Irrefutable evidence that coffee makers CAN do tea when they put their minds to it.
The Old George cafe at the bottom of Bowen House is living proof that coffee people can do good tea.
Old George is a coffee roasting company, named after an old chap in Australia, who (I think) taught the owner to roast perfect coffee (that’s according to the website; I make no claims about judging perfect coffee).
So it is all about coffee, confirmed by the sign describing the cafe as a “roastery and espresso bar”.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t take tea seriously too, as I discover on my first visit. The tea is good. Great, in fact, and I know I’ll be lured back again and again. People take note: if you want to find me in Wellington, try looking in this cafe.
My marks out of 10:
Cup – eclectic collection of old fine-bone china, 10: On my first trip I’m given a charming Salisbury cup with yellow flowers. I fall in love immediately. The next time it’s Royal Doulton. Life just gets better.
Tea Tea Total Wild Cherry black tea 9: Undoubtedly, my judgment is being influenced by the quality of the drinking vessel, but I enjoy every sip of this brew. A pot of hot water on the side so I could get full two cups from the teapot and Old George would be looking at a perfect round (Obviously, I’m still not following the Professor’s advice and asking for a pot of water).
Setting 7: This Old George cafe is in the ground floor of Bowen House, just across the road from Parliament and The Beehive, and handy to lots of government departments, so it’s a popular watering hole for officials and politicos. The first time I visit is to meet ministerial staff. The second time is a disaster (it’s Saturday morning, I’ve walked all the way from Cuba St to have my first cup of the day here, only to find it’s closed) and the third time I make a slight detour during a trip to the Ministry for the Environment. Apparently there’s another Old George just around the corner at 16 The Terrace.
It’s a desolate feeling to realise that breakfast – and therefore breakfast tea – is going to be at Auckland Airport.
The world brightens, though, when, strolling through the domestic terminal, I spot The Bach Alehouse.
It’s a place usually associated with night-time travel. You know, burgers and wine. Which are usually pretty good, by airport standards.
For some reason, I’ve never thought of having tea here. Inside, I scan the menu, and order poached eggs to fortify me for a hard day conferencing.
What about the tea though? Will this be the outlet that finally challenges the supremacy of Freshbites in Wellington for New Zealand’s best airport tea?
My marks out of 10:
Cup, Acme, 2: This is more than I am inclined to give my old nemesis, but the fact that an airport cafe is using something other than a paper cup makes me generous. Thanks to repeated exposure to this range of heavy-duty coffee cups, I immediately recognise this one as the Tulip Cup (Grey) featuring “a tall, narrow design meaning the crema is retained for longer when serving a long black.”
Tea, Pickwick English breakfast teabag, 2.5: Crazily, that’s a high mark for tea in at Auckland airport. Initially I gave it a 3, but just couldn’t go through with it. It’s served as a pot of hot water and I’m left to make the tea myself. I do this immediately, and, in an effort to get a decent brew, leave it to draw while I eat my eggs. It doesn’t work.
Setting 4: Given this is an airport, The Bach Alehouse at least offers weary travellers a chance to escape the crowds for a bit. The decor is designed to be reminiscent of a typical Kiwi bach, complete with 70s modular wall units, a Crown Lynn swan and ducks on the wall. Hilda Ogden where are you; I bet you’d give me a better cup of tea.
Cup Acme 1: That’s a fail. Here’s why (can’t bring myself to explain this again).
A pot of hot water and a decent cup and this spread could be straight As.
Tea Ritual Tea Company organic loose-leaf English breakfast 8.5: The eight is for the tea; the extra 0.5 is for the care the staff takes in preparing it to my taste.
The only place I’ve had Ritual is at Vic Books’ Pipitea cafe, and the first time round I found it strong and bitter. I tell the woman behind the counter, and she says that if that’s the case, I should tell them and they’ll make it again.
