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17 November 2017

12 Great Speciality Coffee Spots in Wellington, New Zealand

After a couple of intense periods of speciality coffee consumption in Melbourne and Sydney, I reverted back to ‘normal’ levels until I arrived in Wellington, New Zealand. I already had a number of local roasters and coffee shops on my list for the New Zealand capital, but I was also lucky that a coffee-loving Wellingtonian offered to show me around the city and its coffee scene. Lovely Tim (@coffeelater on Twitter and Instagram) seemed to know almost everyone who works in coffee in his home city and introduced me to a number of the movers and shakers, for which I am endlessly grateful.

I only spent 48 hours in Wellington but managed to check out 12 cafés and roasteries during that time, leaving many more coffee bars for the return visit that I’m hoping to make at some point. I’ve added everything to this Google Map, and another great resource for speciality coffee in Wellington and several other New Zealand cities is the Neat Places guide to New Zealand coffee roasters.

CBD North
Coffee Supreme
I first came across Coffee Supreme via their Melbourne café, which I didn't have time to visit, but the company has been roasting in Wellington since speciality coffee was a mere twinkle in London's eye — 1993, to be more precise. As I'd already been to Coffee Supreme's Customs Brew Bar (see below), I wasn't planning to go to their Midland Park coffee bar too, but walking past, I was drawn in by the cool merch on sale. I love their 'we eat coffee for breakfast' slogan and would have bought a mug if I'd had room in my case, and I'm sure the 'barista socks' would have been a great gift for someone.

I ended up getting a coffee: a really top-notch espresso with their limited espresso blend, which, thanks to the utmost care of the barista, was very drinkable with milk chocolate and strawberry notes. I also got some beans to take home — again, the barista helped me to select a variety that would work well in my Aeropress at home and that had been roasted recently enough to last until I was home. And I've been enjoying the Ethiopian Sede at home all week.

Coffee Supreme is located at 31 Waring Taylor Street, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

On my last morning in Wellington, I did a final fast-and-furious coffee tour and Frank's was the first stop. The small, busy coffee bar is located on The Terrace, not far from the cable car. They serve coffee from Red Rabbit (who originally roasted in Wellington, but have since moved their roasting operation to Auckland) and a few breakfast goods and sweet treats. I had a piccolo made with a single-origin Guatemalan coffee, which was prepared very well, along with a double-chocolate muffin. The décor is minimalist and the staff were very friendly, although they were so busy during the morning rush that there wasn't much chance to chat.

Frank's is located at 116 The Terrace, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Mojo Coffee
I hadn't heard of Mojo Coffee before Tim mentioned them to me, but as with a number of the other Wellington roasters, they've been in the business for well over a decade. They now have over 30 cafés in Wellington (you can find them in both the domestic and the international terminals at the airport) and Auckland and I visited their waterfront location on Customhouse Quay, which is right next to their roastery. With its blue-accented, industrial-chic interiors and coffee-related words of wisdom embossed on the windows ('coffee, never a rational thing', for instance), the bright, airy café is attractive and inviting.

During my visit, they were serving one of their house espresso blends, the intriguingly named Dr Mojo's Medicine, for coffees with milk, and a single-origin Ruvuma AA for black coffee. I had a piccolo, which was very nice, and stuck to scrambled eggs on toast for my lunch. They have some more interesting options on their all-day menu too.

Mojo Coffee is located at 33 Customhouse Quay, Wellington (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

CBD South (Te Aro)
Customs by Coffee Supreme
With what must be one of the most beautiful coffee menu boards in the world — a repurposed wooden arrivals board, which hangs over nine large vials of coffee beans — Coffee Supreme's Customs Brew Bar was another recommendation from Tim. The slim coffee bar is gorgeous throughout, with wood panelling on some of the walls and the counter and mid-century furniture, accessorised with funky vintage pieces.

I was hoping for a pourover and a doughnut, but neither of these were possible — they only get doughnuts later in the week and it was a Tuesday, for one thing, and hand-brewed filter coffee tends to be rare in Wellington and in New Zealand more generally. Although I couldn't quite be tempted by one of the many toasts that are served all week, I did happily indulge in one of the two batch-brew filter coffees on offer, made with care using the Fetco. The Kenyan Guama, with its sharp grapefruit and redcurrant accents, was a lovely morning drink, particularly as it cooled. There's even a poster of this variety on the wall at Customs, which will appeal both to lovers of coffee and graphic design.

