Milk Crate, Memphis Belle and People’s Coffee

One latte is just not enough!, originally uploaded by andai.

My goal for the next two weeks is to check out four particular coffee shops that come highly recommended to me by an acquaintance.

We just happened to chat a bit about some of the local spots here in Wellington that serve good coffee and there were three specific places she thought did an excellent job. These three are Memphis Belle on Dixon Street, Milk Crate on Ghuznee Street and People’s Coffee in Newtown. She really must like People’s Coffee because according to her, Milk Crate also serves People’s Coffee. I heard online that all of the baristas at Memphis Belle complete at the World Barista Championships… I think this is the one that I really am most excited to check out.

She also mentioned a fourth coffee shop, The Coffee Club on Chews Lane. In fact it is the Coffee Club’s to-go coffee cup that she had on her desk that started this whole conversation. Apparently, the Coffee Club is part of an Australian franchise and normally she would not go to chain (or franchise) coffee shops, but the coffee here is pretty decent and the location is much closer to her office than Memphis Belle, Milk Create or People’s Coffee.

My acquaintance used to be a barista and takes her coffee very seriously… as she said in her own words, she is an absolute coffee snob… and I believe her. My quick research online certainly indicates that at least the first three shops are worth checking out. So that’s my goal, to check out these four places and report back on what I think…

Havana Coffee Works vs. Ripe Coffee

Havana Coffee Works vs. Ripe Coffee, originally uploaded by andai.

The latte in the black ceramic coffee cup is some excellent espresso from Ripe Coffee and the coffee in the paper coffee cup is from Havana Coffee Works. I picked up the Havana Coffee Works coffee from Sir Breadwins on Lambton Quay… More on a later post on what I thought about Breadwins coffee… but this much I can say, Ripe Coffee won

Wellington’s Fuel Espresso

Fuel Espresso Coffee Cup
Fuel Espresso Coffee Cup

Fuel Espresso is the first coffeehouse I noticed when I first arrived in Wellington. They have a coffee bar at the Wellington Airport. But why did I notice this particular coffee bar? It’s because Fuel Espresso immediately brought back memories of Fuel Coffee, one of my favorite Seattle based coffee shops. Not only that the name has the Fuel in it, but also the fact that the primary colors of both places are predominantly a coffee brown color.

There are quite a few of the Fuel Espresso coffee bars in Wellington… plus they also have one in Hong Kong. In Wellington, the two that I am lost familiar with are the one on Willis Street and the other on Waring Taylor Street. Both of these are small, ‘standing room’ only type coffee bars so they cater primarily to folks ‘on the go’. The one on Willis Street will set out a couple of tables on the street, including a standing table for those who want to hang out there. The one on Waring Taylor Street has a little nook that allows two or so people to actually sit at the bar/counter, and one person to sit in the only [arm]chair available.

As is typical with a number of the coffee shops in Wellington, Fuel Espresso has its own distinctive style and aura. Besides the dark brown wood like design and branding, I find that every time I pass by their stores, or more specifically the two above mentioned, they are always playing great music. On the wall, behind the counter, I noticed their lighting panel consists of images of 1970s style of vinyl albums. Now I haven’t really been to the other stores to see what they look like, but from their website, they look pretty cool actually, including the one in Hong Kong. Sometime in the near future, I will certainly grab my camera, head on over and hopefully be able to get some great indoor shots… though I heard that they don’t like people taking pictures of the interior. Hmmm…. reminds me of Nairobi Java House.

What about their coffee? For the most part I have been able to enjoy some great lattes there. There have been at least once or twice where the espresso drink I ordered was not as good as I thought it should be but overall I have been satisfied with their coffee.

Where do they get their coffee from? I believe the company that actually does the roasting is a company called Revolution Coffee which is the wholesale coffee company of Fuel Espresso… i.e. they are the same company. It is interesting to note that even though most of the big Wellington coffee companies also supply the local supermarkets with roasted coffee beans, whole or ground, I haven’t noticed Fuel Espresso coffee beans. I now realize that maybe I should be looking for Revolution Coffee beans and not Fuel Espresso beans. But according to their website, they have two main blends that they serve, these being, Fuel Classic and Fuel Dark. Even more interesting is that these blends were created in Trieste, “the Adriatic port at the heart of the Italian espresso culture” and the only three people who actually know what the blend consists of are prohibited from traveling together… I think that is interesting bit of tidbit off the Fuel Espresso website.