The pot that comes (there’s no table service; they shout and the Professor collects it from the counter) is, frankly, delicious. Not too weak. Not too strong. The Professor looks inside, and says they’ve taken the basket of leaves out for me.
“A pot of hot water on the side and they could have earned full marks,” I tell him.
“When we have tea out, my wife and I always ask for one,” he says, demonstrating why he’s a professor and I’m not.
The cheese scone that does double-duty as my breakfast and morning tea hits the spot.
Setting 7: Any place combining tea and books has got to be good on a wet winter’s day in Wellington. Unlike Pipitea, this version of Vic Books doesn’t boast a massive masterpiece (or not that I spotted), but it’s cosier, there are fewer suits about, and all-in-all, it’s a good setting for a discussion on the destruction of life as we know it.
Bonus – I leave with my backpack weighed down with books.
Dog-friendly?Doesn’t appear to be.
Open after 3pm? Don’t know, but I hope so; students need fortifying at odd times.
Good tea is again spoilt by bad cups – and now I know why
Memories of tea and date loaf at The Perching Parrot lure me off the highway at Paekakariki again in search of a repeat performance.
“It’s important to check they are consistently good,” I tell myself, as I park right outside.
But what’s this? Looking up the road, I spot another cafe just two doors away.
It’s the Beach Rd Deli, and requires immediate inspection.
My Marks Out of 10:
Cup 1: Acme and Co. When will this torture end? Acme is a Wellington company based in the Prefab cafe in Jessie St. By its own description, it’s a specialty coffee company. Why oh why, then, are its cups being used for tea? The cups have names like Demitasse, Flat White, Cappuccino and Latte. And they’re probably great cups for those coffees. But not for tea. They’re the wrong shape and too heavy, sucking the heat from the tea before it gets to drinkers’ mouths.
Acme seems to understand and accept that different types of coffee work best in different types of cups. The tulip has “a tall, narrow design meaning the crema is retained for longer when serving a long black”. The Demitasse’s thick wall “retains heat well”. The Cappuccino “features a large surface area which is the ideal canvas for displaying latte art” . Oh, and by the way, “the cappuccino can also be used as a durable teacup”.
And there’s the problem. Tea is an after-thought. You need different cups for every cup of coffee, but just bung the tea in the nearest cappuccino cup. No-one will know the difference.
Tea 7:T Leaf T loose-leaf English Breakfast.Or is it? One of the reasons I love tea from this Petone blender is because it is consistently good.
This cup, though, tastes like it might have a bit of Earl Grey in it. I ask the woman behind the counter if they might have given me the wrong tea, and she says she doesn’t think so, but English Breakfast and Earl Grey are next to each other on the shelf, so it’s possible someone picked up the wrong one. “I’ll make myself a pot and see,” she says. I like her style.
On the food front, I have a rather nice feta, sun-dried tomato and spinach quiche with a tamarillo chutney so spicy it makes my nose run.
Setting 7: Holtom’s Building opened in 1920 and nearly closed in 2007 because of the extent earthquake-strengthening that needed to be done. Presumably it was done, though, because the building is still standing.
Today, the seat just inside the window is bathed in sunshine, making it warm enough to take my coat off.
Paekakariki is as far as I get out of Wellington before I have to stop for tea.
I know there will be a cup waiting for me at my destination in Levin, 50 kilometres away, but you know, addiction.
My plan is to get a takeaway coffee to keep me going, but what’s a girl to do when the waitress at the Perching Parrot, just off the main highway and across the railway lines at Paekakariki, is thrusting a tea menu at me?
Settle in for tea and cake, that’s what.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 7: The cup itself isn’t so good (heavy) but gains marks for shear audacity; who mixes a bright yellow Rockingham coffee cup with a rosebud-patterned Crown Lynn saucer (in what seems to be bone china; must check with Crown Lynn guru Val Monk whether this New Zealand pottery made fine china) and tops it off with a classic Crown Lynn Autumn Splendour side plate?
