T Leaf T – Wellington Breakfast

wgtn breakfast 1
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.

39 gillies busker - Copy
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.

39 Gillies couch
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.

39 Gillies pancakes
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

pandoro sign
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

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.

the bach ducks
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.

 

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

mainst 3
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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The Apron Cafe, Whangarei airport

apron 3
Whangarei Harbour from the air: from Onerahi airport on the peninsula at left, across Bream Head, Marsden Point and on to Bream Bay.

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

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

My marks out of 10:

apron 2
I love the colour of the cup, but it’s not good to drink from.

Cup 4: Maxwell Williams Cafe Culture. The colour is fabulous, and the shape isn’t bad, but it’s heavy and the handle is too small to get your finger through.

Tea 6: Kerikeri Tea English breakfast. The serving person tells me it’s loose-leaf in a bag. I think she means it’s good tea, not floor-sweepings.

apron 1
It’s small, it’s friendly and it’s ours.

Setting 6: Our airport is friendly, cosy and subtropical. Not a bad place, as far as airports go, to spend a bit of quiet time.

Dog-friendly? Jess (and Cody before her) comes to the airport to see me off and welcome me home. She’s not allowed inside, but that’s okay, because the car park is so close to the runway that I can see her anyway.

The Apron Cafe, Whangarei airport, 59 Handforth St, Onerahi, Whangarei.

The Rusty Tractor, Kerikeri

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A yarn-bombed bike is a wonderful welcome.

It’s no breakfast and lousy tea for hungry and thirsty travellers

A rusty tractor AND a yarn-bombed bicycle – this is too good to be true, I think, as we walk up the wooden steps and into The Rusty Tractor cafe.

Sadly, it is. The Rusty Tractor has been recommended to us as a good place for a slap-up breakfast on our way out of Kerikeri, and we’re hungry, thirsty and full of anticipation by the time we get there.

There’s a problem though; the kitchen is snowed under coping with a table of eight, and there will be a 45-minute wait for food. We order tea and contemplate our next move.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 2: Acme. This cup is so heavy that just picking it up constitutes a work-out.

Tea 3: Dilmah English Breakfast teabag. Flat. Disappointing. Like the whole experience really.

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

Setting 6: On the road into (or out of) Kerikeri, in a spacious board-and-batten building with lots of quirky bits like the tractor and the bike. But a good setting doesn’t make up for lousy tea and no breakfast.

Dog-friendly? Not there long enough to find out.

So what do we do? Push on south, confident we’ll soon find another breakfast stop without a long wait for food. We don’t. “Kawakawa, then,” we say, but there’s nothing doing there either (someone’s cutting down a tree in the main street and all the car parks are blocked). And so we end up at the good-old Towai Tavern, where the service is fast, the breakfast is huge (my beloved eats half mine) and they’ve heard my complaint about a half-full teapot and give me a full pot.

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

The Rusty Tractor, 582 Kerikeri Rd, Kerikeri.

Econo Lodge City Central, Auckland

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

Hot water from a coffee pot on a warming plate is NOT the way to make tea. Especially the first cup of the day.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 3: Standard hotel cup, the sort you’ve had at every conference you’ve ever been to.

Tea 3: Dilmah English breakfast teabag: What would have been a dismal mark, based on the complete lack of understanding of why water for making bog-standard black tea should be HOT, is boosted slightly by the fact at least the teabag is Dilmah.

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The glass frontage and ceiling dome were imported.

Setting 5: I’ve stayed here before, and the memories aren’t good – based largely on the fact that back then there was a building site across the road with jackhammers that started long before anyone should be awake. This trip there were no jackhammers, and the stained glass in the reception lifts this budget hotel above the crowd.

Dog friendly: No

Econo Lodge Central City Auckland, 37 Wellesley St West, Auckland.

 

Miner’s Rest Cafe, Hikurangi

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

“Your boy has always loved my turnovers,” says the woman behind the counter at the Miner’s Rest as she bundles an apricot one into a paper bag.

I’m taken-aback. While this place has long been a favourite, thanks to serving what must have been the world’s biggest – and tastiest – sausage rolls (my chaps are as diligent in the Search For The World’s Best Sausage Roll as I am in the Hunt For the Best Cup Of Tea), I’ve never bought a turnover here before.

