I am a journalist and environmental advocate in Northland, New Zealand. I've worked in newspapers, radio and magazines and am now the climate advocate at Forest and Bird. With my husband, I publish a daily online sustainable business news service, Carbon News. I also wrote a book called Bottle Babies: A Guilt-free Guide to Bottlefeeding in New Zealand, and blog at usersguidetoabrokenleg.com and teaontheroad.blog.
What better way to see out the old year than with a good cup of tea?
The first cup of tea on our summer Odyssey in the seaside suburb is at a bustling corner cafe.
We choose it on impulse; it’s hot, we’re thirsty and it looks friendly. It’s New Year’s Eve and they’re busy, but a waiter finds us a table on the street (they can seat 100) and doesn’t look at all put out when we tell him that all we want is a cup of tea (the food – especially the ice cream – looks good, but we’re still suffering from the excesses of Christmas).
My marks out of 10
CUP 1:Acme. Not a good start. My beloved is drinking coffee today, but he picks up my cup and recoils. Too heavy and he can’t get his finger through the handle. “Welcome to my world,” I say.
TEA 7: Harney & Sons English breakfast, bag in pot. Things pick up when I taste the tea. Harney & Sons is a British blender, and describes its English breakfast as having an “ancient pedigree”. I describe it as strong, with good colour and taste.
SETTING 6: Victoria Rd is the main drag through Devonport. It’s full of cafes, restaurants and boutiques, as well as a few “ordinary” shops like a chemist and a stationer. Manuaka Cafe is in an old building on the corner of Victoria Rd and Clarence St.
DOG-FRIENDLY? Plenty are walking past but none are stopping.
OPEN AFTER 3PM? Yes. We’re there until nearly 5pm, and as Manuka is open for dinner, it’s a safe bet you can get tea until late into the night.
Devonport’s pioneers knew how to make “irresistible” tea. But does the seaside suburb’s modern cafe culture run to a good cupPA?
Talk about swimming against the tide: as Aucklanders migrate north for the summer, we’re heading south for a week or so in the Queen’s City.
But not just any part of Auckland; this tea-finding mission is hyper-local; we’re Doing Devonport, and have high hopes for some good brews in the seaside suburb.
We are not total strangers to the place; my beloved lived there in the 1980s, I lived in neighbouring Bayswater in the 1990s, and in the 2000s, our son went to school in Devonport.
We were fond of the place then, but more than a decade of life in the semi-tropical, laid-back, uncongested North has given us an aversion to cities.
Still, if you’re going to do it, January is the time, when Aucklanders evacuate to experience a bit of what we have every day. And so we are taking up residence in an old wooden villa and making forays out into the village’s cafes, restaurants and hotels.
Devonport wears its history on its sleeve, from 50,000-year-old volcanic cones (Mts Victoria and Maungauika aka North Head; Mt Cambria has been quarried out of existence) to military fortifications. The houses are either renovated working-class cottages or elegant villas, and evidence of the area’s ship-building and farming past are not hard to find.
For centuries, the summits and slopes of Victoria (Takarunga) and Maungauika have provided Maori and pakeha warriors with the high ground. Both peaks were pa, and in 1840, after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Maungauika, with it spectacular views of the Hauraki Gulf and Waitemata Harbour became a lookout station for the colonial government. During the Russian Scare of the 1880s, heavy guns were installed, and the site continued service as a strategic defence post in World War Two.
Like its British namesake, New Zealand’s Devonport is a naval base, home to HMNZS Philomel (the Navy’s administration base) as well as training facilities. What was the Navy’s dry dock, the historic stone Calliope Dock, is now privately operated.
Once a largely working-class suburb, Devonport’s white-sand beaches and the fact that it’s just a short ferry-ride away from downtown Auckland has seen it gentrified, and the average house price is now $1.5 million.
But expensive houses and a cafe culture aren’t guarantees of high-quality tea. Can you get good tea in Devonport? To find out, we are about to put six cafes through their paces. First up is Manuka Cafe.
Post Offices are an endangered species – but their buildings make great cafes.
New Zealand is going through yet another round of post office closures, and this time it’s terminal.
Once at the very hearts of our communities, providing vital links to people and services across the world, Post Offices have been on the endangered species list since the 1980s.