My overall assessment is Fuel Espresso is pretty decent. As of now they make my top five favorite coffees… but I also have to say that there are ton of places in Wellington I have yet to checkout.

Kia Ora from Café Down Under

Cafe Down Under at Auckland International Airport
Cafe Down Under at Auckland International Airport

Having been here for a while now, I can start reflecting on the task ahead of keeping you informed on the State of Coffee in New Zealand and more specifically, Wellington. However, before I turn my focus on Wellington, I will want to start with my short stint in Auckland, the business capital of New Zealand.

Now even before I landed in New Zealand, I had been told to expect to find plenty of places that serve good great coffee. My confirmation of this started right at the Auckland International Airport. As I was walking around the airport I realized that there were actually quite a few places to choose from. At that time I didn’t recognize any of the names of the coffee shops scattered around the airport although one did actually stand out. This was Espresso Bar by Atomic.

After a bit of back and forth… aahhh… the ole’ paradox of choice!, I decided to get a latte flat white from ‘Café Down Under’ and the reason being that they had some really nice looking paper coffee cups! Since I didn’t know any of the cafes, it was simply a matter of picking one and going for it!
The first thing I did was to place an order for a flat white. After all, I was down under… sort of… and this was the land of the flat white… something I had been hearing about and very eager to try. I asked the friendly barista what the difference between a flat white and a latte was. All I remember as I was walking away with my order was that a flat white was stronger than a latte. Later, I was to discover that there was more to that… but at that time I was really tired from the long flight and not very much sleep on the plane…

One thing I have come to learn over the years living in the US is, don’t expect to get an even halfway decent latte at the majority of the US airports. Maybe it’s one of those things where the majority of the customers are unlikely to be back at that particular airport so the coffee shops can afford to stick it to the customer. In that regard, if you are really desperate for an espresso drink, you’ll just have to suck it up, grit your teeth and drink up. So it was a rather pleasant surprise to find a decent espresso drink at the Auckland International Airport. I was indeed impressed by the quality of the flat white which I thought was pretty good considering I was at the airport.

The flat white was a good solid espresso with a different but great tasting flavor of milk… something to get used to considering now that I would now be drinking NZ milk rather than US milk. I remember thinking that if I could at least get something decent here, I am bound to get even better espresso drinks in downtown Auckland and Wellington too… I was certainly looking forward to exploring the coffee culture here in New Zealand!

Coffee and Wireless in Wellington

When one has a laptop but no Internet access at home, finding places to connect to the Internet to check email and surf the web (i.e. if you don’t have a web enabled mobile phone) then becomes another part of your adjustment to life in New Zealand.

Unlike in the US where there are plenty of coffee shops that offer free wireless, and a few that actually make you buy coffee before they grant you access, here it seems those are more in the minority. In addition to this, the access provided in most of those coffee shops are restricted in either the amount of time you can use the access, the amount of data you can download and/or the types of data or files you can download.

To be fair, some of these restrictions are not unusual even in coffee shops in the Seattle area. For example, Fremont Coffee Company, located in the Fremont area requires you to buy coffee before they will give you a voucher with you time limited username and password. Some places like Victrola Coffee on 15th Avenue on upper Capital Hill turns off their Wi-Fi on certain days and at certain times to prevent ‘squatters’ who buy one cup of drip and hang out there the whole day on their laptops thus depriving others a place to seat and enjoy their espresso.. Starbucks had a deal with T-Mobile where one would set up an account for access. They also had a deal where you bought a Starbucks coffee card and somehow through that you could get some sort of Internet access but since I don’t really go to Starbucks to hang out, I never really tried to use their Internet access offerings.