Customs by Coffee Supreme is located at 39 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Flight Coffee Hangar
Flight Coffee's flagship café, The Hangar, was on my list almost as soon as I started my antipodean coffee research. They came to my attention during the great Wush Wush rush of 2017, and I visited The Hangar twice during my visit. The first time, Tim and I stopped by for an afternoon coffee. I had a wonderfully flavoursome Rwandan Vunga, which had apricot and black tea notes and which was brewed through a Gino Dripper. Tim enjoyed a Guatemalan Las Joyas as a cold drip.

The coffee menu is extensive here: there were three espresso options (plus a limited edition), three single-origins available as Fetco batch-brew filter coffees (one also available as a pourover) and several cold options. I'd have dearly liked to have a Flight Coffee flight — you can choose among one coffee three ways (espresso, cold drip and flat white), a flat white flight (one with each espresso), and a filter flight (three Fetco-produced filter coffees) — but it was late in the day and I'd already had a lot of coffee.

Instead, I returned on my last morning to buy some coffee beans and tried the limited-edition espresso, a Mexican Garabandal washed Geisha, which was brewed meticulously and which had lovely blackberry and peach notes. They have had the same coffee in natural- and honey-processed formats too and it's been very popular.

Flight Coffee Hangar is located at 119 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. TwitterInstagram.

Gentlemen's Beans
If you visit the Gentlemen's Beans kiosk on Courtenay Place at the right time, you can get a margherita as well as a macchiato — the micro-roaster's owners also serve pizza and subs. I arrived early, just after my morning run and so stuck to a piccolo and a pastry whose name I've now forgotten, but it looked like a Danish, only with a ricotta and espresso filling.

Gentlemen's Beans is located on Courtenay Place near Taranaki Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Goldmine by Lamason
Brand-new to the Wellington coffee scene — it had been open only a couple of days when I visited — Goldmine is a spin-off of former Peoples Coffee trainer Dave Lamason's popular Lamason Brew bar. I was excited to check it out, partly because it was new but mainly because they serve hand-brewed filter coffee — using a V60, no less. There were three single-origin Peoples Coffee coffees available as pourovers, and I selected the Ethiopian Guji, which was delicious, with rich, plummy notes. I was too early (or was it late?) for brunch, but the food menu looked great too.

Goldmine is located at 171 Willis Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Facebook.

Havana Coffee Works
Wellington is a little bit obsessed with all things Cuba, from the busy, restaurant-filled Cuba Street in the CBD, to Havana Coffee Works, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2019. Tim took me to their Tory Street HQ, whose interiors resemble a colourful street in the titular Cuban capital. Havana's coffee is served in many cafés and coffee shops across Wellington and far beyond, but you can also have a coffee or buy beans at the roastery.

They now sell a number of single-origin espressos, but it was the chocolatey Five Star blend that I tried in my piccolo, which was brewed on the most revolutionary La Marzocco customisation I've see for some time.

Havana Coffee Works is located at 163 Tory Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Milk Crate
Just next door to Customs on Ghuznee Street, Milk Crate is a sleek, minimalist espresso bar with a cool adjoining lifestyle boutique called Precinct 35. Put off by the lack of hand-brewed filter coffee (I hadn't yet learned the Kiwi ways), I missed the chance to try the Kenyan Thunguri from Rich Coffee on the batch brew. It was hard to mind too much, though, when I had a really excellent piccolo instead made using the Rich Coffee seasonal blend.

I sat at the counter, admiring the red coffee cups and the Rich Coffee-branded La Marzocco Linea. I soon found out that the espresso machine had travelled almost as far as I had because it was a parting gift for one of Rich Coffee's two owners, Richie Russell, when he left Monmouth Coffee after ten years in 2015. The machine, before its refurb and rebrand, used to live in Monmouth's Borough Market location, just down the road from my home.