There was a time when they were disruptive technology. Although the Roman Empire had a form of state-run postal system, it was the London Penny Post, invented in 1680 by William Dockwra, that changed things. Paying for postage in advance (by sticking a one-penny stamp on an envelope) so that it could be delivered anywhere in London led to a truly remarkable global system in which a letter put in a box in one place would turn up in the exact place it was supposed to (most times, anyway).
The first letter written in New Zealand was carried in 1815, the first postal agency was set up in 1831, and the first official post office was established (in Russell) in 1840.
Through most of the 20th century, Post Offices were everywhere. Cities had a big central Post Office and suburban branches, and every rural village had its own PO, handling state-run banking and telephone services as well as the mail.
In the 1980s, however, the system collapsed inwards. Telephone services were privatised (into the company which is now Spark) and the banking division was sold to Australian bank ANZ.
The Government kept the postal service (under the new name of New Zealand Post) but initiated a mass “rationalisation” of services. In 1988 alone, 432 Post Offices were closed. Most of the survivors had to move to new locations as their lovely old buildings were sold.
The Far North village of Mangonui lost its Post Office-proper long ago. Once a substantial waterfront building, these days you buy your stamps in a corner of the local grocery store.
The Post Office itself – built in 1904, complete with Postmaster accommodation, on the site of the town’s original Post Office established in 1876 – lives on, however, as a cafe, and it’s this cafe we choose for breakfast on our tea hunt through the Far North.
Setting 9: The first time I visited Mangonui was in the late 1980s. I had just moved to Northland, to work on the Northern Advocate, and a photographer and I got dispatched north because a fishing boat had sunk at Mangonui wharf. I don’t remember much about the story, but I do remember being stunned that the water was so clear that I could see a John Dory swimming about (I had just come from southern west coast of the North Island, where the water is never that clear).
So it’s no wonder I’m tempted by Little Kitchen’s location, right over the road from the sea and just a little along from the wharf. It is superb – although I am a perturbed that the cafe supplies water guns for patrons to squirt marauding seagulls. Fortunately, I see no-one using them.
Open after 3pm? Yes (we had dinner here last night).
The second and third rounds of tea on our Far North road trip aren’t hard to find – they’re in our hotel.
It’s called a hotel, and it’s in a fine old building, but it’s not the kind of hotel where they serve you tea on the verandah like they do at the Horeke Hotel, or by the fire like at The Prince’s Gate.
This hotel is strictly accommodation and no dining.
However, in the fine tradition of New Zealand hostelries, there is a kettle, milk and tea in our room, so we roll up our sleeves and set-to.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 2: A mug of indeterminate origin. Still, it’s not a coffee cup.
Tea 4: Dilmah English breakfast bag. We drink a lot of Dilmah; it’s the standard tea in our kitchen. I also drink a lot of English breakfast; it’s what I usually ask for in cafes. But for some reason Dilmah’s English breakfast just isn’t doing it for me lately (we buy the Dilmah Classic Ceylon tea, the green packets you see in the supermarket). The word that comes to mind is flat. As in, no body. It’s generally better when it’s made in a teapot and is able to draw properly. Still, it’s wet and it’s hot and it gives me the feeling I’m drinking tea.
The first cup is made by me, after dinner. The second is made the next morning by my beloved and drunk while we watch the All Blacks lose to Ireland at Aviva Stadium in Dublin (see here for The Guardian’s minute-by-minute report. Even I find it exciting).
There is a chance that the tea might be better if we come again. When one of the new managers (they’re a couple and have been there three months) hears I blog about tea, she tells me a friend has just started working for Wellington tea blender T Leaf T, one of my favourites. This friend might be a good influence.
Setting 7:The Old Oak is in a 157-year-old building on the waterfront in Mangonui, an idyllic fishing village on the edge of stunning Doubtless Bay and just around the corner from Cooper’s Beach. Built by Scotsman John McIntosh back in the days when whaling, timber milling and flax milling were the local industries, it’s done service as a pub, a backpackers and a private home before its current incarnation as a private hotel.
It’s our kind of place – rich in history and beautiful old native timbers. The ceiling in our room is absurdly high, and the old building reverberates to the sound of children laughing in the room above us. The hotel has been modernised for comfort but has kept much of its old style.
It’s eight hours since my last cup of tea, and I’m willing to swill just about anything.
The plan – to have afternoon tea in Waimate North on our way north – is failing spectacularly.
