The Old Saddlery Tea Rooms and Cafe, Kaeo

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An open cafe – we are saved.

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.

Te Waimate mission house
Te Waimate Mission Station. Picture: Te Ara.

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.

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My beloved is out of the car and across the road almost before we’ve stopped.

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 out we tumble.

My marks out of 10:

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Tea in a pretty cup, and a date scone. Life is looking up.

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.

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Not a saddle in sight.

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 after being sacked by Ngapuhi Warrior Hongi Hika, is on the Kaeo River, 4km from Whangaroa Harbour.

The chap who owns the building 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 backs and moved to Kaeo, and started the massive renovation work.

It’s a work still in progress.

old saddlery sandy
The flat land over the road was once at the bottom on the sea, the owner tells my beloved.

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.

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The Old Saddlery building is on the left (with the verandah). State Highway 10 is little more than a dirt track, and the buildings on the other side of the road have gone.
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The Old Saddlery when it was a saddlery.

Dog-friendly? Undoubtedly

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.

The Old Saddlery Tea Rooms and Cafe, 34 Leigh St, Kaeo

Sidetrack Cafe, Mt Maunganui

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The Sidetrack – right under the mountain.

The Mount’s changed – but the tea’s still good.

It’s late morning, we didn’t have time for breakfast, my blood sugars are all over the place and I’ve got a powerful need for tea.

The Ornithologist, who visits the Mt Maunganui often (my workmate Rebecca, who came on a tea-party tour with me last year)  knows just the place to get me back on track – the Sidetrack Cafe.

My Marks Out of 10:

Cup Acme: That’s a 1. Here’s why.

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.

Dog-friendly? Yes.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

Hive Cafe, Warkworth

hive honey room
Visitors to Hive Cafe get a peak behind the scenes into the honey room.

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.

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Tea on display.

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).

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Hive Cafe and Honey Centre – set well back in their own grounds.

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.

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Honey-tasting – the highlight of a visit to the Honey Centre.

Dog-friendly? No evidence either way.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

The Hive Cafe, 7 Perry Rd, Warkworth.

 

From The Heart, Orewa

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Irresistible colours and cake.

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.

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A tea capable of being loved.

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.

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Saturday morning on the strip, Orewa.

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.

Dog-friendly? Yes.

Open after 3pm? Yes – 7am-6pm.

From The Heart Wholefood Cafe, 312 Hibiscus Coast Road, Orewa.

Embark Cafe, Wellington

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.

teapot
A pretty teapot at Preservatorium on Tuesday didn’t lead to a good cup of tea.

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.

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Making do with Earl Grey when Hanger runs out of English breakfast.

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. Mistake number 1. 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 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.

My marks out of 10

embark tea and pot
Gold leaf for my tea leaves.

Cup 7: Gold-trimmed Dilmah Craighead tea-mug and saucer. A pleasing drinking experience, and totally unexpected (this IS an airport).

Tea 9: Dilmah Vivid range loose-leaf Ceylon Breakfast. “What’s Vivid?” I think when I spot it on the menu. The serving person gives me a tin to look at.

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.

Embark Cafe, Wellington International Airport.

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As we fly over Wellington’s South Coast,  which is looking rather wild this morning, I decline a cup of airline tea in case it ruins the memories of the tea I’ve just had.

 

T Leaf T – Wellington Breakfast

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Tea the way my beloved likes it – gutsy and made in his cup, with a teabag.

A tea up to the rigours of life in the Capital.

This is a man’s tea – my man’s tea, to be precise. T Leaf T’s Wellington Breakfast tea came into our lives in February, when I went to Wellington’s Kelburn Kiosk (officially now the Kowhai Cafe) to see where my great grandmother used to brew tea for the masses, and to be interviewed by the Stuff news service on why tea drinkers are demanding a better deal from cafes.

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.

The Nilgiris (or blue mountains) region is in the south-west of India and is famous for vast plantations that grow a tea that is “bright and brisk”.

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.

Available online? Yes.

39 Gillies, Kawakawa

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Trains still run down the main street of Kawakawa, right past 39 Gillies.

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.

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Busker Murray Sergeant plays classical guitar outside 39 Gillies.

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).

39 Gillies toilets outside
Kawakawa had the good sense to work with Hundertwasser on a project – creating the world’s most beautiful toilets.

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.

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More from the Hundertwasser toilets, just because.

39 Gillies fits right in; it’s a warm, fun and lively place to break a journey, and has become a favourite.

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Street furniture, Kawakawa-style.

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.

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Gratuitous pancake shot.

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).