However from the little I have seen so far Internet access is pretty much restricted in some form or the other I have yet to see one coffee shop, of the few that provide access, where you can hang out to your hearts content and download Gigs of iTunes trailers and podcasts. Here is a quick summary of what I have seen so far at three coffee shops;

The first coffee shop/café I used to get Internet access was one called Perretts Cafe. This I think had the most stable of the three. It was relatively easy to connect one the barista gave me the username and password. What in interesting is that I don’t think they actually change the password, nor do they generate multiple usernames which means that once you’ve been there, you can probably hang out somewhere close and access the web without having to pay for coffee or eats. Now the problem I had with this place was that they do restrict the types of files you can download. This includes executables… and that makes sense since you don’t want folks downloading shady binaries via your network. The problem though was that they were garbling my anti-virus definitions files so I couldn’t do any windows system or security updates at all.

Enigma is a great little coffee and lounge on Courtney Place. This is the only one that seems to have no real restrictions as far as I can tell. Part of the reason I really can’t tell however is because it also the slowest and the least stable of the three. To actually be able to get connected, I was told that I had to sit at this particular spot right by the pinball machine… at first I thought she was joking and then one of the other baristas I asked also told me the exact same thing. Regardless, though I was able to connect, the connection and the speed were actually pretty bad.

Of late I have been going to Esquires Coffee for two reasons. First, they actually make good coffee considering they are a chain of not very ‘barista’ looking folks. Second, if you ask, they will give you a voucher for an hour or 60 MB of Internet access, whichever comes first. The Internet provider is a company called TimeZone. In my opinion this is still a good deal I think because you are getting your favorite espresso drink, and they will throw in some ‘free’ Wi-Fi to boot. Now of course there is a bit of a problem in the you get one hour or 60 MB which means that if you were downloading some of your favorite iTunes podcasts or doing your system updates, you might only be there for a couple of minutes. The other problem I was having the last couple of times I used them is that the there were a couple of times when I lost connects to the Internet or the Internet was extremely slow. I would click on a link then wait and wait. But for the most part they are ok.

TimeZone also provide Internet access for Starbucks. We actually went into one of the Starbucks and asked about their Internet access. They told us that Internet access cost $3.00 and no mention of buy coffee and get it free so rather than hang around and ask clarifying questions, we went to Esquires instead.

There is another service called CaféNET that is similar to TimeZone where the company provides Internet access to various eating establishments around the city. This includes Clark’s Café at the Wellington Library. They offer a number of access options but as far as I can see they don’t have vouchers meaning that you have to use your credit card to purchase time.

There are two other options available at the library. Supposedly there is Woosh but I couldn’t get a signal, then there is Telecom who offer access at $9.95 per hour compared to caféNET’s $10 for 24 consecutive hours. I’m sorry but this is exactly the problem I have with these dinosaurs. Why would I opt to pay $10 for an hour of access when I can pay the same for 24 hours of access? This to me is a classic example why no country needs these government monopolies (or former monopolies)!

In general, I think the difference between Seattle and Wellington however is that fundamentally; Internet access is on the whole much cheaper and more pervasive in Seattle than it is here in Wellington. It feels like Seattle was maybe six to eight years ago when Internet access was a little harder to some by and more expensive. But what helped Seattle and this something that I don’t really see here yet is that Seattle had/has a ton of people with laptops so there is much more demand for Wi-Fi be it at home or at coffee shops. Here I really don’t get the sense that a lot of the locals here lug their laptops with them everywhere they go. So as a result what you find that there is less demand for Wi-Fi from locals. At the same time it almost feels like many of those you see with laptops are tourists and travelers. Oh by the way, MacBooks and Accer netbooks seem to be really popular.

And I have to admit, being that I am new to this city, I have barely just began touching the surface with regards to coffee and coffee culture in Wellington… and so this is a topic I will be coming back to again and again as I continue to explore coffee culture here in New Zealand.

Will That Be A Latte Or A Flat White?