The olde world tearoom near the Mission House that my beloved remembers from three decades ago has closed down.
It’s a bit after 3pm when we get there and discover our mistake. Lunch seems a long time ago. But ever intrepid, we cut across towards State Highway 10, confident there’ll be a cafe around Kerikeri or Waipapa.
Clearly, we’ve forgotten the lesson of last summer, when we couldn’t find breakfast on the main road around Kerikeri. By now we’re not fussy; it’s more than eight hours since I last had tea, and I’m willing to swill just about anything.
We pull off the road into at a couple of spots claiming to be cafes, but they’re locked and shuttered .
Things are getting tense in the car, with hunger joining tea deprivation. My beloved finds a couple of potato wedges left over from lunch. We take one each, and push on bravely towards Mangonui, our final destination.
But what’s this, in Kaeo? An old building with cafe emblazoned across the front and open doors. The car screeches to a halt and we tumble out.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 4: One of those cup-under-the-teapot jobs, make unknown. Far too big, but it is at least a teacup, and it’s pretty.
Tea Choysa bag in pot, 6: New Zealand’s gumboot tea, and my mother’s favourite since forever. Usually I turn my nose up at it, but in the state I’m in today, I’m inclined to agree with Mum – it is nectar of the Gods.
Setting 7: Kaeo is famous for its floods – so much so that in 2007 then-Prime Minister Helen Clark caused a bit of a stir when she suggested that, with climate change likely to mean more heavy rain and higher tides, some of the town might have to move.
The Old Saddlery Tea Rooms and Cafe is on the road that floods. The main road, in other words. Kaeo, established in 1823 as a Wesleyan Mission and abandoned for a while after being sacked by Ngapuhi warrior Hongi Hika, is on the Kaeo River, 4km from Whangaroa Harbour.
The chap who owns the building and the backpackers’ upstairs appears while we’re sitting on the verandah. A boilermaker from Taranaki, he was living in Australia when he saw the old girl on the internet and bought her, sight unseen. He’d never even been north of Auckland, let alone to the Far North, but he packed his bags and moved to Kaeo, and started the massive renovation work.
It’s a work still in progress.
He tells my beloved that the flat rugby fields across the road – the land that floods – used to be part of the harbour.
“The scows came right up here,” he says. “But it silted up.”
The cafe building started life as a general store, then became a saddlery.
“There were stables right across the road, but all those buildings have long gone,” our host says.
Open after 3pm: Yes. The front door closes at 4.40pm while we’re sitting on the verandah, but the side door is still open, catering for the locals who turn up late.
Tea Total English breakfast 8: Consistently good, and just what I need.
Setting 8: The Mount’s changed a bit since I was last there, about three decades ago. Everything is bigger, faster, brighter, and the Narnia shop, with it’s crushed velvet shirts and incense that was a magnet for girls of a certain age, has disappeared without a trace.
But the fundamentals – the mountain, the beach – are still the same, and the Sidetrack is strategically placed for both. And the food – poached eggs and an industrial-style salad, is good.
We’re travelling in convoy back from Auckland when south of Warkworth I indicate we’re turning left off the highway.
The Honey Centre is a favourite stop for picking up large jars of bush honey, which I adore on toast (with tea on the side, of course).
Today, though, we’re in the market for a late lunch, and the Honey Centre’s Hive Cafe is in my sights.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 1 Incafe: Heavy. Can’t get my finger through the handle. Might as well be Acme.
Tea 7 Tea Drop, bag in pot: Second surprise tea of the day, and again it comes from Melbourne. Tea Drop styles itself as “the modern tea experience”. It’s unclear what that means, but the tea is good, especially after I let it brew for a while (I pour the first cup too soon).
Setting 7: The roar coming from nearby State Highway 1 somewhat mars the peace of tea in the garden, but the honey shop, with its glimpses of bees, is more than adequate compensation. The smoked free-range chicken buns we have for lunch are so-so (adequate, but nothing to write home about) but the bliss of honey-tasting makes up for it.
Being early for a meeting means we’ve got time for tea – and the Orewa waterfront has plenty of places to choose from.
From The Heart takes our fancy. It’s a quirky-looking organic cafe sandwiched between another cafe and a gaming lounge that’s playing Duran Duran’s Wild Boys.
