One of the best things about life as at tea blogger is meeting young people who love tea.
When I ask Georgia at Cibo Cafe in Whangarei what sort of tea they sell, she rushes out the back and comes back with a big foil packet. She opens it and breathes deeply.
“It smells so good,” she says and grins.
“It should,” I say, “it’s good tea.”
We talk tea for bit and I tell her I’m a tea blogger. Georgia’s delighted and skuttles away to have a look on her phone, while I get down to the serious business at hand.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 5:Nikko fine porcelain, large and surprisingly light for what it is.
Tea 8:TeaTotal English breakfast, made in a pot with loose-leaf tea Cibo has put into a Mt Everest tea-filter bag. Georgia brings them out to show me and says it means customers get to drink good-quality loose-leaf tea without a mouthful of leaves, and the staff don’t have to empty teapots. I’ll drink to that, I say.
Setting 6: Not very long ago, this was a car yard. Then Porowini Ave became the place to sell cars and a medical centre was built here. Cibo is at one end – the river/Town Basin end – and opens into the emergency pharmacy, which opens into the doctors’ rooms. It’s enormously civilised, not to mention calming, to be able to have a good cup of tea and something nice to eat (I had a baked salmony thing) before an appointment. The decor is pretty standard but with a nod to Northland’s sub-tropical climate. And the Town Basin, with its boats and crafts, is just a short walk away, across the remains of the car yard and a road.
The first leg of a nostalgic trip through Horowhenua
My sister and I spent a lot of the ‘seventies leaning over the back seat of our grandparents’ Zephyr 6 as we drove around Horowhenua, Puppa telling stories about his farming childhood and Gran looking for good spots for tea.
Sometimes the tea was in a Thermos on one of the wild west coast beaches, or made in a billy on a fire by a river. Other times we went to one of the cosy tearooms that seemed to be everywhere in those days.
Baby brother Matt missed out on these excursions, and I’ve always felt a bit sad about that. So early on an autumn morning, while it’s still dark, I collect him from his home in Wellington’s Mt Cook and we head north on our own road trip, Matt getting in the mood by playing ‘seventies music on the car stereo and me trying to retell the stories I heard so long ago.
The first stop on our road trip is Otaki’s River Cottage, a cafe in a converted stable on State Highway One.
I know this place of old; it was one of Gran’s favourite stopping places. In those days it was called The Stables and you sat in the bit that is now a shop.
There’s a hand-written history on the wall, starting from 1939, when the newly opened tearooms were filled with a metre of silt from the flooding Otaki River.
“In 1939, World War Two began,” the author says. “By this time I had two young brothers, Jim and John. Dad cleaned out the tearooms and erected a large neon sign overlooking the highway, in the shape of a large horseshoe, and called it the Green Horseshoe Tearooms. Mother took over then with a waitress and they served light meals such as spaghetti and baked beans and eggs on toast, hot scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, which became very popular, and of course, gallons of tea.”
That’s the way I remember it, scones and gallons of tea. Served on cake stands three tiers high and with butter shaved into little curls. But will the tearooms atmosphere have survived the Age of Coffee? Anxiously we hang about until 8am, when the doors open and we can find out.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 9: Temuka Riverstone cup and saucer. How do they know I’m collecting it?! This set was huge in the 70s and my aunt was an aficionado.
Temuka is made by New Zealand Insulators, a 94-year-old company whose main business is making electrical insulators. But clay is clay, and in the 1930s, it started producing tobacco jars, mixing bowls and teapots as Christmas gifts for customers. They were popular, and a side industry was born.
Tea 6: Tea Total English breakfast loose-leaf. One of my new favourites, so expectations are high. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite met. The pot is small and there’s no hot water for a top-up (though they might have given me some if I’d asked), but the biggest disappointment is that the tea is weak. Eventually, by drinking bits and adding more tea to the cup, I produce a reasonable cup, but I’ve had this tea before, at Loretta in Wellington and Sky Cafe in Auckland, and know it can be better.
Setting 10: My brother and another customer try to convince me to sit outside in the courtyard but my warm northern blood is having none of it. It might be sunny, but it’s 8am on an April morning and cold. The mere fact there is a pile of blankets handy confirms that outside is not a good idea. Much better inside by the fire.