Milk Crate is located at 35 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Prefab (Acme & Co)
Tim and I met for a late lunch at Acme & Co's Wellington café and hub, Prefab, on the day I arrived in the city. I gorged on a giant burger and duck-fat fries and enjoyed a lovely piccolo — served in an Acme cup and saucer, of course. Tim then introduced me to founders Bridget Dunn and Jeff Kennedy, who were working behind the counter alongside the 8kg roaster. It was fascinating to chat to them both about Acme, coffee, Wellington and nori, among many other topics, and their warmth and their passion for their work came through very strongly.

Bridget and Jeff very kindly allowed me to choose a new Acme cup to add to my collection and I opted for the new version of their tulip cup in grey — alas, I didn't think to ask for their thoughts on a special, limited-edition neon-pink Acme cup just for me.

Prefab is located at 14 Jessie Street, Te Aro, Wellington. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Peoples Coffee Café
Another of the old guards of the Wellington speciality coffee scene, Peoples Coffee have been roasting since 2004 and have long been leaders in the ethical and sustainability world. I didn't have a coffee in their small, cosy Newtown café as it was the end of the day and I'd already had my fill for the day, but I did buy some beans. I also got to try their coffee at Goldmine the following morning and really liked the Ethiopian filter coffee I had — so much so that I'll happily forgive the absent apostrophe in their name!

Peoples Coffee Café is located at 12 Constable Street, Newtown, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

Rich Coffee Roastery
Last, but certainly not least, is Rich Coffee. Founded by two people who have had big roles in the once burgeoning and now booming speciality coffee industry in London — Richie Russell (formerly of Monmouth) and Cam McClure (who used to own Flat White) — in 2015, the company is a relative newcomer to the Wellington coffee scene.

The roastery, on a quiet Newtown side street, opens up to the public at the weekend, but Tim arranged for us to drop by to meet Richie one afternoon. I really enjoyed talking to him and Tim about the coffee world both in London and in Wellington, and inspiring to hear about how it's definitely possible to launch a new speciality coffee company in a saturated market like Wellington if you can offer people something different and are willing to work your socks off.

I love their clean, minimalist branding (not just because, given my full name, I'm a sucker for the letter R). Richie made me a great-tasting, fruity piccolo with their current seasonal espresso blend. Their other coffee of the moment is the washed-process Kenyan I failed to sample at Milk Crate, whose flavour profile is making my mouth water even now. If the roastery isn't open and you'd like to try some Rich Coffee, head over to Milk Crate, who will brew you up an excellent cup.

Rich Coffee Roastery is located at 369 Adelaide Road, Newtown, Wellington. Website. Instagram.

15 November 2017

48 Hours in Auckland: Coffee, Food, Shopping and Things To Do

I came to Auckland three times during my fortnight in New Zealand, although only went into the city twice, for one full day each time. I was supposed to have an extra afternoon and evening the day I arrived from Sydney, but my Qantas flight was cancelled and rescheduled so I got in at 00:30 am rather than nine hours earlier. It was perhaps for this reason that I didn’t really take to New Zealand’s largest city the first time I arrived. I don’t like arriving in new cities after dark — and especially not at 2:00 am — and my late arrival meant I woke up late and grumpy on the following day.

Things were going better the second time, when I arrived at the airport from Queenstown at 11:30 am on my last day in New Zealand. Unexpectedly, I was able to check in my suitcase so I grabbed my somewhat heavy carry-on backpack and headed for the SkyBus into the city. During the day, the buses run every 10 minutes and the journey takes about 45–60 minutes —unless the bus breaks down in the middle of a junction before even leaving the airport, which it did. Once we were eventually able to board another bus, I was on my way again and got to the city centre around 1:00 pm. This time, I found myself really liking Auckland. It helped that the city was much livelier on a mild and intermittently sunny Saturday than it did on a Tuesday afternoon.

I’ve organised the things I did on both days by neighbourhood. The first time, I stayed two nights at a pleasant motel called Abaco on Jervois (the owners were really friendly and it was quiet, comfortable and well appointed), near Ponsonby Road, and spent most time there and in the CBD. When I returned, I visited the hip Parnell neighbourhood, did a little shopping in the CBD, and caught the ferry over to picturesque, arty Devonport, before heading back to Karangahape Road for dinner.