My marks out of 10
Cup 1 Acme’s hugest: I almost need a wrist splint to lift it. To run through my objections to these cups – yet again – they’re heavy and thick and drain all the heat out of tea, which should be piping hot. Here’s the scientific explanation.
Tea 7 Love Tea organic English breakfast, bag in pot: This tea is new. To me, at least. The internet tells me that Love Tea is a Melbourne company, founded in 2006 by naturopathy students. It’s not bad. Not bad at all. If it was in a good cup I might be raving about it.
Setting 7: The beachfront at Orewa is, by city standards, pretty attractive. You know, white sands, blue water, pohutukawa. From The Heart capitalises on the location by painting its outside tables in candy-coloured stripes. The effect is so cheerful and summery (on what is a slightly blustery spring day) we choose it over all the other cafes vying for our attention.
Things get off to a bad start, however, when I learn the nearest toilet is a five-minute walk away. Not what you want to hear when you’re an ardent tea drinker who’s been in the car for nearly three hours. By the time I get back, the tea has arrived and is going cold. My beloved tells me the coffee, despite being organic, is ordinary.
Sweet and tart
On the food front, my raspberry biscuit is both sweet and tart (if a little overwhelming) and served on a delightful Royal Albert saucer with pink rosebuds on it. My beloved rates his coconut rough as excellent.
Open after 3pm? Yes – 7am-6pm.
From The Heart Wholefood Cafe, 312 Hibiscus Coast Road, Orewa.
A week of tea-drinking hell in the Capital is finally broken
6-10am and my two Wellington Airport stalwarts, Best Ugly Bagels (for food) and Freshbites (for tea) are refusing to serve me. They say they’re not open, but the lights are on and the people are there.
Clearly, this is not good for my mood. I’ve been up for more than an hour, and had no tea. Not one drop. And now it looks like the crucial first cup of the day will be courtesy of Air New Zealand. You see my problem.
It’s been a pretty bad week, tea-wise. Most of it was spent cloistered in a church in planning meetings. Planning Tea is not much better than Conference Tea, so when I could, I escaped into the city on the hunt for something better.
It wasn’t a very successful strategy. On Tuesday morning, sure I was about to drink a fantastic cup of tea at Preservatorium Cafe and Cannery (it arrived in an engraved silver pot!) I tweeted its praises before I tasted it. Big mistake. So at morning-tea time the same day, I kidnapped the people I was working with and took them to Hanger in Dixon St, where I’d had a superb pot of tea the day before (Harney and Sons, English breakfast), only to be told they had just run out and didn’t expect to have any more for several days. Talk about a pub with no beer.
So you can see why denying me a cup of tea at the airport is like poking a stick at an angry bear. Possibly a breach of the Geneva Convention.
But things are about to get better. At the other end of the terminal, the end I don’t usually go to, I spot Embark Café, and they’re making tea.
Dilmah describes it like this: “An essential gourmet tea experience; tea from Ceylon’s western high grown region, where the varying climatic conditions produces a perfectly balanced tea. A ruby red liquor yields the best of Ceylon in a tea that offers richness, depth and the slightly grassy, bright note of high quality, fresh tea. Neither too strong nor too light, a delicious tea to wake up to, to revive or simply relax with. A tea for connoisseurs.”
I describe it like this: “A fine cup of tea. Not quite the guts of English breakfast, let alone Wellington breakfast, but after what I have just been through, it’s darned close to heaven. Made in a small plunger (too small – it holds only one-and-a-half cups and I have to ask for a top-up).
Setting 5. Easy music on the stereo. Pilots debating the merits of burgers to be had in Wellington. Acceptable almond croissant. One of the nicer airport cafes. Without the sartorial flair, perhaps, of The Bach Alehouse at Auckland Airport, but a good place to be if you have to be in an airport.
Dog-friendly? A Customs dog is doing the rounds, but he doesn’t call in.
Open after 3pm? Unknown, but the real point here is that it’s open at 6.10am.
Afterwards, I wandered around the neighbouring cable car museum and bought a tin of Wellington Breakfast as a souvenir.
Described as a “strong and flavoursome” breakfast tea, and a “good strong tea to stand up to the job of living in one of the world’s windiest cities”, it seemed like the sort of gutsy tea that would appeal to my beloved.
It does, and I am tasked with replenishing supplies every time I go to the Capital.