The decor is cheerful if slightly whacky, and the food (vegetarian cooked breakfast for Matt, pancakes for me) is delicious, but it’s nostalgia that tips this cafe over from a 9 to a 10.
Open after 3pm? Yes.
Dog-friendly? None in evidence, but it’s not hard to imagine a pup or two in the courtyard.
Any trip to Wellington now involves changing planes in Auckland, and with connections being what they are, that often means a mad dash from one departure lounge to another (a former colleague was amused to see me running through the terminal recently in a fur coat and hat, but that’s another story).
Or we can face a long period cooling our heels.
Tea at the domestic terminal is a desultory affair, so if it’s a nice day, I often walk over to the international terminal, where things are marginally better.
This is one of those days, and with three whole hours to kill before my next flight, I order a pot of tea and settle down in a seat in the sun to do some reading.
Concentration eludes me though, because a chap at the next table (his name is Henry) is talking tea. “I’m a tea drinker, preferably white tea,” he tells the coffee-drinkers at his table.
I go over and we talk tea. Henry has asked for a bigger cup, and says the cafe should be using pyramid-shaped tea bags , as they give the tea leaves room to brew.
“And you really should try white tea,” he tells me. “I think you’ll like it.
My marks out of 10:?
Cup 2: Coffee cup. Say no more.
Tea 3: Dilmah classic teabag in pot. Well, it’s in the pot once I put it in there. And the pot is only half full of water. Sometimes there’s a woman behind the counter who drinks tea herself and makes a reasonable fist of making a good brew with what she’s got. Sometimes there’s a young woman who has never drunk tea. There’s a special tea menu on the counter and a wide range of teas – although no white tea.
Setting: The trend for ’70s fashion has got as far as the airport. It’s not an unpleasant place to be as far as airports go, and the 10-minute walk over is a change from all that sitting.
Sadly, I’m more familiar with the tea in this hospital than I would like to be.
And while there was a time, when I was lying broken in a hospital bed in the orthopaedic ward, that I was absurdly grateful for a cup of hospital char, let’s not pretend it’s anything other than it is – institutional tea, in an institutional cup.
Back then, I was confined to a bed and not free to sneak down to the hospital cafe where things might be better.
Now that I’m strictly a day visitor though, I head in there and find out.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 5: Fairway fine china. Large but not too heavy.
Tea 5: Sir Thomas Lipton English breakfast teabag. Served with the bag sitting in the cup and a separate pot of water. Which means the water isn’t piping hot when it hits the tea. Sigh. Still, not a bad taste. A bit flat, but better than you get on the wards. Taken with a slab of sultana cake.
Setting: Sunny and warm after sitting in the chilly radiology department for a while. A bit on the noisy side.
Dog-friendly? Dogs in hospitals are becoming a thing. Sadly, not in this one though. Am pretty sure that having a waggling Cody (Jess’ predecessor) visit me would have aided my recovery.
Open after 3pm? Yes – but at 3.15pm half the cafe is closed, with the chairs up on the tables.
Delimarche, Whangarei Base Hospital, Maunu Rd, Whangarei.
If this hotel were any more waterfront, it would be in the water.
It’s a pretty safe bet they’ve been serving tea at the Horeke pub for nearly 200 years.
The sign out the front mentions only beer, but what homesick missionary, bushman, sailor or ship builder wouldn’t have been hanging out for a nice cup of Rosie Lee to start the day, even if they ended the day with something stronger?
It’s a sultry day in late summer when we visit, the sky and the water both full to bursting. We’re too early for lunch (the pub doesn’t open until 12) so we walk around the harbour, startling the seagulls and annoying the oystercatchers.
In Paihia, just 45 minutes from Horeke today by car, but in those days a difficult journey through dense bush or several days’ sail), the first ship built in New Zealand, the Herald, was launched.
Horeke was in the game the following year with 50 men working in the Raine, Ramsay and Browne shipyard, building the schooner Enterprise (1827), the brigantine New Zealander (1828) and the three-masted ship Sir George Murray (1830).
Today, Horeke has a population of fewer than 400 people
My marks out of 10?
Cup 3.Simon Gualt cup and saucer. A bit heavy, but an attempt at doing it right.