Tea 7: TeaTotal loose-leaf Special Blend Breakfast. The first cup is a little weak, possibly because I poured it too soon. Second cup is better, and matches to perfection the moist date, walnut and ginger loaf. There’s no pot of hot water.
Setting 7: The Perching Parrot is sandwiched between the wild west coast sea and the Paekakariki Hill, described by the website Dangerous Roads as one of the world’s most beautiful drives. Inside the cafe, I’m captivated by the faux French decor, which extends even to the toilet. Proceedings are watched over by a well-loved bear that a local tells me has lived in a few shops.
Dog-friendly? A black dog walks past but doesn’t stop. Perhaps he knows something.
Open after 3pm? At 3.30pm the kitchen is closed, but they’re still serving tea (and coffee if you must) and food from the cabinet.
One of the best things about life as at tea blogger is meeting young people who love tea.
When I ask Georgia at Cibo Cafe in Whangarei what sort of tea they sell, she rushes out the back and comes back with a big foil packet. She opens it and breathes deeply.
“It smells so good,” she says and grins.
“It should,” I say, “it’s good tea.”
We talk tea for bit and I tell her I’m a tea blogger. Georgia’s delighted and skuttles away to have a look on her phone, while I get down to the serious business at hand.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 5:Nikko fine porcelain, large and surprisingly light for what it is.
Tea 8:TeaTotal English breakfast, made in a pot with loose-leaf tea Cibo has put into a Mt Everest tea-filter bag. Georgia brings them out to show me and says it means customers get to drink good-quality loose-leaf tea without a mouthful of leaves, and the staff don’t have to empty teapots. I’ll drink to that, I say.
Setting 6: Not very long ago, this was a car yard. Then Porowini Ave became the place to sell cars and a medical centre was built here. Cibo is at one end – the river/Town Basin end – and opens into the emergency pharmacy, which opens into the doctors’ rooms. It’s enormously civilised, not to mention calming, to be able to have a good cup of tea and something nice to eat (I had a baked salmony thing) before an appointment. The decor is pretty standard but with a nod to Northland’s sub-tropical climate. And the Town Basin, with its boats and crafts, is just a short walk away, across the remains of the car yard and a road.
The first leg of a nostalgic trip through Horowhenua
My sister and I spent a lot of the ‘seventies leaning over the back seat of our grandparents’ Zephyr 6 as we drove around Horowhenua, Puppa telling stories about his farming childhood and Gran looking for good spots for tea.
Sometimes the tea was in a Thermos on one of the wild west coast beaches, or made in a billy on a fire by a river. Other times we went to one of the cosy tearooms that seemed to be everywhere in those days.
Baby brother Matt missed out on these excursions, and I’ve always felt a bit sad about that. So early on an autumn morning, while it’s still dark, I collect him from his home in Wellington’s Mt Cook and we head north on our own road trip, Matt getting in the mood by playing ‘seventies music on the car stereo and me trying to retell the stories I heard so long ago.
The first stop on our road trip is Otaki’s River Cottage, a cafe in a converted stable on State Highway One.
I know this place of old; it was one of Gran’s favourite stopping places. In those days it was called The Stables and you sat in the bit that is now a shop.
There’s a hand-written history on the wall, starting from 1939, when the newly opened tearooms were filled with a metre of silt from the flooding Otaki River.
“In 1939, World War Two began,” the author says. “By this time I had two young brothers, Jim and John. Dad cleaned out the tearooms and erected a large neon sign overlooking the highway, in the shape of a large horseshoe, and called it the Green Horseshoe Tearooms. Mother took over then with a waitress and they served light meals such as spaghetti and baked beans and eggs on toast, hot scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, which became very popular, and of course, gallons of tea.”
