My husband and I spent many months traveling around New Zealand. While this is a beautiful country worth the time to visit we found that it lacked a few of the basic’s that we were used to as Americans. One of the biggest disappointments we had during our time there was the lack of good coffee.
Now I know to many this may seem like a small thing something should be easily overlooked, after all is it not more important to appreciate the many great things about the place you are visiting rather than looking at this one small thing. Sure it could be and maybe should be but for some reason to this day it still bugs me that I could not find one good cup of coffee while in New Zealand, not even at the American owned Starbucks. To make matters worse, even with a great exchange rate the price of a cup of coffee is enough to make you scream “bloody murder” at the poor barista that has to ring you up.
Lets start at the airport, we landed after a long flight where the coffee and food were limited, mostly due to lazy flight crews and airlines decreasing the amount of service offered on their flights. Off the plane we headed through a long and very personal check at immigration, followed by a long sniff of my person and my bags by Barney the bio-security dog. All I wanted was a great cup of hot coffee to sip as I gathered my thoughts and took in this great country. We quickly eyed a coffee bar and like small children getting a cup cake we ran to get our dark cup of delight. Suddenly we were hit with a reality that we would soon learn plagued the entire country, this country has no idea what coffee really is. To me coffee is a big pot filled with warm dark goodness, one that opens every sense in your body starting with the smell, one that lingers deep into the back of your nose and throat, then moves into your chest down your body and keeps going until every part of you tingles with delight and anticipation. Once you hold the cup in both hands and take a deep inhalation just before you take that first hot sip you know all is right in the world again.
That is not the world of coffee in New Zealand, it is more like a wee small bit of espresso followed with a huge amount of warm milk, they call a flat white, I call it “show me the coffee please”. Seriously, in all flat whites I tried (which I assure you is probably in the hundreds if not the thousands) none of them tasted like coffee. Oh I would ask even plead for something stronger, if I had to have the flat white version at least let me have a real shot or two of espresso. The people there looked at me as if I had lost my mind, I was called the “crazy American” the “need for speed junky” or my favorite “are you insane you’ll ruin the milk”. I tried to ask for the standard cup of brewed coffee, or as they like to call it drip coffee. Most had no idea what it was, the ones that did said it was not worth brewing, very few people in the world had a taste for that coffee we were told over and over again. We even found a breakfast joint that promoted itself as an American diner, they were shocked when we asked if they had a bottomless cup of coffee, “are you crazy we don’t even own a coffee pot”, why do they all think I’m crazy.
My quest continued over the months I was there, the closest thing I came to was what they call a press pot. Basically you put your grounds into the bottom of a glass jar, fill it with hot water and use this huge plunger with a wire net on the end to push the grounds of coffee to the bottom leaving you with a jar of coffee. I had seen them here in the states, I think they call them french press pots. Now this coffee will never replace the coffee brewer back home but it was a nice filler while we were there. We found ourselves buying a large thermos and filling it with our own coffee from “home”. Surprisingly the thermos did a pretty good job of keeping the coffee hot for our long days on the cold shores of Wellington, plus there is nothing like a hot cup of coffee in the middle of a long hike. We had found our happy place at last and were at last able to really enjoy this beautiful country, when our time there was over I was almost sad to leave behind our thermos and press pot, they had become like old friends.
After nearly four months overseas you would think we had overcome our need for cup of brewed coffee, but that is wrong. The very first thing we did the moment we landed in LAX was to head straight to the coffee bar, we wanted a cup of regular Joe. There must have been a hundred people in line,after all we landed at 8 in the morning, prime coffee time, that’s ok it was worth the wait. When we got to the register to place our order the kind young girl at the counter sweetly asked if we would like to try one of their sugar laden artificially flavored coffee lattes (I think she called it the chocolate Carmel latte from hell) with an evil stink eye like I have never given before I told her I wanted the largest cup of dark fresh brewed coffee she had, with a look of fear in her face she got me my larger than life cup of coffee, then told me it was the end of the pot so I could have it for free. It was like a gift from the gods, I almost jumped over the counter to kiss her, but I resisted I’m not sure if kissing the girl behind the counter was proper airport etiquette. As nice as it is to travel around the world, it’s the little things that make you glad to be home.