Tea 2:Chanui English breakfast. This is hard to score. New barmaid Nicola hasn’t made tea before, and it shows. But on the plus side, she has the gumption to ‘fess up and ask me how it is. I try to be honest but encouraging. She’s made it in the cup and there’s too much milk. However, she listens carefully to my description of how I make tea, and says that’s what she’ll do next time. And the food (pub grub) is delicious.
Setting 10: If you were any more waterfront, you’d be in the water. I can’t help worrying about what will happen to the old hotel as the Hokianga Harbour creeps up as a result of climate change-induced sea-level rise (it’s not just the melting polar caps and glaciers causing the sea to rise; as water gets warmer it expands, a process known as thermal expansion). The hotel itself has been renovated in parts, in a 20-year project by the owners. The bits that haven’t been done-up add to the charm. But for now, to sit in the sun on the deck overlooking the harbour, which on this day is silent and still except for the birds, makes coming so far north worth the while.
It’s a stifling afternoon in late summer when my mother and I take a walk through historic Greytown for tea at the Main Street Deli.
A hundred years or so ago my great great uncle Percy Plummer (another son of Ellen Eliza Plummer, of Kelburn Tea Kiosk fame) had a carting business here, first with horses and then with trucks. His brother Douglas was here too, working with Percy in the carting trade and on nearby White Rock Station, until the Battle of the Somme put paid to this and everything else for him.
Few of them could afford to buy land here today, however, and the town is now full of cafes and boutiques catering to nouveau settlers and the coffee-swilling Wellingtonians who sweep over the Rimutakas every weekend.
Luckily, I have a local guide to help me choose an eatery, and once again I discover that Mother really does know best.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 4: Bevande durable porcelain. The colours make me give this tea set a higher mark than it deserves. Yes it’s for tea, but as with the Acme cups I’ve been finding almost everywhere lately, the weight is really off-putting.
A rock legend, summer frocks and good tea – what else could a girl want?
Tom Petty has been dead just two short months when I hear him playing at Cafe Vessel in Wellington.
I’m still in mourning, and listening to Refugee while waiting for tea and a breakfast smoothie is bitter-sweet.
Vessel is yet another one of those cafes I’ve been to before but haven’t had the you-know-whats to try the tea. But now that I’m a tea reviewer, it’s time to dig deep and do it.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Acme. Not a bad shape, but heavy heavy heavy.
Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf English breakfast. It’s a good strong cup of morning cha, but there’s no hot water for a second cup. The making man tells me they’ve always stocked T Leaf T. “The factory’s in Petone , so they can resupply quickly.”
Setting 6: It’s always pretty cheerful in Vessel, and on this summer’s day Wellington women have got their summer dresses on. Vessel is handy to the railway station and right next door to the Hotel Waterloo, in all it’s faded art deco glory. Having a gaming lounge in the back is an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your leanings.
Open after 3pm? (A new category because of my frustration with all the cafes that close BEFORE afternoon tea-time). Yes.
The Misses Plummer were my great-great grandmother, Ellen Eliza Plummer (a widow), and her three maiden daughters, Olive, Lillian and Nellie.
Sometime between 1912 and 1914 they were joined by Ellen’s son Horace and his wife and daughters, my grandmother among them, fresh from Broken Hill, where Horace and his brothers had worked in the silver mines.
In 1914 he and Ethel took over the Kiosk lease, and while the Dominion Post says that in 1915 it became a hospital for soldiers coming back from the front, documents show my family was still there in 1916 when my great uncle Jack was born. By 1917 though, they had moved to Wadestown, where Horace became a grocer.
The Kiosk itself went on for years, and was still standing – as a pub called The Skyline – when I was a child. In 1982 it burned down in suspicious circumstances (two fires, less than a month apart, at a time when some people were pushing to have it pulled down and others were fighting to save it) and was replaced with the current Athfield-designed building.
But back to tea. My grandmother always insisted that The Kiosk was a classy place that knew how to do tea, and a walk around the cable car museum suggests she might have been right. Silver teapots, fine white china with a gold rim, and a photo of an elegantly set table from 1915 – when my great grandmother Ethel was at the helm and my grandmother was three years old – evoke a time when tea was king.