That’s the way I remember it, scones and gallons of tea. Served on cake stands three tiers high and with butter shaved into little curls. But will the tearooms atmosphere have survived the Age of Coffee? Anxiously we hang about until 8am, when the doors open and we can find out.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 9: Temuka Riverstone cup and saucer. How do they know I’m collecting it?! This set was huge in the 70s and my aunt was an aficionado.
Temuka is made by New Zealand Insulators, a 94-year-old company whose main business is making electrical insulators. But clay is clay, and in the 1930s, it started producing tobacco jars, mixing bowls and teapots as Christmas gifts for customers. They were popular, and a side industry was born.
Tea 6: Tea Total English breakfast loose-leaf. One of my new favourites, so expectations are high. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite met. The pot is small and there’s no hot water for a top-up (though they might have given me some if I’d asked), but the biggest disappointment is that the tea is weak. Eventually, by drinking bits and adding more tea to the cup, I produce a reasonable cup, but I’ve had this tea before, at Loretta in Wellington and Sky Cafe in Auckland, and know it can be better.
Setting 10: My brother and another customer try to convince me to sit outside in the courtyard but my warm northern blood is having none of it. It might be sunny, but it’s 8am on an April morning and cold. The mere fact there is a pile of blankets handy confirms that outside is not a good idea. Much better inside by the fire.
The decor is cheerful if slightly whacky, and the food (vegetarian cooked breakfast for Matt, pancakes for me) is delicious, but it’s nostalgia that tips this cafe over from a 9 to a 10.
Open after 3pm? Yes.
Dog-friendly? None in evidence, but it’s not hard to imagine a pup or two in the courtyard.
Any trip to Wellington now involves changing planes in Auckland, and with connections being what they are, that often means a mad dash from one departure lounge to another (a former colleague was amused to see me running through the terminal recently in a fur coat and hat, but that’s another story).
Or we can face a long period cooling our heels.
Tea at the domestic terminal is a desultory affair, so if it’s a nice day, I often walk over to the international terminal, where things are marginally better.
This is one of those days, and with three whole hours to kill before my next flight, I order a pot of tea and settle down in a seat in the sun to do some reading.
Concentration eludes me though, because a chap at the next table (his name is Henry) is talking tea. “I’m a tea drinker, preferably white tea,” he tells the coffee-drinkers at his table.
I go over and we talk tea. Henry has asked for a bigger cup, and says the cafe should be using pyramid-shaped tea bags , as they give the tea leaves room to brew.
“And you really should try white tea,” he tells me. “I think you’ll like it.
My marks out of 10:?
Cup 2: Coffee cup. Say no more.
Tea 3: Dilmah classic teabag in pot. Well, it’s in the pot once I put it in there. And the pot is only half full of water. Sometimes there’s a woman behind the counter who drinks tea herself and makes a reasonable fist of making a good brew with what she’s got. Sometimes there’s a young woman who has never drunk tea. There’s a special tea menu on the counter and a wide range of teas – although no white tea.
Setting: The trend for ’70s fashion has got as far as the airport. It’s not an unpleasant place to be as far as airports go, and the 10-minute walk over is a change from all that sitting.
Sadly, I’m more familiar with the tea in this hospital than I would like to be.
And while there was a time, when I was lying broken in a hospital bed in the orthopaedic ward, that I was absurdly grateful for a cup of hospital char, let’s not pretend it’s anything other than it is – institutional tea, in an institutional cup.
Back then, I was confined to a bed and not free to sneak down to the hospital cafe where things might be better.
Now that I’m strictly a day visitor though, I head in there and find out.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 5: Fairway fine china. Large but not too heavy.
Tea 5: Sir Thomas Lipton English breakfast teabag. Served with the bag sitting in the cup and a separate pot of water. Which means the water isn’t piping hot when it hits the tea. Sigh. Still, not a bad taste. A bit flat, but better than you get on the wards. Taken with a slab of sultana cake.
Setting: Sunny and warm after sitting in the chilly radiology department for a while. A bit on the noisy side.