What’s more, I know The Miner’s Rest has changed hands, and I have never seen this woman before.

Or have I? Eventually I twig that she owns another cafe we used to frequent, and that she used to put apricot turnovers aside for my son, who loved them with a passion boarding on worship.

So it’s sausage rolls off the menu and apricot turnovers on, but what about the tea?

My marks out of 10:

Cup 3: Heavy. Bad shape. Possibly a higher mark than it deserves, but I am blinded by apricot turnovers (did I mention I like them too?).

Tea 5: Twining’s English Breakfast, teabag in a pot. The first cup is weak, but improves with a top-up from the pot.

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Tea with a coal-mining theme.

Setting 6: Hikurangi is an old coal-mining town north of Whangarei, a couple of minutes off State Highway 1. The coal was discovered in 1883 by gumdiggers, and the last mine closed in 1971.  The cafe is decorated in homage to the miners, and today Coal Town Traders, a secondhand and antiques shop next door, is open. Bonus – I found a Crown Lynn green bamboo jug like one from my childhood at a bargain price.

Dog-friendly: Jess’ predecessor, Cody, was known to enjoy a bowl of water or two at the Miner’s Rest.

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

Sky Cafe, Auckland

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

Two years ago, Sky Cafe turned its back on Sri Lankan tea heavyweight Dilmah in favour of a local blend.

And while we’re Dilmah fans from way back (it’s been the principle brew in our house since the early 1990s), there’s no denying that the tea being served in the Sky Cafe is darned good.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 6: Accolade, Southern Hospitality catering ware. Described as chip-resistant, long-lasting and designed for continuous use, it makes sense to use it in a high-traffic place like this. And while it’s not fine-bone fancy, it is a good teacup shape,  large, reasonably light (for what it is), and has a lip – all qualities to endear it to the discerning tea-drinker.

sky cafe signTea 8: Tea Total extra-strength loose-leaf English breakfast. You know you’re in a place that takes tea seriously when the menu bothers to describe the tea as an Assam-broken orange pekoe blend. Tea Total is a New Zealand company based on Auckland’s North Shore. I’ve had their tea once before, an Irish Breakfast at Loretta, in Wellington’s Cuba St, when I described it as having “interesting notes”.

Today, it’s brought to our table by Sky Cafe assistant manager Theresa Reiferschied. An Irish woman who has also lived in Germany for many years, she is the type of woman who takes tea seriously.

“We changed (from Dilmah) a couple of years ago,” she tells me. “I felt we needed something a more, and Tea Total actually took me to their factory and showed me how they blend the tea.”

There are four black teas on the Sky Cafe menu (including, appropriately, because of the volcano that dominates the view out the window, Smooth Rangitoto Blend) as well as green and fruit teas.

My only criticism is that if I had been given a jug of hot water, I could have more than one-and-a-quarter cups.

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

Setting 7: When you’re 182 metres in the air, the view is, of course, fantastic. It’s a bonus to have a table with a view of Princes Wharf and the sailing ship Tenacious my friend would be joining to sail around Cape Horn.

Dog friendly? No.

*The Sky Tower is the 23rd tallest building in the world. Completed in 1997, it is 328 metres from the ground to the top of the communications mast, and was built as part of the Skycity casino.

Sky Cafe, Level 50, Sky Tower, corner Federal and Victoria Streets, Auckland. 

Vic Books, Pipitea, Wellington

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

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

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The cafe at Vic Books.

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

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

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

My marks out of 10:

Cup 4: Tea-cup shape, but heavy.

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A tasty tea Ritual.

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

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

Dog-friendly? None in evidence.

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Cafe with a hipster vibe.

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

Plum, Cuba St, Wellington

English breakfast is the drink of a new generation. Or at least of the young man behind the counter at Plum.

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These days, Plum frontman Sharrick drinks English breakfast tea as well as short black coffee.

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.

plum-tea1.jpgTea 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.

Dog-friendly? Unknown.

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Afternoon music by the bucket fountain in Cuba St can be heard inside Plum.

Plum, 103A Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington.

Hukerenui Hotel, Northland

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Hukerenui Hotel, on a lazy summer afternoon.

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.

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Deserted public bar – the action is all in the cafe.

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:

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A hearty afternoon tea for travellers.

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.

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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.