So it’s fair to say that it’s not without some trepidation that I pick the Kiosk (it will always be the Kiosk to me, even though it is now officially called Kowhai Cafe) when a newspaper reporter says he wants to see me do my tea stuff. Will the family tea legacy live on? I hitch a ride on the cable car to Kelburn, and find out.
My Marks Out Of 10:
Cup 2:Acme. I seem to be running into them a lot these days – at the Matterhorn and at the Rusty Tractor. They’re not getting any lighter. It is a tea-cup shape, but I would much rather be using my great-granny’s china.
Tea 7: T Leaf T English breakfast bag in pot. Disappointed it’s not loose-leaf (my grandmother refused to her dying day to use teabags) but the flavour is good and the pot is a great little pourer. No hot water though for a top-up, and I’m struggling to get a second cup.
Setting 10: It’s not the Kelburn Kiosk as it was, but this is a place that has seen six generations of my family (my mother and I brought my son here when he was small, and last year he and I had lunch here, sans tea). And while I will always wish they’d build a replica of the “real” Kiosk, there are nods inside to the old building (wooden panelling and a photo on the wall), and just look at the view.
Dog friendly? Unknown.
*If anyone know what “Broadways, Christchurch” was please drop me a line. We think it was probably a department store (family lore says Ellen worked in a store in Christchurch after coming to New Zealand from South Australia), but we are not sure.
Cup 4:Maxwell Williams Cafe Culture. The colour is fabulous, and the shape isn’t bad, but it’s heavy and the handle is too small to get your finger through.
Tea 6: Kerikeri Tea English breakfast. The serving person tells me it’s loose-leaf in a bag. I think she means it’s good tea, not floor-sweepings.
Setting 6: Our airport is friendly, cosy and subtropical. Not a bad place, as far as airports go, to spend a bit of quiet time.
Dog-friendly? Jess (and Cody before her) comes to the airport to see me off and welcome me home. She’s not allowed inside, but that’s okay, because the car park is so close to the runway that I can see her anyway.
The Apron Cafe, Whangarei airport, 59 Handforth St, Onerahi, Whangarei.
We get to the Matterhorn just in time time say goodbye.
The cafe closes on February 15, 2018 after serving Wellingtonians for 55 years, falling victim to an earthquake and developers.
The Matterhorn opened as a coffee-house in 1963. It was narrow and dark, reached by a corridor off Cuba St, near the Bucket Fountain and right across from Plum. It was the place where I had my first asparagus roll (circa 1973; my great-aunt thought I would like it, I didn’t).
In 1997 the Matterhorn morphed into a restaurant and bar, expanding sideways into extra spaces, but holding on firmly to its sixties vibe.
My brother is of this generation of Wellingtonians, and can’t quite believe that the scene of so many of his best nights out is about to disappear.
But disappear it will. In November 2016, a 7.8 earthquake hit Wellington, shaking the foundations of the Farmers store next door to the Matterhorn. It’s coming down, and, apparently, the landlord has decided to redevelop the whole site, including the bit the Matterhorn stands on.
The Matterhorn’s owner and staff are off to a new Italian restaurant in Tory St, in the remains of the old Lone Star, but that doesn’t help those who love the Matterhorn for its pastiche, it’s verve and for it’s sheer longevity.
So on Valentine’s Day 2018, the day before its scheduled closure, my brother and I hit the Matterhorn one last time. For tea, of course, and to raise a glass.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Acme. Not a bad shape, but small and heavy. Better suited to short blacks.
Tea 7:T Leaf T loose-leaf. I break a reviewing rule and have Earl Grey Blue Flower, because it’s late and I have already had eight cups of tea. Or is it nine? Matt has Jasmine Dragon Pearl’s Green. I have to ask for milk. The tea is made in fat cast-iron pots which keep it hot. I find it a little weak, then remind myself it’s Earl Grey.
The fact that tea has it’s own section on the menu is heart-warming. So is the complimentary shortbread.
Setting 10: It’s the Matterhorn’s second-to-last night. Need I say more?
It’s no breakfast and lousy tea for hungry and thirsty travellers
A rusty tractor AND a yarn-bombed bicycle – this is too good to be true, I think, as we walk up the wooden steps and into The Rusty Tractor cafe.
