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.

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.

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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.

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

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Dog-friendly? Yes.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

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Main Street Deli, 88 Main St, Greytown.

Cafe Vessel, Pipitea, Wellington

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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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Kelburn Tea Kiosk (aka Kowhai Cafe), Wellington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Misses Plummer were my great-great grandmother, Ellen Eliza Plummer (a widow), and her three maiden daughters, Olive, Lillian and Nellie.

Sometime between 1912 and 1914 they were joined by Ellen’s son Horace and his wife and daughters, my grandmother among them, fresh from Broken Hill, where Horace and his brothers had worked in the silver mines.

In 1914 he and Ethel took over the Kiosk lease, and while the Dominion Post says that in 1915 it became a hospital for soldiers coming back from the front, documents show my family was still there in 1916 when my great uncle Jack was born. By 1917 though, they had moved to Wadestown, where Horace became a grocer.

The Kiosk itself went on for years, and was still standing – as a pub called The Skyline – when I was a child. In 1982 it burned down in suspicious circumstances (two fires, less than a month apart, at a time when some people were pushing to have it pulled down and others were fighting to save it) and was replaced with the current Athfield-designed building.

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

But back to tea. My grandmother always insisted that The Kiosk was a classy place that knew how to do tea, and a walk around the cable car museum suggests she might have been right. Silver teapots, fine white china with a gold rim, and a photo of an elegantly set table from 1915 – when my great grandmother Ethel was at the helm and my grandmother was three years old – evoke a time when tea was king.

So it’s fair to say that it’s not without some trepidation that I pick the Kiosk (it will always be the Kiosk to me, even though it is now officially called Kowhai Cafe) when a newspaper reporter says he wants to see me do my tea stuff. Will the family tea legacy live on? I hitch a ride on the cable car to Kelburn, and find out.

My Marks Out Of 10:

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

Cup 2: Acme. I seem to be running into them a lot these days – at the Matterhorn and at the Rusty Tractor. They’re not getting any lighter. It is a tea-cup shape, but I would much rather be using my great-granny’s china.

Tea 7: T Leaf T English breakfast bag in pot. Disappointed it’s not loose-leaf (my kiosk-tea.jpggrandmother refused to her dying day to use teabags) but the flavour is good and the pot is a great little pourer. No hot water though for a top-up, and I’m struggling to get a second cup.

Setting 10: It’s not the Kelburn Kiosk as it was, but this is a place that has seen six generations of my family (my mother and I brought my son here when he was small, and last year he and I had lunch here, sans tea). And while I will always wish they’d build a replica of the “real” Kiosk, there are nods inside to the old building (wooden panelling and a photo on the wall), and just look at the view.

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

Dog friendly? Unknown.

*If anyone know what “Broadways, Christchurch” was please drop me a line. We think it was probably a department store (family lore says Ellen worked in a store in Christchurch after coming to New Zealand from South Australia), but we are not sure.

Kowhai Cafe, 1 Upland Rd, Kelburn, Wellington. 

 

The Matterhorn, Wellington

Genuine sixties string picture.

We get to the Matterhorn just in time time say goodbye.

The cafe closes on February 15, 2018 after serving Wellingtonians for 55 years, falling victim to an earthquake and developers.

The Matterhorn opened as a coffee-house in 1963. It was narrow and dark, reached by a corridor off Cuba St, near the Bucket Fountain and right across from Plum. It was the place where I had my first asparagus roll (circa 1973; my great-aunt thought I would like it, I didn’t).

In 1997 the Matterhorn morphed into a restaurant and bar, expanding sideways into extra spaces, but holding on firmly to its sixties vibe.

My brother is of this generation of Wellingtonians, and can’t quite believe that the scene of so many of his best nights out is about to disappear.

But disappear it will. In November 2016, a 7.8 earthquake hit Wellington, shaking the foundations of the Farmers store next door to the Matterhorn. It’s coming down, and, apparently, the landlord has decided to redevelop the whole site, including the bit the Matterhorn stands on.