So how does Wellington Breakfast differ from the more common English Breakfast?
A chap at T Leaf T puts it like this: “The difference between our English Breakfast and the Wellington breakfast is that the English Breakfast is broken-leaf style, with teas originating from both Nilgiris region and Assam region in India. The Wellington Breakfast also originates from Assam but is a CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) processed tea, which results in very tight little balls of tea leaf.”
Broken-leaf tea is (generally) black tea made from leaves that been torn or broken into largish bits. Think orange pekoe.
The CTC process, on the other hand, is a more industrial process started in the 1930s which involves passing the leaves through toothed rollers that tear it and roll it into tight balls, and which creates a dark cup of tea after a short brewing time.
Assam tea, however, comes from the north-east of India, near the Himalayas, and is the classic black “breakfast” tea.
Wellington Breakfast comes as a loose-leaf tea, but because my beloved prefers making tea with bags (I know, I’m working on it), I buy the packets of pyramid teabags made from cornstarch. T Leaf T says the tea in the bags is proper loose-leaf tea, not fannings.
Cost: $0.68 per cup (a packet of 20 teabags is $13.50).
Best time to drink: During the first break in the working day, when you’ve got time to contemplate.
Bought from: Initially the shop at the Cable Car Museum in Wellington, then at the TLeafT shop in Willis St, Wellington.
Time tea right at the 39 Gillies cafe in Kawakawa , and an old-fashioned train will rumble past the door, carrying children waving madly out the windows.
Kawakawa is that kind of town; cheerfully, quintessentially Northland. Harleys revving. Girls singing. Buskers playing. Trucks and trains. And possibly the world’s only tourist-destination toilet, as Kawakawa was the only New Zealand town with the foresight to take advantage of the presence of Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser while he lived here (late to the party, Whangarei is only now building the arts centre Hundertwasser proposed in 1993).
Hundertvasser’s art and buildings are about the joy of life, and Kawakawa – a former coal-mining town on State Highway 1, near the Bay of Islands – has taken his credo to heart, with shops and public spaces picking up on his theme.
39 Gillies fits right in; it’s a warm, fun and lively place to break a journey, and has become a favourite.
My marks out of 10:
Cup Acme 2: I believe it’s the Tulip, which the Acme website says is good for long blacks. Worth one mark more than I usually give Acme because this shape does, at least, hold the heat (if you want to know why I dislike these now ubiquitous cups, see here and here).
Tea Ti Ora breakfast tea with manuka leaf pyramid teabag 9: This tea is too good for the cup. They used to serve Lipton’s, and it was good, but then, because their customers were asking for it, they added Ti Ora and took things to a new level. This tea is blended by the Bell Tea Company but is a world away from the bog- standard Bell Tea you find in the supermarket. Deducting a mark though for serving the teabag separately from the pot, which means the water is off the boil when they come into contact.
Setting. It’s probably already clear that I like Kawakawa and that I like this cafe. I stop here quite often. Not only because the tea is good, the staff friendly and the food superb (today I am having buttermilk pancakes with poached pears, maple syrup and creme fraiche even though I’m not hungry) but I also love the music they play. I’m not usually a fan of loud music in cafes, but 39 Gillies has a knack of playing things I really want to hear, even though I don’t know it yet. Today’s playlist includes such gems as Fiji (Sweet Darling)Dave Dobbyn (Magic What She Do) , Al Green (Let’s Stay Together), KC and the Sunshine Band’s That’s The Way I Like It, and Maxi Priest’s reggae twist on Cat’s Steven’s Wild World (it turns out the music is from a Spotify playlist called Maori Shed Party, which I load on to my phone for the trip home).
Pandoro has been a fave since 2006 when I discovered the to-die-for fruit-mince pies while working near the Mt Eden store in Auckland.
So there are no arguments from me when the team I’ve just been with at a meeting in Wellington suggest a quick coffee (or in my case, tea) at Pandoro in Willis St.
In theory, the tea should have been good; not only are the folk at Pandoro serious about what they do, this cafe is just a couple of doors down from the TLeafT shop, so there is plenty of expert tutelage on hand, not to mention a ready supply of good-quality tea.
Sadly, Pandoro doesn’t seem to be taking advantage of its privileged position, and is currently not in the running for the title of best tea in Wellington.
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.