Sadly, it is. The Rusty Tractor has been recommended to us as a good place for a slap-up breakfast on our way out of Kerikeri, and we’re hungry, thirsty and full of anticipation by the time we get there.
There’s a problem though; the kitchen is snowed under coping with a table of eight, and there will be a 45-minute wait for food. We order tea and contemplate our next move.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 2:Acme. This cup is so heavy that just picking it up constitutes a work-out.
Tea 3:Dilmah English Breakfast teabag. Flat. Disappointing. Like the whole experience really.
Setting 6: On the road into (or out of) Kerikeri, in a spacious board-and-batten building with lots of quirky bits like the tractor and the bike. But a good setting doesn’t make up for lousy tea and no breakfast.
Dog-friendly? Not there long enough to find out.
So what do we do? Push on south, confident we’ll soon find another breakfast stop without a long wait for food. We don’t. “Kawakawa, then,” we say, but there’s nothing doing there either (someone’s cutting down a tree in the main street and all the car parks are blocked). And so we end up at the good-old Towai Tavern, where the service is fast, the breakfast is huge (my beloved eats half mine) and they’ve heard my complaint about a half-full teapot and give me a full pot.
Hot water from a coffee pot on a warming plate is NOT the way to make tea. Especially the first cup of the day.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Standard hotel cup, the sort you’ve had at every conference you’ve ever been to.
Tea 3:Dilmah English breakfast teabag: What would have been a dismal mark, based on the complete lack of understanding of why water for making bog-standard black tea should be HOT, is boosted slightly by the fact at least the teabag is Dilmah.
Setting 5: I’ve stayed here before, and the memories aren’t good – based largely on the fact that back then there was a building site across the road with jackhammers that started long before anyone should be awake. This trip there were no jackhammers, and the stained glass in the reception lifts this budget hotel above the crowd.
Dog friendly: No
Econo Lodge Central City Auckland, 37 Wellesley St West, Auckland.
“Your boy has always loved my turnovers,” says the woman behind the counter at the Miner’s Rest as she bundles an apricot one into a paper bag.
I’m taken-aback. While this place has long been a favourite, thanks to serving what must have been the world’s biggest – and tastiest – sausage rolls (my chaps are as diligent in the Search For The World’s Best Sausage Roll as I am in the Hunt For the Best Cup Of Tea), I’ve never bought a turnover here before.
What’s more, I know The Miner’s Rest has changed hands, and I have never seen this woman before.
Or have I? Eventually I twig that she owns another cafe we used to frequent, and that she used to put apricot turnovers aside for my son, who loved them with a passion boarding on worship.
So it’s sausage rolls off the menu and apricot turnovers on, but what about the tea?
My marks out of 10:
Cup 3: Heavy. Bad shape. Possibly a higher mark than it deserves, but I am blinded by apricot turnovers (did I mention I like them too?).
Tea 5: Twining’s English Breakfast, teabag in a pot. The first cup is weak, but improves with a top-up from the pot.
Setting 6:Hikurangi is an old coal-mining town north of Whangarei, a couple of minutes off State Highway 1. The coal was discovered in 1883 by gumdiggers, and the last mine closed in 1971. The cafe is decorated in homage to the miners, and today Coal Town Traders, a secondhand and antiques shop next door, is open. Bonus – I found a Crown Lynn green bamboo jug like one from my childhood at a bargain price.
Dog-friendly: Jess’ predecessor, Cody, was known to enjoy a bowl of water or two at the Miner’s Rest.
Two years ago, Sky Cafe turned its back on Sri Lankan tea heavyweight Dilmah in favour of a local blend.
And while we’re Dilmah fans from way back (it’s been the principle brew in our house since the early 1990s), there’s no denying that the tea being served in the Sky Cafe is darned good.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 6:Accolade, Southern Hospitality catering ware. Described as chip-resistant, long-lasting and designed for continuous use, it makes sense to use it in a high-traffic place like this. And while it’s not fine-bone fancy, it is a good teacup shape, large, reasonably light (for what it is), and has a lip – all qualities to endear it to the discerning tea-drinker.
Tea 8: Tea Total extra-strength loose-leaf English breakfast. You know you’re in a place that takes tea seriously when the menu bothers to describe the tea as an Assam-broken orange pekoe blend. Tea Total is a New Zealand company based on Auckland’s North Shore. I’ve had their tea once before, an Irish Breakfast at Loretta, in Wellington’s Cuba St, when I described it as having “interesting notes”.