Dog-friendly? Dogs in hospitals are becoming a thing. Sadly, not in this one though. Am pretty sure that having a waggling Cody (Jess’ predecessor) visit me would have aided my recovery.
Open after 3pm? Yes – but at 3.15pm half the cafe is closed, with the chairs up on the tables.
Delimarche, Whangarei Base Hospital, Maunu Rd, Whangarei.
If this hotel were any more waterfront, it would be in the water.
It’s a pretty safe bet they’ve been serving tea at the Horeke pub for nearly 200 years.
The sign out the front mentions only beer, but what homesick missionary, bushman, sailor or ship builder wouldn’t have been hanging out for a nice cup of Rosie Lee to start the day, even if they ended the day with something stronger?
It’s a sultry day in late summer when we visit, the sky and the water both full to bursting. We’re too early for lunch (the pub doesn’t open until 12) so we walk around the harbour, startling the seagulls and annoying the oystercatchers.
In Paihia, just 45 minutes from Horeke today by car, but in those days a difficult journey through dense bush or several days’ sail), the first ship built in New Zealand, the Herald, was launched.
Horeke was in the game the following year with 50 men working in the Raine, Ramsay and Browne shipyard, building the schooner Enterprise (1827), the brigantine New Zealander (1828) and the three-masted ship Sir George Murray (1830).
Today, Horeke has a population of fewer than 400 people
My marks out of 10?
Cup 3.Simon Gualt cup and saucer. A bit heavy, but an attempt at doing it right.
Tea 2:Chanui English breakfast. This is hard to score. New barmaid Nicola hasn’t made tea before, and it shows. But on the plus side, she has the gumption to ‘fess up and ask me how it is. I try to be honest but encouraging. She’s made it in the cup and there’s too much milk. However, she listens carefully to my description of how I make tea, and says that’s what she’ll do next time. And the food (pub grub) is delicious.
Setting 10: If you were any more waterfront, you’d be in the water. I can’t help worrying about what will happen to the old hotel as the Hokianga Harbour creeps up as a result of climate change-induced sea-level rise (it’s not just the melting polar caps and glaciers causing the sea to rise; as water gets warmer it expands, a process known as thermal expansion). The hotel itself has been renovated in parts, in a 20-year project by the owners. The bits that haven’t been done-up add to the charm. But for now, to sit in the sun on the deck overlooking the harbour, which on this day is silent and still except for the birds, makes coming so far north worth the while.
It’s a stifling afternoon in late summer when my mother and I take a walk through historic Greytown for tea at the Main Street Deli.
A hundred years or so ago my great great uncle Percy Plummer (another son of Ellen Eliza Plummer, of Kelburn Tea Kiosk fame) had a carting business here, first with horses and then with trucks. His brother Douglas was here too, working with Percy in the carting trade and on nearby White Rock Station, until the Battle of the Somme put paid to this and everything else for him.
Few of them could afford to buy land here today, however, and the town is now full of cafes and boutiques catering to nouveau settlers and the coffee-swilling Wellingtonians who sweep over the Rimutakas every weekend.
Luckily, I have a local guide to help me choose an eatery, and once again I discover that Mother really does know best.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 4: Bevande durable porcelain. The colours make me give this tea set a higher mark than it deserves. Yes it’s for tea, but as with the Acme cups I’ve been finding almost everywhere lately, the weight is really off-putting.
A rock legend, summer frocks and good tea – what else could a girl want?
Tom Petty has been dead just two short months when I hear him playing at Cafe Vessel in Wellington.
I’m still in mourning, and listening to Refugee while waiting for tea and a breakfast smoothie is bitter-sweet.
Vessel is yet another one of those cafes I’ve been to before but haven’t had the you-know-whats to try the tea. But now that I’m a tea reviewer, it’s time to dig deep and do it.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Acme. Not a bad shape, but heavy heavy heavy.
Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf English breakfast. It’s a good strong cup of morning cha, but there’s no hot water for a second cup. The making man tells me they’ve always stocked T Leaf T. “The factory’s in Petone , so they can resupply quickly.”
Setting 6: It’s always pretty cheerful in Vessel, and on this summer’s day Wellington women have got their summer dresses on. Vessel is handy to the railway station and right next door to the Hotel Waterloo, in all it’s faded art deco glory. Having a gaming lounge in the back is an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your leanings.
Open after 3pm? (A new category because of my frustration with all the cafes that close BEFORE afternoon tea-time). Yes.
The Misses Plummer were my great-great grandmother, Ellen Eliza Plummer (a widow), and her three maiden daughters, Olive, Lillian and Nellie.
Sometime between 1912 and 1914 they were joined by Ellen’s son Horace and his wife and daughters, my grandmother among them, fresh from Broken Hill, where Horace and his brothers had worked in the silver mines.
In 1914 he and Ethel took over the Kiosk lease, and while the Dominion Post says that in 1915 it became a hospital for soldiers coming back from the front, documents show my family was still there in 1916 when my great uncle Jack was born. By 1917 though, they had moved to Wadestown, where Horace became a grocer.
The Kiosk itself went on for years, and was still standing – as a pub called The Skyline – when I was a child. In 1982 it burned down in suspicious circumstances (two fires, less than a month apart, at a time when some people were pushing to have it pulled down and others were fighting to save it) and was replaced with the current Athfield-designed building.
But back to tea. My grandmother always insisted that The Kiosk was a classy place that knew how to do tea, and a walk around the cable car museum suggests she might have been right. Silver teapots, fine white china with a gold rim, and a photo of an elegantly set table from 1915 – when my great grandmother Ethel was at the helm and my grandmother was three years old – evoke a time when tea was king.
So it’s fair to say that it’s not without some trepidation that I pick the Kiosk (it will always be the Kiosk to me, even though it is now officially called Kowhai Cafe) when a newspaper reporter says he wants to see me do my tea stuff. Will the family tea legacy live on? I hitch a ride on the cable car to Kelburn, and find out.
My Marks Out Of 10:
Cup 2:Acme. I seem to be running into them a lot these days – at the Matterhorn and at the Rusty Tractor. They’re not getting any lighter. It is a tea-cup shape, but I would much rather be using my great-granny’s china.
Tea 7: T Leaf T English breakfast bag in pot. Disappointed it’s not loose-leaf (my grandmother refused to her dying day to use teabags) but the flavour is good and the pot is a great little pourer. No hot water though for a top-up, and I’m struggling to get a second cup.
Setting 10: It’s not the Kelburn Kiosk as it was, but this is a place that has seen six generations of my family (my mother and I brought my son here when he was small, and last year he and I had lunch here, sans tea). And while I will always wish they’d build a replica of the “real” Kiosk, there are nods inside to the old building (wooden panelling and a photo on the wall), and just look at the view.
Dog friendly? Unknown.
*If anyone know what “Broadways, Christchurch” was please drop me a line. We think it was probably a department store (family lore says Ellen worked in a store in Christchurch after coming to New Zealand from South Australia), but we are not sure.
Cup 4:Maxwell Williams Cafe Culture. The colour is fabulous, and the shape isn’t bad, but it’s heavy and the handle is too small to get your finger through.
Tea 6: Kerikeri Tea English breakfast. The serving person tells me it’s loose-leaf in a bag. I think she means it’s good tea, not floor-sweepings.
Setting 6: Our airport is friendly, cosy and subtropical. Not a bad place, as far as airports go, to spend a bit of quiet time.
Dog-friendly? Jess (and Cody before her) comes to the airport to see me off and welcome me home. She’s not allowed inside, but that’s okay, because the car park is so close to the runway that I can see her anyway.
