Ron Laughlin The Ultimate New Zealand Travel Coffee Guide
Introduction to New Zealand Coffee
"In the land of the Long Flat White"
(did you know the flat white began in New Zealand!)
and there are more roasters per capita than anywhere in the world!
I suppose first we should give thanks to that lone Ethiopean goat herder who during the long boring hours in the mountains discovered the coffee bean as a way to spark the old life up a bit. It has always enthralled me to learn about early discoveries like this. It was once thought the tomato was poison. How about olives. I wonder how it was discovered these horribly bitter fruits from the olive tree could be rendered tasty. All I know is I am glad these discoveries were made especially about coffee.
I would also like to dedicate this website to all those roasters, baristas and cafe owners, who have stopped using instant coffee, and with passion provide us with some of the best coffee in the world - from the person working in one of New York's many coffee houses, to someone working in a Britannia Hotel in London and, of course, all those working in the cafés featured on this site, whose passion provides us with some of the best coffee in the world right here in New Zealand.
In international competitions our baristas have consistently shown their passion and expertise. I remember when Emma left these shores a few years ago and came home with the number five slot in the world. Ever since a New Zealand barista has been in the top ten: Ben Simox, eighth in 2002, Carl Sara getting 6th and 4th in 2003, 2004, Luciano Marcolino, 7th in 2005 and so on..... Are these guys good or what! and it just gets better every year! Click on the NZ Coffee Roasters Assn above for more information.
Most roasters now see that the baristas who represent them and their coffee are well trained. The Hospitality Standards Institute also provides a very comprehensive barista program.
The Purpose of the New Zealand Coffee Guide
After eight years working and living in downtown Wellington Paula and I had become quite spoiled for choice when it came to having at our fingertips a more than excellent cup of coffee. We made sure we checked out each and every new place that opened plus patronised daily our old favourites. (Check out our personal "Coffee Lovers" page).
When we began our travel odyssey we contacted one of the local roasters, who had proven to be one of the best for us, and asked for his list of cafes in the South Island where we were to spend the summer. We couldn't bear to contemplate the fact we might be without high quality coffee.
After many years we no longer have that concern having investigated and listed the cafes we find completely acceptable and program our trip to be sure to be near one for morning coffee and one for the afternoon each day.
With this in mind we have decided to share this information to all of the many coffee lovers who do not want to start their day with anything less than a really good cup of coffee.
It is also a site where the many cafes that are in this Coffee Guide can add to their information plus any new ones can contact us to give their place a go and get in the Guide for all of us to enjoy. It is also a place for the Coffee Roasters to have a say on what they are doing and/or plan to do.
I hope we can provide as much information about the Coffee/Cafe Industry in New Zealand as we can so everyone involved gets a positive return. We will always provide unbiased reporting and make sure of authenticity. Everyone gets a fair go!.
So how does one get that "perfect" cup of coffee?
First we have the roasting of the coffee bean. We have over one hundred fifty roasters here in New Zealand producing what they consider the ultimate in coffee roasts using a multitude of beans from all over the world. Blending of two or more beans to reach a coffee that has a full and balanced flavour is an art form and a big part of the roasters successful product.
I hope we will have a lot of the roasters on this website so they can provide us insight to their work. The roaster looks to provide great aroma, body and flavour.
It is up to us to find the ones we prefer. Somewhat like wine we all have an idea what we feel is the best. The problem with this is, of course, we tend not to experiment. Hardly anyone wants to take the chance to have a morning coffee that does not come up to our personal standards. Here is where this website comes into its own providing you information derived from actual testing the cafes and coffees in these pages. If you are traveling the country you will have the best guide to top coffee outlets available.
Milk is very important. One of the biggest worries I have heard from baristas around the country is how it is very hard to judge the milk before using. Most have specific milk demands from their suppliers. Sometimes due to weather, time of year there just isn't any real control. Here is where a really top grade barista can work with the milk and with their knowledge overcome, most of the time, the worst of it.
If you get the chance you can pick up on whether the barista is frothing the milk correctly. Too high with the nozzle and you can hear the spluttering and too low you can hear the low rumble.
Air must be drawn into the milk with a hissing sound showing steam is being drawn into the milk just below the surface and creating the proper froth. A barista should run the jug up and down the nozzle in a slow and smooth operation. It's always nice to think they clean the nozzle well after using soy milk.
Brewing the coffee should only take between 18 to 25 seconds and must not exceed 30ml or will be thin and bitter. This is where most of the new or untrained baristas will mess the coffee up by the under or over-brewing. First it takes a great roast but if the barista does not do the job you will have a ruined coffee.