Today, it’s brought to our table by Sky Cafe assistant manager Theresa Reiferschied. An Irish woman who has also lived in Germany for many years, she is the type of woman who takes tea seriously.
“We changed (from Dilmah) a couple of years ago,” she tells me. “I felt we needed something a more, and Tea Total actually took me to their factory and showed me how they blend the tea.”
There are four black teas on the Sky Cafe menu (including, appropriately, because of the volcano that dominates the view out the window, Smooth Rangitoto Blend) as well as green and fruit teas.
My only criticism is that if I had been given a jug of hot water, I could have more than one-and-a-quarter cups.
Setting 7: When you’re 182 metres in the air, the view is, of course, fantastic. It’s a bonus to have a table with a view of Princes Wharf and the sailing ship Tenacious my friend would be joining to sail around Cape Horn.
Dog friendly? No.
*The Sky Tower is the 23rd tallest building in the world. Completed in 1997, it is 328 metres from the ground to the top of the communications mast, and was built as part of the Skycity casino.
Sky Cafe, Level 50, Sky Tower, corner Federal and Victoria Streets, Auckland.
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.
Tea7: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.
Vic Books cafe, Victoria University Pipitea campus, 27 Lambton Quay, Wellington.
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.
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.
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,
PS the fabulous cup and saucer in the picture at the top are from the Australian company T2.
English breakfast is the drink of a new generation. Or at least of the young man behind the counter at Plum.
He seems pleased with it.
I am too.
Plum is handy to Forest & Bird’s Wellington office, and has been the scene of several pleasant repasts. But always with coffee, back before I started holding the country’s cafes, bars and restaurants accountable for the swill they served as tea. It just didn’t seem worth ordering tea, because nine times out of 10 it would disappoint.
It turns out that Plum, though, is the one in 10 to delight.
So delightful is it that I try to come back the next morning for breakfast, having given it a big build-up to my colleague Karen. But while the doors are open at 8.10am, we’re told they won’t be ready to serve anyone until 8.30, and that would make us late for work.
That was on November 21. Circumstances continue to conspire to keep me away, but a month on I’m still thinking about that tea.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 1: Coffee cup. No more Mrs Nice-Girl on this; it’s straight to the bottom of the class.
Tea 9: t leaf T loose-leaf English breakfast. Have I ever awarded such a high mark? Yes I have, and it was for the same tea at The Lazy Graze in Eketahuna. On this day, my expectations are low, what with the cup and everything, but wow! Flavours socking me in the mouth and making me want more, just like a good wine does. I need to know what it is, and with the waitress nowhere to be seen, I ask the chap behind the counter. He disappears and returns with the tin, and he is shining like the newly converted. “I have started drinking this too,” he tells me. “English breakfast is what I drink now. And short blacks.”
Setting 7:Cuba St mightn’t be as Bohemian as it once was, but it’s still an interesting place to poke around. Plum is near the bucket fountain, and on this day a three-piece band is playing just outside.
The talk in the Hukerenui pub is of country things. Rain is needed, the woodchopping at the A&P Show was good, and so were the horses, but they could have done with a bit more shade.
The rhythms of country life are soothing, jogging memories of life in the rural North.
It’s a blowsy summer afternoon when I haul in thirsty from the road, and hungry to boot, and it turns out the Hukerenui Hotel is up to the job.
My marks out of 10:
Cup 5: White Arcoroc cup and saucer. Another blast from the past – this was big in the ’80s.
Tea 7: Twining’s English Breakfast, teabag. At first Laurel, who runs the place, can’t remember the brand. “The red one,” she says. The tea is good – as hearty as the club sandwich Laurel makes me (the display counter is empty; Laurel would rather make each sandwich fresh, so the bread doesn’t curl). I compliment her on the tea, and she says the secret is to heat the pot, and to not bring the extra hot water out until the customer wants it, so it doesn’t get time to cool.
Setting 8: Who can resist a 127-year-old historic pub? The Huka, as it’s known, was opened in 1890. The railway went through around 1901, and gradually the main road north, from Whangarei to Kawakawa, got broader and busier. The interior of the pub’s not in original condition – more late 1980s than early 1890s – but there are huge historic prints on the walls, horses in the paddock and lamb and mint pies in the chiller.
