Amazingly, Wellington has more coffee shops per capita than New York City or even Seattle.
It seems there's a couple of them on every block.
The coffee's good, too. I seem to have become a bit of a snob in that department since moving to New Zealand. I was driving around the outskirts of town early this morning trying to get me some Java. All I could find in the boonies were gas stations. "I'm not drinking coffee from a convenience store," I found myself thinking.
Now those of you who know me will find that amusing. I will go to a gas station at the drop of a hat. In St. Augustine I might have perished without the BP station next to my apartment. The list of mana-giving convenience stores I've single-handedly kept in business is long. So, the coffee here really must be good.
Initial ventures into the Kiwi coffee shops proved slightly awkward, for the language of the bean is different here. Just asking for a black coffee proved confusing for both sides of the conversation. For the first week I ended up just asking for the baristas' recommendations.
I drank some weird but wonderful coffee.
After I realized the natives were basically friendly, I became a little more insistant. "I would just like a black coffee ... with a little cream in it," I'd say.
"Oh, we call that an Americano," I was told. Cool, I can remember that.
Next time I proudly asked for an Americano. But in that particular locale I was informed, again after some confused conversation, that I meant a "Long Black."
Whatever, I'll just go for a latte. Not so easy either. "Flat White," I was told.
(Here's an official version from somewhere I don't remember: A true flat white ought to have the same quantity of extracted coffee as any other beverage on the coffee menu (generally 30ml) but because it is served in a smaller vessel (175ml) it has stronger flavour than say a latte which is normally served in a 225ml vessel and is subsequently milkier.)
Now I know "Long Black" and "Flat White" sound easy enough. But for some reason - perhaps because I'd been so traumatized by my first few unsuccessful visits for coffee - I couldn't get it right. I've asked for soft whites, long whites, flat blacks and fat blacks - though not yet a long, flat, soft black.
Anyway, when the coffee comes it's good - whatever I end up ordering. The flat whites are usually wonderfully presented with little images magically engraved in the milk. (There is a book on the subject, with glossary, introducing people to the "land of the long flat white." No, I didn't steal the title of my blog from there.)
The artistry of good conversation is to be able to make your coffee companion linger when you have nothing to say, but nowhere to be. Lots of Kiwis, who enjoy a good chin wag, have that talent. I developed it in South Dakota, where it's considered rude to pass someone with a nod when you could just as easily stop for an hour or two. I lost the talent during my year in the hills of North Carolina.
I'm regaining it in New Zealand. The Kiwis are good conversationalists and rarely in a hurry. They're justifiably proud of their country and are always eager to take a visitor under their wing and give advice about what to do or to tell stories about what's been done. Most of the coffee shops I've been to are definitely kid friendly; they even have a special "grown-up" drink for children, known as a fluffy. It's basically foamed milk, sprinkled with chocolate and served with marshmallow on the side. It should be illegal.
Don't get me wrong, though, coffee shops are not just for those with time on their hands. There are plenty of suits - and, in Wellington - plenty of pols to be seen.
But there's cool, too. Fidel's Cafe definitely has the hippest website. I like having it on as background when I'm reading. I'm only sort of joking.
I've also learned that you don't go all French when you ask for directions to a cafe. It's pronounced Kaff here.
This New Zealand coffee revolution has been building - dare I say brewing? - for the last 20 years. Even out in the smaller towns there are plenty of places to get a good cup of Joe. There are elaborate coffee trailers - one in Kaikoura even offered free wireless almost beachside - when you can't find a shop. There's also usually really good food. So you can easily spend a couple of hours in these places.
Naturally, there's a huge competition between the Aussies and the Kiwis about who invented the flat white. It rivals the contest about who invented the pavlova - because that's just how they roll in Australasia.
Here are some reviews of my favorite spots as they appeared in The Dominion Post.
Cafe Greta review
Cafe Eden review
Cafe Parade review