There is one item you will find on every espresso menu here in New Zealand that you will not find anywhere else except Australia (at least as far as I know). This is the espresso drink known as a Flat White… which is the drink that I have been ordering since I came to the country. So then you ask, what the heck is a flat white

This is the question that I have been asking and it seems that almost everyone has a slightly different take on exactly what a flat white actually is. When I first came to this country, I order my flat white at Auckland International Airport. The reason I ordered a flat white and not a latte is because a friend of mine who visits this country on a regular basis told me that is what they call lattes here. Of course I was surprised to see lattes on the menu too so naturally I had to ask the barista what a flat white was?

According to this particular barista, a flat white was espresso shots with steamed frothy milk. OK I thought, that sounds like a latte to me so I then asked her what a latte was? Oh she said, its lots of steamed frothy milk and espresso. OK then I thought, that sounds like a latte to me so I then asked her, what was the difference between a flat white and a latte? Well she said, a latte has less coffee and a lot more froth, less milk..OK then I thought, now that sounds like a cappuccino… which was also a menu item. So I then asked her, what is the difference between a latte and a cappuccino? Oh she said, a cappuccino has cocoa powder sprinkled on it. At this point I decided to stop asking questions, get my flat white and get out of there … oh and by the way, the flat white she made was pretty good actually…

Still not quite sure of the difference I decided to give it another try and talked to one of the baristas at one of the Fuel Espresso stands. He seemed knowledgeable. What he told me was that a latte was more frothier than a flat white and a flat white usually had more espresso. Maybe this is what the other barista was trying to say in a slightly less elegant way… but I still wasn’t clear on the differen

The barista who actually helped me understand the full story was Mui of Clarks Cafe at the Wellington City Library. The do really great espresso at Clark’s and the baristas there are pretty cool, so I decided to ask them. Rather than just telling me the difference Mui pulled me over and actually showed me the difference. He explained before he started that lattes were creamier while flat whites were, ‘flat’. Oh , I guess that means that lattes use whole milk while flat whites use skim (trim) or low fat milk? Not quite he explained as he placed two small espresso cups on the counter. You use the same milk for both, but the difference is in the part of the milk you use after steaming the milk.

“Imagine these cups have espresso shots in them.” he said I will start with a latte. After steaming and frothing the milk he simply poured the frothed milk into the cup. He then took the second cup and this time using a metal spoon he scooped back the froth from the milk, then holding back the rest of the forth with the spoon, he proceeded to pour the milk underneath into the cup. He finished up by pouring a little of the froth on the top. That was the flat white.

Finally with the two cups next to each other he then continued to explain that if you were to try scoop or skim back the frothy milk from the top of the latte you would not really see the milk underneath since the whole milk would be more frothy or airy. He then demonstrated the exact same maneuver on the flat white and you could clearly see the milk underneath the froth. As he explained, the flat white was more ‘flat’ than the latte. That right there was the difference between the flat white and the latte.

If you were to compare what Mui did with the typical coffee shop in Seattle (or in the US) you will see that in the US, what we call lattes are what the Kiwis call flat whites. Often many baristas in the indie coffee shops in the US will after frothing the milk, bang the metal pitcher on the counter three to five times to remove some of the air. Many will also use the spoon to hold back the froth as they pure the milk then add the froth to the top. In other words, they tend to make flat whites.

Well there you have it…

New Zealand Coffee Culture, My First Impressions…

This post has been a long time coming. For a while now, I have been looking forward to checking out the coffee culture in New Zealand. Part of the reason for this is because word on the street is that espresso is huge deal here. But little did I know what I was in for! I sit here writing this post in a small café called Enigma enjoying some of the best espresso I have ever tasted. Yesterday I was at a café called Ernesto right on Cuba St in the Cuba district of Wellington. The coffee there was also pretty amazing! In fact their coffee is from a local roasting company called Havana Coffee Works. I first read about the owners of this company a few months ago in Idealog and about how Havana Coffee Works came to be. I will be writing more about Havana Coffee Works in a later post. But my main point here is that I have been enjoying some great coffee here in Wellington and also in Auckland.