Dog-friendly? Yes.

Open after 3pm? Sadly, no.

*We’ve met the historic Kawakawa train before, when we reviewed the Railway Station Cafe.

39 Gillies, 39 Gillies St, Kawakawa, Northland.

 

Pandoro Panetteria, Willis St, Wellington

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Pandoro on Willis, Wellington.

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.

pandoro insideIn 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.

My marks out of 10:

pandoro tea
Two disappointing cups of disappointing tea.

Cup: Acme 1. Say no more.

Tea: TLeafT English breakfast teabag, 3. One teabag in a large pot does not a good cup of tea make. The visitor from Dunedin, who is also drinking tea, agrees.

Pandoro round thingSetting: 6. Nice cafe in a lovely old building, friendly staff and great company.

Dog-friendly? Not obviously, but possible – Wellington is a lot more sensible about dogs than Auckland is.

Open after 3pm? Yes! We get there about 3.30pm and stay for nearly an hour.

Pandoro outside

Pandoro Panetteria, 89 Willis St, Te Aro, Wellington

Old George, Bowen St, Wellington

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Bowen House – handy for our nation’s power-brokers.

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).

old george sign.jpgSo 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).

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A selection of good teas.

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.

Dog friendly? Probably not, but unconfirmed.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

Old George, 1 Bowan St, Wellington.

The Bach Alehouse, Auckland Airport

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The Bach – good for dinner, but what about breakast?

Hilda Ogden, where are you when I need you?

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.

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Retro decor, including the classic Crown Lynn white swan, and Hilda Ogden-style ducks on the wall.

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.

Dog-friendly? No

Open after 3pm? Yes.

the bach flowersThe Bach Alehouse, Domestic Terminal, Auckland Airport.

 

Vic Books, Kelburn, Wellington

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Cake and culture in one cosy package.

High marks – but not perfect – for tea and scones on campus.

The Professor suggests Vic Books on Victoria University’s Kelburn campus for our meeting.

“They’ve got a fine range,” he tells me, and as he consumes a fair bit of tea himself, I’m inclined to believe him.

Besides, I’ll be interested to see how it shapes up against tea at Vic Books at the Pipitea campus. Contrast and compare, as it were.

My Marks Out Of 10:

Cup Acme 1: That’s a fail. Here’s why (can’t bring myself to explain this again).

vic books tea
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.

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Good teas on the menu.

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.

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Right by the bus stop on Kelburn Parade.

Vic Books, 1 Kelburn Parade, Kelburn, Wellington.

Beach Rd Deli, Paekakariki

 

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Beach Rd Cafe, just over the railway line in Paekakariki.

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:

beach rd cup
This is NOT a tea cup.

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.

As scientist Duguld McTavish explained back in August, thick walls and a large surface area are exactly what you don’t want for tea.

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A fine selection of tea.

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.

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Sunny seating at the Beach Rd Deli.

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.

Dog-friendly? None here on this day.

Open After 3? Yes.

Beach Rd Deli, 5 Beach Rd, Paekakariki

The Perching Parrot, Paekakariki

perching parrot outside
Sunny day at the Perching Parrot.

Good tea, crazy tea set.

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:

perching parrot cup
Crazy tea set.

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.

perching parrot train
Somehow, a train squeezes between us and the Paekakariki Hill.

perching parrot mirrorSetting 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.

perching parrot inside
Ornate plaster and a bear who’s been around the block a few times.

The Perching Parrot, 7 Beach Rd, Paekakariki.

Cibo Whangarei

Georgia’s enthusiasm for tea is infectious.

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:

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Good food, good tea.

Cup 5: Nikko fine porcelain, large and surprisingly light for what it is.

cibo fliters
Tea filters.

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.

Dog-friendly? Unknown.

Open after 3pm? No.

cibo front

CIBO carpark
The remains of the car park, with the Town Basin in the distance.

Cibo Cafe, 34 Reyburn St, Whangarei

River Cottage Cafe, Otaki

river cottage courtyard
Pretty courtyard – but at 8am on an autumn morning, inside by the fire is a better bet.

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.

river cottage gran and puppa
My grandparents loved the beach. I think this is Himatangi, a little north of Horowhenua, circa 1970.

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.

river cottage old
River Cottage as it used to be.

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.”

river cottage fizz
Foxton Fizz – a drink from childhood, still on sale at River Cottage.

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:

river cottage temuka
Temuka teacups, ready for duty.

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.

river cottage saucer

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.

