Kelburn Tea Kiosk (aka Kowhai Cafe), Wellington

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The cafe at the top of Wellington’s cable car; it didn’t always look like this.

Will the family tea legacy live on? I hitch a ride on the cable car to find out.

It’s a relief to know they still make good tea in the tearooms at the top of Wellington’s cable car  – my grandmother, great grandmother and great-great grandmother can rest easy in their graves.

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The Kiosk as it was in my grandmother’s day.

All three lived in the original Kelburn Tea Kiosk more than a hundred years ago, and all three were women with exacting tea standards.

The Kiosk opened in 1905 in a “magnificent Edwardian building” owned by the cable car company. In May 1912, the Evening Post announced that the lease had been taken over by “the Misses Plummer, late of Broadway’s Christchurch, and Kirkcaldie and Stains”.

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Ellen Eliza Plummer and daughters (from left) Lillian, Olive and Nellie.

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.

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A picture taken in the Kiosk in 1915, during the reign of my great-grandmother Ethel Plummer.

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:

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Great tea, great pot, not-so-great cup.

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 kiosk-tea.jpggrandmother 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.

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The Kiosk (or Kowhai Cafe) has spectacular views over Wellington Harbour. I can’t help wondering if my grandmother and her siblings played under this ancient pohutukawa.

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.

Kowhai Cafe, 1 Upland Rd, Kelburn, Wellington. 

 

The Apron Cafe, Whangarei airport

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Whangarei Harbour from the air: from Onerahi airport on the peninsula at left, across Bream Head, Marsden Point and on to Bream Bay.

Rain means flight delays, and flight delays mean there is time for tea.

This cafe changed hands recently and I’m keen to see what the new people are doing.

My marks out of 10:

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I love the colour of the cup, but it’s not good to drink from.

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.

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It’s small, it’s friendly and it’s ours.

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.

The Matterhorn, Wellington

Genuine sixties string picture.

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?

The Matterhorn, 106 Cuba St, Wellington. For now.

Dog-friendly? Possibly.

The Rusty Tractor, Kerikeri

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A yarn-bombed bike is a wonderful welcome.

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.

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The Rusty Tractor’s rusty tractor – a great setting isn’t everything.

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.

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We finally get breakfast at the Towai Tavern, where the food’s fast and the tea’s plentiful.

The Rusty Tractor, 582 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri.

Econo Lodge City Central, Auckland

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Stained glass in the lobby lifts this budget hotel above the ordinary.

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.

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The glass frontage and ceiling dome were imported.

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.

 

Miner’s Rest Cafe, Hikurangi

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The Miner’s Rest and Coal Town Traders, Hikurangi.

“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.

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Tea with a coal-mining theme.

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.

The Miner’s Rest Cafe, 49 King St, Hikurangi.

Sky Cafe, Auckland

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Tea is a serious business for Sky Cafe’s Teresa Reiferscheid.

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.

sky cafe signTea 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.

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A view from the Sky Cafe, down Auckland’s Nelson St to Princes Wharf (where the sailing ship Tenacious waits to take my friend Fran around Cape Horn), across Waitemata Harbour to Bayswater and out to the Hauraki Gulf.

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. 

Who serves the best cuppa in NZ?

Vote in our summer poll to find the best tea on the road.

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Which cafe can make a better cup of tea than this?

Had a good cup of tea these holidays? Tell us about it.

In the short time we’ve existed, Tea On The Road has published 32 reviews of the tea served in tea houses across the country, with loads more to come.

But  there’s a whole world of Kiwi tea out there, and we need your help finding the best of it.

The country’s cafe scene might have been dominated by coffee-swilling trendies in recent years, but there’s a army of tea-drinkers ready to strike back.

No more will we put up with bad tea. We will name and shame those trying to charge $5 for low-grade teabag tea made with luke-warm water and served in coffee cups.

And we will publicly praise those who are getting it right.

Vote in our Facebook poll to find New Zealand’s best cup of tea on the road, and go into the draw to win a yet-to-be-announced tea-related prize.

 

 

Vic Books, Wellington

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Tea is supped under Colin McCahon’s massive Gate III painting at the Vic Books Cafe.

“I drink, therefore I am,” I think (with apologies to Descartes) as I sup tea on Victoria University’s Pipitea campus.It’s difficult not to feel philosophical with Colin McCahon’s 10.5 metre Gate III painting about the end of the world – or at least of Western civilisation – above me, and a morning debating how to avoid catastrophic climate change ahead.

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The cafe at Vic Books.

Working life brings me to the Pipitea Campus in downtown Wellington quite often, and the Vic Books cafe, in the refurbished Rutherford House (the old Electricity Corporation HQ) has been the scene of many a meeting. On this day, however, I am alone, eating a breakfast muffin and ready to make another assault on a tea blend that got the better of me last time I was here.

Yes, I was defeated by a pot of tea. I couldn’t drink it all, not because it was insipidly weak (a problem that occurs with frightening regularity) but because it was too strong.

Determined not to be beaten for long though, I’m back with new resolve to master this mystery tea.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 4: Tea-cup shape, but heavy.

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A tasty tea Ritual.

Tea 7: Ritual loose-leaf organic English breakfast (although the company’s website doesn’t mention such a beast). It was exciting to be trying a new locally (Wellington) blended tea, and difficult to admit, drinking that first cup, that I wasn’t enjoying it. It was strong to the point of bitterness, and by the second cup, undrinkable. This time, I break the habit of a lifetime and ask the woman behind the counter to make it slightly weaker than usual. The tactic works, and the result is a very acceptable morning brew. However, I suspect it can be better, and am putting it on the list of teas to experiment with.

Setting 7: Handy to Parliament, the railway station and lots of government departments. A good spot for mingling with students and power-brokers alike. Slight hipster vibe and a great selection of books.

Dog-friendly? None in evidence.

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Cafe with a hipster vibe.

Vic Books cafe, Victoria University Pipitea campus, 27 Lambton Quay, Wellington.

There’s always a tea in Christmas

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Christmas is a summer affair in the Southern Hemisphere.

A merry tea-drinking Christmas from New Zealand to the people of the north.

It’s more sandcastles than snowmen for us in the Southern Hemisphere, but that doesn’t mean we’re not supping plenty of good hot tea.

In Northland, at the very top of New Zealand, it’s warm and humid, and the air is full of the sounds of birds, insects and kids.

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Christmas lunch, NZ-style.

We started the day as we meant to go on – with tea (Dilmah Classic) in bed. Since then we’ve opened presents (mine included a Zealong Tea gift pack and cup and Whittakers Oolong Tea chocolate), eaten platters of tasty things like cake, local cheeses, and cherries from the South Island,  walked the dog, and generally lazed about.

When it gets cooler, we’ll have our traditional Christmas dinner of baked ham, new potatoes and salad, and this year I have been persuaded (somehow!) to make a trifle instead of the usual pavlova.

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Zealong cup and gift pack.

Later, we’ll watch a movie, or maybe go to bed with our new books, but first we’ll have another walk along the beach.

So right about now, if you’re waking up in the Northern Hemisphere to a day that’s cold and dark, have a cup of tea and think of us here in the sun, glad to have survived another year and ready to relax and enjoy ourselves.

And as we say in New Zealand, have a meri Kirihimete,

 

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PS the fabulous cup and saucer in the picture at the top are from the Australian company T2.