The Apron Cafe, Whangarei airport, 59 Handforth St, Onerahi, Whangarei.
We get to the Matterhorn just in time time say goodbye.
The cafe closes on February 15, 2018 after serving Wellingtonians for 55 years, falling victim to an earthquake and developers.
The Matterhorn opened as a coffee-house in 1963. It was narrow and dark, reached by a corridor off Cuba St, near the Bucket Fountain and right across from Plum. It was the place where I had my first asparagus roll (circa 1973; my great-aunt thought I would like it, I didn’t).
In 1997 the Matterhorn morphed into a restaurant and bar, expanding sideways into extra spaces, but holding on firmly to its sixties vibe.
My brother is of this generation of Wellingtonians, and can’t quite believe that the scene of so many of his best nights out is about to disappear.
But disappear it will. In November 2016, a 7.8 earthquake hit Wellington, shaking the foundations of the Farmers store next door to the Matterhorn. It’s coming down, and, apparently, the landlord has decided to redevelop the whole site, including the bit the Matterhorn stands on.
The Matterhorn’s owner and staff are off to a new Italian restaurant in Tory St, in the remains of the old Lone Star, but that doesn’t help those who love the Matterhorn for its pastiche, it’s verve and for it’s sheer longevity.
So on Valentine’s Day 2018, the day before its scheduled closure, my brother and I hit the Matterhorn one last time. For tea, of course, and to raise a glass.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Acme. Not a bad shape, but small and heavy. Better suited to short blacks.
Tea 7:T Leaf T loose-leaf. I break a reviewing rule and have Earl Grey Blue Flower, because it’s late and I have already had eight cups of tea. Or is it nine? Matt has Jasmine Dragon Pearl’s Green. I have to ask for milk. The tea is made in fat cast-iron pots which keep it hot. I find it a little weak, then remind myself it’s Earl Grey.
The fact that tea has it’s own section on the menu is heart-warming. So is the complimentary shortbread.
Setting 10: It’s the Matterhorn’s second-to-last night. Need I say more?
It’s no breakfast and lousy tea for hungry and thirsty travellers
A rusty tractor AND a yarn-bombed bicycle – this is too good to be true, I think, as we walk up the wooden steps and into The Rusty Tractor cafe.
Sadly, it is. The Rusty Tractor has been recommended to us as a good place for a slap-up breakfast on our way out of Kerikeri, and we’re hungry, thirsty and full of anticipation by the time we get there.
There’s a problem though; the kitchen is snowed under coping with a table of eight, and there will be a 45-minute wait for food. We order tea and contemplate our next move.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 2:Acme. This cup is so heavy that just picking it up constitutes a work-out.
Tea 3:Dilmah English Breakfast teabag. Flat. Disappointing. Like the whole experience really.
Setting 6: On the road into (or out of) Kerikeri, in a spacious board-and-batten building with lots of quirky bits like the tractor and the bike. But a good setting doesn’t make up for lousy tea and no breakfast.
Dog-friendly? Not there long enough to find out.
So what do we do? Push on south, confident we’ll soon find another breakfast stop without a long wait for food. We don’t. “Kawakawa, then,” we say, but there’s nothing doing there either (someone’s cutting down a tree in the main street and all the car parks are blocked). And so we end up at the good-old Towai Tavern, where the service is fast, the breakfast is huge (my beloved eats half mine) and they’ve heard my complaint about a half-full teapot and give me a full pot.
Hot water from a coffee pot on a warming plate is NOT the way to make tea. Especially the first cup of the day.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Standard hotel cup, the sort you’ve had at every conference you’ve ever been to.
Tea 3:Dilmah English breakfast teabag: What would have been a dismal mark, based on the complete lack of understanding of why water for making bog-standard black tea should be HOT, is boosted slightly by the fact at least the teabag is Dilmah.