With little time in the city, I decided to follow my Lonely Planet North Island New Zealand’s suggested city centre walking tour, which covered some of the key sights. I started near Karangahape Road, known as K' Road, which has lots of interesting restaurants and shops (I particularly liked The Bread and Butter Letter, which focuses on New Zealand-made goods and vintage). Inside St Kevins Arcade, there are some eateries and bars far cooler than the period décor might suggest. I had a passable piccolo and very nice cake at the popular Besties, which I think might have been a better brunch option. It has great views down the hill over Myers Park, particularly if you nab one of the window seats.

I returned to K' Road for my last supper, which I had at Coco’s Cantina, an awesome restaurant run by two sisters, which was recommended to me by multiple people. You get the impression that the sisters just created what would be their ideal restaurant to eat at and there’s a pasta happy hour (!) and sweet notes to customers with suggestions of small ways to be kind to their fellow customers and the staff. I had the pasta special of the day — pappardelle with chicken, nduja, broccoli and parmesan — which was delicious and filling, and a cocktail called Becka the Wrecka. This was also a nickname of mine when I was younger so I couldn’t not order it; it was essentially a pimped-up Pisco Sour.

Continuing on with the Lonely Planet walk, I descended through Myers Park to Queen Street, the CBD’s unlovely main drag. There are a handful of points of interest there, but kept up walking up to the Auckland Art Gallery. You will notice from my verbs that Auckland is a very hilly city and your legs will be grateful if you master the topography. I spent an hour or so in the New Zealand art galleries, and there was even a local dance group rehearsing on the mezzanine, which was fun to watch.

Next to the gallery, leafy Albert Park connects the CBD with the University of Auckland campus, where there are a few interesting sights, including the (literally and figuratively) striking clocktower. The walk then brought me back down to Queen Street, where I went to Eighthirty for coffee. This roaster has several coffee shops in Auckland and I had by far the best piccolo of my first day at their central branch, a stark-white café tucked away down an arcade off High Street.

It was a short walk over to Britomart, an area which houses the train station and a main ferry terminus, as well as a number of cool restaurants, bars and shops in the warehouse-style buildings a block or two back from the harbour. I window-shopped at Deadly Ponies, a New Zealand handbag and leather goods brand, and stopped for a delicious chocolate, salted almond and caramel patisserie at dessert bar Milse. I didn’t have time this trip, but just next door, the Italian restaurant Ortolana is also supposed to be excellent.

I walked along the waterfront, through the harbour to the Wynyard Quarter, admiring the views of the nearby islands and the stunning turquoise colour of the ocean. There are some funky restaurants and bars, and a few pieces of public art in this area and it’s a pleasant place to stroll on a sunny day. I ended up walking all the way round to Westhaven, where you can do a harbour bridge climb. I didn’t think it would compare favourably to Sydney, but I enjoyed the views of the bridge and the gulf. It was then a short, if steep, walk back to my motel in Ponsonby, just west of the city centre.

On my return to Auckland, after a month of almost no shopping, I finally let down my guard and bought a few things. The catch was that as I had already checked in my suitcase, everything had to fit in my small backpack and even smaller handbag. The bustling Queen Street is best for the high street chains. I liked a shop called Cotton On, which seemed like a slightly nicer version of H&M, and which had a particularly good loungewear and activewear section. Given the antipodean spring weather, I kept forgetting that Christmas is on the way, but the pirated-themed decorations in the windows of department store Smith and Caughey's soon set me straight. I picked up a few gifts and enjoyed browsing the fashion and homewares section — once again, I almost bought the hot pink Frank Green reusable cup I’ve been coveting, and once again, I didn’t have enough space.

Lorne Street is one block east of Queen Street but has some more interesting and independent shops. There were a couple of nice book shops there — Unity Books for new, and Jason Books for second hand — and a shop called Pauanesia, which had some unique New Zealand-themed gifts. On the clothing front, boutique Flo & Frankie has a great combination of fashion, accessories and homewares (they also have a branch in Ponsonby); Untouched World has nice merino clothing; Storm is a slightly more upscale womenswear boutique; and Decjuba reminded me a bit of Zara. Industrie (menswear) and AS Colour (a bit like Uniqlo or American Apparel) also caught my eye.