During World War Two, the company made chamber pots, hot-water bottles, electric jugs and teapots for the Indian Army. Since then it’s supplied New Zealand Railways (their cups weren’t all made by Crown Lynn), the Union Steamship Company, the Hobbit movies and my very own Forest & Bird (I work there when I’m not drinking tea, and sometimes while I’m drinking tea).

river cottage cup

tea on the road tea 2
A good selection of good tea.

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.

river cottage blankets 3.jpg
Blankets thoughtfully provided in the courtyard, but I’ll take inside by the fire.

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.

river cottage outside

River Cottage Cafe, 170 Main Highway, Otaki

Down Under Cafe, Auckland airport

down under lights
The decor at Down Under Cafe gives a nod to the 70s, with breeze-blocks and those shades.

The missing angle in the Shane Jones-Air New Zealand affair – what are tea-drinkers from the provinces supposed to do when stranded at Auckland airport?

Regional development minister Shane Jones is right; we northern provincials can no longer fly directly to the Capital.

down under me
Travelling outfit.

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.

down under man
Henry recommends white tea, a large cup and pyramid tea-bags.

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.

Dog friendly? No.

Open after 3pm? Yes

down under sign

Down Under Bar & Cafe, International Terminal, 1st Floor, Ray Emery Dr, Auckland Airport.

Delimarche, Whangarei Base Hospital

delimarch counter
Will the tea in the cafe be better than the tea on the wards?

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.

And how would it compare to the rather good tea we found at Auckland Hospital?

Now that I’m strictly a day visitor though, I head in there and find out.

My marks out of 10:

delimarche teabag
English breakfast for me, a flat white for him.

Cup 5: Fairway fine china. Large but not too heavy.

delimarche cake
Tea and cake.

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.

delimarche entrance
Welcome to Whangarei Base Hospital

Open after 3pm? Yes – but at 3.15pm half the cafe is closed, with the chairs up on the tables.

delimarche closed
Open after 3pm – sort of.

Delimarche, Whangarei Base Hospital, Maunu Rd, Whangarei.

Horeke Hotel, Hokianga

horeke oustercatchers
Tōrea (variable oustercatchers) on the wharf near the Horeke Hotel.

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.

horeke ship sign

The Horeke Hotel has been on the same site since 1826 – 14 years before the signing of Te Tiriti O Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi between Maori and Queen Victoria), just 50 years after the signing of the American Declaration of Independence and the same year that Australia got its first street light (in Sydney; it burned whale oil).

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).

The shipyard site, close to the hotel, was excavated by archaeologists in 2016.

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.

horeke wharf and sky
Seaside seat on the deak.
horeke outside
The hotel is a mish-mash of old buildings, nestled by the sea.
horeke hall
A renovated part of the hotel.

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.

Dog-friendly? Yes

Open after 3pm? Yes

horeke mangroves
Mangroves – so Northland. And they help counter the impacts of climate change.
horeke sign 2
Serving beer – and tea – for nearly 200 years.

Horeke Hotel, 2118 Horeke Road, Horeke, Hokianga Harbour, Northland

Main Street Deli, Greytown

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Old-world charm meets modern catering.

Tea and a slice of history, down on Main Street.

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.

douglas
Private Douglas Algernon Plummer.

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.

Greytown was named after New Zealand’s third Governor, Sir George Grey, and was founded in 1854 by the Small Farms Association, with the lofty goal of settling working-class people on the land.

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.

Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf English breakfast. It’s a decent brew, as we’ve come to expect from this tea which is now almost ubiquitous in the southern part of the island.

mainst 4

Setting 7: Charming old building in historic Greytown, as the pictures attest.

mainst 2

mainst 1

Dog-friendly? Yes.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

mainst sign

mainst courtyard

Main Street Deli, 88 Main St, Greytown.

Cafe Vessel, Pipitea, Wellington

vessel people
Summer dresses galore at Cafe Vessel.

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:

vessel cup
A good breakfast, but the environment and I could have done without two plastic straws.

Cup 3: Acme. Not a bad shape, but heavy heavy heavy.

vessel teamaking
T Leaf T on display, but as usual, it’s the spitting and hissing coffee machine that’s in pride of place.

Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf English breakfastIt’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.”

vessel sign with building
One-stop cafe, bar and gaming lounge in downtown Wellington.

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.

vessel railway
View of Wellington Railway Station from my breakfast table. This morning’s meeting is in the tall building on the left.

Dog-friendly? Unknown.

Open after 3pm? (A new category because of my frustration with all the cafes that close BEFORE afternoon tea-time). Yes.

Cafe Vessel, 1 Bunny St, Pipitea, Wellington

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