sip excellent espresso (they also do bottomless cups of filter, a nice retro touch). The vibe is chatty and warm and a winner with the locals.
24a Spring Street, Freeman’s Bay. Tel +64 9 3788977 www.queenieslunchroom.co.nz
Owner Allana Owen has bags of style and she’s applied these to good effect in not just the fit-out of Queenies but in the food and coffee too. If you’re not a Kiwi you might miss loads of off-beat references to retro Kiwiana in the award-winning interior (Pania of the Reef in the paint-by-numbers wall mural for example) but never mind. It’s adorable and fun and wholly original whatever your cultural roots. The beans of choice here are from roastery Supreme and they’re ground and brewed expertly- perfect for washing down a serve of pikelets with lemon curd and creme fraiche, pear and almond puff pastry tart or a raspberry and white chocolate brownie.
Little and Friday
43 Eversleigh Road,Belmont. Tel +64 9 4898527
Owner Kim Evans says her cafes’ name comes from a desire to keep the business “small and only open on Fridays” but the space keeps expanding due to popularity. Her baking is sublime- everything is made on the premises using free range eggs, organic meats, fruits vegetables and milk. Nibble savoury brioche, raspberry and chocolate meringues or a serve of tamarillo bread and butter pudding with a cup of expertly made coffee (or tea) and perch on an old wooden crate outside- bliss. There’s an outpost at 12 Melrose Street, Newmarket too which is way more central but doesn’t have the baking action of the Belmont store.
181 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby. Tel +64 9 3601551
Staff are all expert baristas and they swear by a blend they use from local roastery Altazano. Customers keep them on their toes by noticing even the smallest changes. “They’re sharp, all right” they say. “They let us know straight away if they like things or not.” Aside from the excellent coffee and snug, retro atmosphere (think tea cozies, mis-matched vintage plates and bits of old kitchenalia dotted about), they serve some great simple food. They are famed for their version of the lamington, which comes oozing with jam and lashings of whipped cream.
42 Douglas Street, Ponsonby. Tel +64 9 3605040 www.coffeesupreme.co.nz
Coffee Supreme is a successful Wellington roasting business that’s takingAuckland-andMelbournefor that matter- by storm. Their Auckland HQ is run out of this delightfully grungy old building in the back of Ponsonby. There’s a huge communal table, the simplest of fare (sardines on toast, hefty toasted sandwiches, good meat pies and doughnuts) …and stellar coffee. If you get a dud brew here then the sky is truly falling down. Douglas Street Café is immensely cool but never pretentious- the crew are amiable and engaging.
2 Owens’ Road, Epsom North. Tel +64 9 6309397 www.espressoworkshop.co.nz
Owners David Huang and Andrew Smart are dedicated to roasting and serving fine coffee. Huang is a professional, award-winning barista and barista trainer and Smart a highly experienced coffee roaster. They’re as serious about coffee education as they are about doing a good job of running their snappy little cafe on the edge of Newmarket; from here they run Coffee Appreciation Workshops and Barista courses. The clientele is a laid-back mix of local users and coffee maniacs who traverse the city for their fix. Customer can perch at the bar and quizz the barista while he pulls their espresso or read cupping notes from recent tastings, on the cabinet behind.
6 Drake Street, Freemans’ Bay, Auckland. Tel +64 9 3695842 ALLPRESS CUPPING ROOM 266 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby www.allpress.co.nz
Michael Allpress started serving his Allpress Espresso from mobile carts at a couple of Auckland locations. That was back in 1986 and now he has spawned a veritable empire, complete with signature coffee outlets, some 1,000 hospitality clients throughout Australasia and a recently opened roastery and cafe in London. His is virtually a household name in New Zealand and although his company is large, Allpress has never lost his sense of the boutique. No where is this better expressed than in his stylish cafes; Caffeteria Allpress and the recently opened Cupping Room just up the road in Ponsonby. The former, attached to Allpress’ state-of-the-art roastery, is a roomy, pared-back, sophisticated sort of a place, with excellent, simple fare to go with the great coffee; it’s constantly humming with customers. The latter is tiny, intimate and a lovely place for a quick coffee and a home made biscotti or two from the wondrous selection.
57 Fort Street, AucklandCBD, Tel +64 9 3007252 www.ima-ibn.co.nz
“Ima” means ‘mother’ in Hebrew and the name is in keeping with owner Yael Shochat’s nurturing approach to food and hospitality. The busy young guys behind the machine send out a steady stream of perfectly-made flat whites, lattes, long blacks et al, although they warn “on this side of the ditch we like our drinks served hotter than you do in Oz.” The frantic little kitchen services a menu featuring eastern Mediterranean flavours. Almost everything is made on the spot, including the pita bread for the legendary lunch time felafels (the breakfast blintzes are addictive).
57 Fort Street, AucklandTel +649 3089338. Little Ben, 22a Cross Street, NewtonTel +64 9 3024068 www.baristaempire.co.nz
Ben Boyle, the owner, is passionate and very hands-on, roasting small batches of single origin beans in-house using a small Diedrich roaster that sits in a corner of the cafe. He turns out a smooth, aromatic brew which is served default as double shots. He’s also an experienced barista, placing second in the NZ championships twice running so it’s no wonder this elegant little cafe, complete with a classy European vibe and cosy fire place, hums along so seamlessly. On Fridays the cafe usually hosts cupping events to further customer education.
31 Cross Street, Newton. Tel +64 9 3567322 www.millers.co.nz
Craig Miller has been a significant presence in the New Zealand coffee scene since 1988, which qualifies him as a pioneer of the industry there. In keeping with his elder-statesman reputation, his is a craggy, no-fuss sort of a place that’s actually more roastery than it is a cafe- it only opens from 7.30am-12am when the drum roaster hums away and beans are packed. There are no tables and chairs as such, just a few high seats to perch on; much of the trade is in takeaway beverages and bags of beans. There’s not really any food to speak of either; it’s all about the espresso. Made using a vintage Faema machine and Miller’s eponymous blend, unchanged for 25 years.
23 Edwin Street, Mt Eden. Tel +64 9 6231572
Frequented by workers from neighbouring galleries and design studios, Gala is a smart, minimalist sort of a place, dominated by Billy Apple artwork, loads of concrete and big menu blackboards. The food here is a tad more serious than most other cafes in Auckland on account of owner Peter Chichester’s excellent cooking pedigree. His food is stylish yet unfussy and grounded; breakfast items include toasted brioche and lime curd or Eggs Benedict with Honey Cured Bacon. Lunch gets into Reuben sandwich, Mother-In-law’s North Indian Eggs and Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad territory and even though it’s an eclectic mix, somehow it all works perfectly. Oh and the coffee is bloody well done too.
Deus Ex Machina
Shed 5, 90 Wellesley Street, Auckland. Tel +64 9 3041044 www.deus.com.au
An offshoot of the original Deus Ex Machina in Camperdown, Sydney, this place is part motorcycle shop, part gallery and part cafe. Some think it is currently the coolest place in town for coffee and a bite; it is certainly the most spacious. Housed in an old bus shed the interior has a raw, industrial aesthetic wholly in keeping with the culture of hand-built motor bikes. Choose to lounge on comfy leather sofas or spread out around a big communal table and enjoy the smart-casual vibe and well-crafted coffee. Breakfast and lunch menus are small but everything is top notch and prepared with great attention to detail.