Dog friendly? Bound to be.
Hukerenui Hotel. 2444 State Highway 1, Hukerenui, Northland.
What constitutes good tea is, of course, subjective, and I am prepared to concede that what’s my cup of tea mightn’t necessarily be yours.
But as some of my family and friends have become nervous about making me tea, here’s a quick run-down on how to make what I consider to be a good cup of tea.
And for the record, I never judge tea made for me by people at home or at work; it’s the people charging good money for what can only be called dishwater who are in my sights.
1. BOIL WATER
Not as simple as it sounds. Use a kettle – either stove-top or electric. Recently, I heard that these aren’t standard kitchen appliances in the United States. Somewhat sceptical, I asked my American friends and found that while some do (take a bow Jerry Sehkle, although the fact we’re related way back probably mean it’s something to do with the family tea-drinking genes), others have never tried them and assume that heating water in a microwave is fine. It’s not. It doesn’t get as hot. Good tea is made with water that’s come to a full rolling boil. Every time I flip the switch on the kettle, I can still hear my grandmother saying “you WILL boil the water properly, won’t you dear?”
If you have to, use a pot on the stove, but it’s slower and there’s more chance of getting splattered by boiling water.
2. USE FRESH WATER
Once – and only once – I accused my beloved of using the wrong tea. We’d just moved from Auckland city to Waiheke Island, and I, with my taste buds dulled by years of drinking tea made with chemically dosed city water, failed to recognise that it wasn’t the tea that was different, but the water.
We don’t always have access to fresh rainwater, but at least empty the kettle and refill it from the tap every time. Water that’s already been boiled once tastes flat if it is boiled again and used to make tea. The wonderful Sri Lankan tea company Dilmah explains it like this:
‘Water is known to contain dissolved gases absorbed from the air. Carbon dioxide (CO2) gas that is present in water affects the acidity. Acidity of water plays a critical role in the ionization of tea polyphenols, and it contributes to the stability of the above complex.
CO2 in water is gradually released during the boiling process. Re-boiling will in fact further reduce CO2 levels, resulting in a decrease in the acidity. As mentioned above this will affect the caffeine and polyphenol complexion, and bring about changes in the colour as well as the character of the brew.
Twice-boiled water will therefore affect the taste of a good tea, and hence our request that only freshly boiled water is used for brewing Dilmah tea.’
3. USE GOOD LEAF TEA
There’s tea, and there’s tea. Taste is personal, so shop around and see what you like. We drink Dilmah Classic most of the time, but usually have a cannister of Kerikeri Tea’s Organic Bay of Island Breakfast in the cupboard for to offer to friends or to have as a treat (it’s more expensive than Dilmah), and love trying other brands and blends.
Occasionally I drink green or herbal teas too.
Keep your tea in a dark, air-tight caddy in a cool place. Many people advice keeping it in the fridge. I go through my main tea so quickly that leaving it on the bench for a few days doesn’t matter.
4. MAKE IT IN A POT
Teapots are worth using simply for the ritual. But there are practical reasons for using them too. The tea gets time to steep, and, depending on the size of the pot, there’s usually the option of a second – or third – cup.
Heat the pot by filling it with hot water from the tap and letting it sit while the kettle boils, or swirling a bit of boiling water from the jug around in it (if you do this, make sure to bring the kettle back to the boil again).
My current pot is a white ceramic one I got for $10 in a sale at Briscoes. It has a basket that holds the tea leaves, which makes emptying it easy. If you are using one of these, fill the warmed pot with boiling water, put the basket in, add tea (one teaspoon for each person, and one for the pot), and put the lid on.
If your teapot hasn’t got a basket, put the tea in first.
And if you use teabags instead of loose-leaf tea, it’s still worth using a pot; your tea will have a depth it’s not possible to achieve by making it in a cup.
5. LET IT BREW
Good things – and tea is the best of things – take time. Let it brew for at least three minutes, longer if you like it strong.
6. TIP ME OVER, POUR ME OUT
If you take milk, put it in the cup first, then pour tea on top. I don’t like it too milky – about half a centimetre in the bottom of the cup will do.