Though I had heard that Wellington, New Zealand had quite a bit of a coffee culture, little did I know how seriously Wellingtonians and Aucklanders take their coffee? Just about everywhere you go, the coffee shops, the cafes, the bakeries, the restaurants all seem to do a pretty amazing job with coffee. There are also quite a few espresso stands, espresso carts and trailers (kind of like the Skillet for those of you from Seattle). It is interesting for me to note that many folk here will order espresso drinks to do with their meals rather than just scones or other sweets as I am more used to. And since just about every café here serves hand pulled espresso drinks, I would venture to say that Wellington probably has way more espresso serving places per capita than Seattle… but this is just my own unscientific observation. But even at both the Auckland and Wellington airports, I counted more than six coffee shop/cafes at each airport…. and this was not after exploring the whole airport, but just checking out the in the sections I happened to be in.

A short while ago, friend of mine from Seattle, who flies in and out of New Zealand on business pretty regularly, recently told me something interesting about the coffee in New Zealand. He said, and I quote,” I have never had bad coffee in New Zealand.” As we continued to chat, when he was basically saying and I paraphrase is that you can’t get bad coffee in New Zealand. Yes I know this is hyperbole so please don’t write to me pointing out the fact that this is probably a false statement. But one thing I have to admit though that in the few days that I have been here I have yet to have one bad espresso drink. Even at the Auckland airport, where I first drink my first official New Zealand coffee, my latte or as they call it here, flat white, was pretty good actually (by the way, they do have flat whites and café lattes and I am still trying to figure out the difference between the two). I say this remembering the awful, awful latte I ordered from the Seattle’s Best Coffee stand at SeaTac airport this past August when I was about to catch my flight to Amsterdam. Now I know someone is going to get offended and write to tell me that they have had bad coffee in New Zealand, and that may be the case. I can also tell you that if I do find a place here with bad coffee, I will certainly do the write-up. And there are tons of places here to try out and review, which I will… with the places I have check out already, so far, so good…

So if coffee is so big in New Zealand, then how is it that you really don’t hear about it much as you would with Seattle coffee or even European coffee like in Italy? From the little I have been reading about New Zealand culture in magazines like Idealog is that New Zealanders (or Kiwis) are not really known for promoting themselves. They tend to be more laid back and not as aggressive about promoting themselves as you find American or even European businesses. But this I feel will probably change in the near future as some in New Zealand realize that in the global economy, self branding and promotion is essential… and I suspect this will eventually trickle down to the coffee industry and culture…

Anyway these are my first impressions in a country of in which I have been present for less than a week and will be here for a few years to come… and so I will certainly be doing a lot of sampling and exploring of the coffee scene here in New Zealand and especially in Wellington.

In the meantime you may be wondering what the Ground Offerings blog is going to be doing about posting articles on Seattle coffee culture? That will continue to happen via our Seattle based bloggers. In addition, we will be posting regularly on coffee culture around the world. If you are interested in coffee and would like to write for Ground Offerings, please let us know via the Contact Us link above.

Alimento in the Bay of Plenty

Our guest blogger Tina is German but lives and works in New Zealand. She enjoys the coffee culture in New Zealand and is sending posts of her espresso sojourn


There are a lot of cafes in the Bay of Plenty that I like for a number of different reasons. But if I had to pick one, I’d probably name Alimento in Tauranga as my overall favorite. It is located centrally, they serve good coffee and lovely food, play nice music and the staff is always friendly. The latter by the way is something not hard to find in this corner of the world.

The interior is just the way it should be, with brown wooden furniture, walls in black and white, and a beautiful original stone floor. Looking around, you can find red bits and pieces in every corner, from round lamps to old scooters. The central piece in the store is the massive, bright red coffee machine, where they brew flat whites, lattes, short and long blacks with beans from Coffee Supreme, a Wellington-based roaster.

As with most cafes in New Zealand, you make up your mind from a huge chalkboard, order and pay at the counter and get a number to display at your table. Breakfast is served until 2pm, and includes all-time favorites such as eggs on toast, bagels, pancakes and muesli. There are fresh salads, wraps and pasta for lunch. Sweet goodies include homemade lemon tart, raspberry muffins and little orange almond cakes.

The only downside may be its location opposite a grey parking garage. But sitting in the courtyard under the century-old karaka tree with the sun shining and the seagulls calling, one can easily forget the garage, as well as any worries of the day.

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