Setting 5: I’ve stayed here before, and the memories aren’t good – based largely on the fact that back then there was a building site across the road with jackhammers that started long before anyone should be awake. This trip there were no jackhammers, and the stained glass in the reception lifts this budget hotel above the crowd.
Dog friendly: No
Econo Lodge Central City Auckland, 37 Wellesley St West, Auckland.
“Your boy has always loved my turnovers,” says the woman behind the counter at the Miner’s Rest as she bundles an apricot one into a paper bag.
I’m taken-aback. While this place has long been a favourite, thanks to serving what must have been the world’s biggest – and tastiest – sausage rolls (my chaps are as diligent in the Search For The World’s Best Sausage Roll as I am in the Hunt For the Best Cup Of Tea), I’ve never bought a turnover here before.
What’s more, I know The Miner’s Rest has changed hands, and I have never seen this woman before.
Or have I? Eventually I twig that she owns another cafe we used to frequent, and that she used to put apricot turnovers aside for my son, who loved them with a passion boarding on worship.
So it’s sausage rolls off the menu and apricot turnovers on, but what about the tea?
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Heavy. Bad shape. Possibly a higher mark than it deserves, but I am blinded by apricot turnovers (did I mention I like them too?).
Tea 5: Twining’s English Breakfast, teabag in a pot. The first cup is weak, but improves with a top-up from the pot.
Setting 6:Hikurangi is an old coal-mining town north of Whangarei, a couple of minutes off State Highway 1. The coal was discovered in 1883 by gumdiggers, and the last mine closed in 1971. The cafe is decorated in homage to the miners, and today Coal Town Traders, a secondhand and antiques shop next door, is open. Bonus – I found a Crown Lynn green bamboo jug like one from my childhood at a bargain price.
Dog-friendly: Jess’ predecessor, Cody, was known to enjoy a bowl of water or two at the Miner’s Rest.
Two years ago, Sky Cafe turned its back on Sri Lankan tea heavyweight Dilmah in favour of a local blend.
And while we’re Dilmah fans from way back (it’s been the principle brew in our house since the early 1990s), there’s no denying that the tea being served in the Sky Cafe is darned good.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 6:Accolade, Southern Hospitality catering ware. Described as chip-resistant, long-lasting and designed for continuous use, it makes sense to use it in a high-traffic place like this. And while it’s not fine-bone fancy, it is a good teacup shape, large, reasonably light (for what it is), and has a lip – all qualities to endear it to the discerning tea-drinker.
Tea 8: Tea Total extra-strength loose-leaf English breakfast. You know you’re in a place that takes tea seriously when the menu bothers to describe the tea as an Assam-broken orange pekoe blend. Tea Total is a New Zealand company based on Auckland’s North Shore. I’ve had their tea once before, an Irish Breakfast at Loretta, in Wellington’s Cuba St, when I described it as having “interesting notes”.
Today, it’s brought to our table by Sky Cafe assistant manager Theresa Reiferschied. An Irish woman who has also lived in Germany for many years, she is the type of woman who takes tea seriously.
“We changed (from Dilmah) a couple of years ago,” she tells me. “I felt we needed something a more, and Tea Total actually took me to their factory and showed me how they blend the tea.”
There are four black teas on the Sky Cafe menu (including, appropriately, because of the volcano that dominates the view out the window, Smooth Rangitoto Blend) as well as green and fruit teas.
My only criticism is that if I had been given a jug of hot water, I could have more than one-and-a-quarter cups.
Setting 7: When you’re 182 metres in the air, the view is, of course, fantastic. It’s a bonus to have a table with a view of Princes Wharf and the sailing ship Tenacious my friend would be joining to sail around Cape Horn.
Dog friendly? No.
*The Sky Tower is the 23rd tallest building in the world. Completed in 1997, it is 328 metres from the ground to the top of the communications mast, and was built as part of the Skycity casino.
Sky Cafe, Level 50, Sky Tower, corner Federal and Victoria Streets, Auckland.