Just over a mile from the CBD — although you have to go downhill and then back up again to get there — the bobo neighbourhood of Ponsonby has stacks of great places to eat, drink and shop. I decided to stay there for this reason, although ended up having less time to take advantage of it than I’d hoped. Most places are on or near the Ponsonby Road, which runs south from College Hill.

I had a nice piccolo at the Allpress coffee bar — you can buy beans there too, although if you have more time and it isn’t the weekend, you may prefer to visit their roastery in Freemans Bay instead. One day, I had brunch at Orphans Kitchen, which was great. I had heirloom tomato and nasturtium pesto on toast, which was delicious and unusual. The coffee was decent too.

There’s a popular gourmet food hall called Ponsonby Central, which has many different food and drink options, and a few shops. There’s a branch of Eighthirty here if you’re in need of caffeinating. For dinner, I was spoiled for choice, and considered having rotisserie chicken at Bird on a Wire or Boy & Bird, but ended up going for Neapolitan pizza at Dante’s Pizzeria, which was really good. A friend recommended that I go to The Golden Dawn bar, but it was closed for a private function.

Some of the shops that caught my eye included: Everyday Needs (beautiful and useful homewares); Iko Iko (gifts and toys); A Little Shop (clothing and accessories); The Open Book (second-hand books) and Widdess (clothing).

One of the difficulties of planning extensive coffee-related activities in antipodean cities is that most coffee shops are shut by 3:00 pm; some (especially cafés located inside roasteries) don’t open at weekends either. Thus, I had a pretty tight schedule for Saturday afternoon, not helped by my airport bus problems. From Queen Street, it’s a hilly 25-minute walk to Parnell, an area with lots of cafés and restaurants, many in warehouse-style buildings.

I managed to get to the Red Rabbit café–roastery on Faraday Street just before their 2:00 pm closing. Although I had some Red Rabbit coffee at Frank’s in Wellington, I didn’t get the chance to visit their café so I was glad I caught them in time. I had a really excellent piccolo there in the industrial-style coffee bar. They were a busy getting set up for a wedding that afternoon — what a great wedding location! — but took great care of me nonetheless.

A few doors down is Simon and Lee, which I’d read about in a coffee-industry magazine while I was in Sydney. They serve espresso-based coffee drinks and single-origin filter coffee (batch brew, of course, this being New Zealand) from Flight, and a Korean-influenced all day menu. I had a Colombian filter coffee, which was very nice and came in a beautiful mug. I also fended off my hangriness with a delicious eggs benedict with bacon, kimchi, miso truffle béchamel and nori. The stylish, colourful interiors and friendly staff make this a great all-day eatery.

My third coffee destination of the day was the Parnell branch of the Espresso Workshop, a café that also runs training for baristas, retail clients and interested home-brewers. I arrived just before they closed at 3:00 pm, and ordered a single-origin Tanzanian espresso, which had some nice blackcurrant notes. As their name suggests, there’s no filter coffee, but there is a good selection of coffee-making and coffee-drinking kit.

I initially planned to take a ferry ride — perhaps to Waiheke Island — straight after I returned to the CBD from Parnell, but then the weather looked like it was going to turn and I got distracted by the shops. By the time I’d finished shopping, at about 5:00 pm, I realised that I needed another activity as I didn’t need to get a bus back to the airport until 10:00 pm and even I can’t spend five hours eating dinner. I thought about going up the Sky Tower, but instead decided to take the ferry to Devonport, just across the Hauraki Gulf. The return trip costs $12, the ferries run frequently and the journey takes about seven minutes. There are some good views of the Auckland harbour and skyline as the boat pulls out of the port.

Devonport itself is pretty and characterful with colourful period houses, a nice esplanade along the waterfront and Victoria Road, which has myriad shops, cafés and watering holes. I spotted a second-hand bookshop called BookMark, a great looking cinema/theatre called The Vic, and an arts and craft workshop called Marbles.

After a quick stroll around the shops, I made the steep climb up to Mount Victoria, which has panoramic vistas of the city and of the Hauraki Gulf and nearby islands. Unfortunately, the bright sun I enjoyed during the ferry ride went into the clouds by the time I got to the top, but the views were still great.