Now to the way to initially judge a good espresso. First impressions. In Italy it is called the Crema and is the golden-brown milk that rests on the top. The colours are produced by the emulsion of the coffee oils where the flavour lies. Depending upon the type of coffee the colours will be darker such as when a robust bean has been used. The real important part to be aware of is the crema should consist of very tiny bubbles for the minimum of at least two minutes. You have a problem if the top layer of foamed milk is large bubbles and quickly disappears. We won't even touch a coffee that had been delivered to us like this.
The baristas, with all their personal talents, must first begin with a fresh quality bean, a espresso machine of good quality, a proper grind, and good water, and the ability to be able to tamp that ground coffee just right. A lot of essentials in combination to create that perfect cup of coffee and all in 25 seconds!
Tasting the coffee! There are two main areas to be aware of - First the quickly tells you if this coffee will meet your desires. Next is the aroma/body where after a swallow you can quickly establish the taste you enjoy plus receive an agreeable after taste. We enjoy the full-bodied chocolate nutty taste that lingers. If these meet with your approval then you have before you a coffee you will truly enjoy.
I always order a double shot flat white in a tulip or long black cup since I prefer having a coffee and not a cup of milk. When I worked every day in Wellington at a 9 to 5 job I started with just a double shot.. period. When I first started years ago on this "coffee odyssey" traveling New Zealand in search of the best coffee outlets I ordered cappuccino to best judge on the barista's expertise. Since those early days I have gone to the double shot flat white. Much more to our taste. It always surprises us to find out so many cafes do not even have small cups except for the shots. There is a lot of people out there missing out on cup with more coffee and less milk. Perhaps that is the way most people prefer it? The cafes are missing out I figure since I am sure the cost of more milk cuts into their profit.
GEE-WIZZY COFFEE FACTS
Some interesting facts I have dug up about coffee that adds to its positive side beyond just the pure delight in taste. I plan to create a page of gee-wizzy facts about coffee as we go along with input from everyone. Here are a couple of gems:
The average coffee tree only produces one to two pounds of roasted coffee per year, and takes four to five years to produce its first crop.
Tests have shown caffeine creates increased frontal lobe and anterior cingulum activity. This means your memory is sharper and your attention is heightened.
The mind is easier focused and there is an increase in creativity. (Told you so!)
Long distance traveling you can control the circadian rhythm. Abstain from coffee (if you can) for several days before getting on the plane then have a couple of cups upon arrival.
When the colonial United States decided to protest to the British about taxation and begin their War of Independence Congress declared coffee the country's national drink.
The dollar trade in coffee ranks second in the world only to oil. Over 400 billion cups of coffee are consumed every year. Nothing else compares.
Here is a short paragraph on how finding the enjoyment of the Italian coffee culture brought success to Howard Schultz.
Howard was a salesman for a Seattle coffee bean shop when in 1983 he went to Milan and experienced the Italian espresso bar. He was made aware the espresso bar was the heart and soul of human enjoyment and connection along with providing a more enjoyable cup of coffee. From there in April 1984 he set up the first of his espresso bars. He bought out Starbucks two years on and now has over 10,000+ cafes world-wide and growing. The largest coffee provider in the world.
Did you know that the first roaster of coffee beans for espresso in New Zealand was Alfred Fagg who in 1926 opened his shop at 60 Cuba Street, Wellington. A few years after WWII there were over twenty coffee roasters throughout New Zealand.
So Let's Get On With It!
Lets not waste any more time with the introduction to our Coffee web page. The most important part is we are on a non-ending search that will constantly change as we continue our journey on the quest of the holy grail of coffee. We want to keep you informed as to what we discover. Even though our particular tastes may vary we all want a good to perfect cup of coffee. If the cafe is good at one chances are they are good at all they do.
The coffee is most important but if the ambiance and the service are horrible it will keep us from mentioning a cafe. We don't want to start telling negative tales about any place so if we find one that is really bad we won't mention it. We visit each place at a minimum of three times to make sure of consistency most many more times. We try to keep up with any owner changes and re-evaluate.
Because we are limited to only visiting a cafe for coffee twice each day also be aware there are many we have not had the opportunity to try yet. What I suggest is to have a look at the cafes we do recommend and see what coffee roasts stand out. It is a good chance you will find the coffee you prefer.
We look forward to hearing from you with references to good cafes. Not interested in ones that make bad coffee so don't waste our time. There are too many good ones that need to be pointed out. Again don't waste everyone's time with bitching. We would like to hear from you especially if you go to a cafe we recommend and you didn't get what you expected though. Also mention when you get a good coffee plus how their food stacks up, their service and the ambience.
If you are a cafe owner/manager or a roaster please jump in to let us all know anything you feel is relevant to the cause. We need your input since you are the ones doing the work. Our job is to enjoy what you do and support those who are doing it right.