The Matterhorn’s owner and staff are off to a new Italian restaurant in Tory St, in the remains of the old Lone Star, but that doesn’t help those who love the Matterhorn for its pastiche, it’s verve and for it’s sheer longevity.

So on Valentine’s Day 2018, the day before its scheduled closure, my brother and I hit the Matterhorn one last time. For tea, of course, and to raise a glass.

My marks out of 10:

Cup 3: Acme. Not a bad shape, but small and heavy. Better suited to short blacks.

Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf. I break a reviewing rule and have Earl Grey Blue Flower, because it’s late and I have already had eight cups of tea. Or is it nine? Matt has Jasmine Dragon Pearl’s Green. I have to ask for milk. The tea is made in fat cast-iron pots which keep it hot. I find it a little weak, then remind myself it’s Earl Grey.

The fact that tea has it’s own section on the menu is heart-warming. So is the complimentary shortbread.

Setting 10: It’s the Matterhorn’s second-to-last night. Need I say more?

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

Dog-friendly? Possibly.

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.

The Lazy Graze, Eketahuna

Tea – but no rugby – in Bush country.

Ashhurst, Woodville, Mangatainoka, Pahiatua…the tea-party towns of my childhood roll past the car window on a leisurely Saturday drive from Palmerston North to Masterton.

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Scrubbed tables and a country theme.

But it’s Eketahuna – a town some people aren’t convinced even exists – that produces something close to the perfect cup of tea.

I admit I wasn’t expecting much. The Lazy Graze is what you might call an honest country cafe: what you see is what you get. Country folk stopping in for lunch and a chat. Lasagne. Sandwiches. Cake.

And tea.

My marks out of 10?

Cup 8: Springfield, an English pottery founded in 1962. The pattern isn’t my cup of tea, so to speak, but it’s a quality drinking experience.

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A quality drinking experience…
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…fueled by quality tea.

Tea 9: t Leaf T loose-leaf English breakfast. An array of little bottles of different teas on the counter gives me the first hint that I might be in for a better cup of tea than I thought. “It’s loose-leaf,” I think, my expectations jumping a couple of notches. t Leaf T (that name really does annoy me) is a Wellington tea company, and I’ve had their tea before, at the Schnappa Rock cafe in Tutukaka. It was good. Anticipation builds, and is met. One thing puzzles me though; the tea in the pot is in a bag, when the counter display clearly promised loose-leaf. I call the waitress over. “We put it in bags ourselves,” she tells me. “It means you get a good cup of tea and we don’t have to deal with the leaves.” She demonstrates, and I’ve got a hand-filled tea-bag to take away with me. Whatever next!

Setting 6: Comfortable, with a rural theme. Lots of extra seating in a room out the back, but space is, nevertheless, at a premium.

Dog-friendly? Probably, though none in evidence today.

*For the record, Eketahuna is at the southern end of what was known as the Seventy Mile Bush, a stand of heavy native forest that ran from southern Hawke’s Bay to Wairarapa. It was destroyed in the 1870s by Scandinavian settlers, acting at the behest of the Government, which wanted the forest turned into farms. At that time, Eketahuna was called Mellemskov, which meant heart of the forest. Confusingly, the area was also called the Forty Mile Bush, which usually meant the southern part of the Seventy Mile Bush. The rugby union got around the problem by simply calling it Bush (as in Wairarapa-Bush). For some reason, many people think it’s a made-up place, like Erewhon, Brigadoon and Waikikamukau (try saying it out loud).

The Lazy Graze, 40 Main St, Eketahuna.

Schnappa Rock, Tutukaka

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Idyllic Tutukaka, a safe-haven for boats and tea-drinkers.

“Have tea with me today,” my beloved says, and so we drive 52 kilometres north, over Mt Tiger and along the coast.

toots-sign-e1508567005332.jpgIt’s more than two decades since either of us has been to Tutukaka, and then it was to the Toots (Tutukaka Hotel) to see some now-forgotten band. No tea was consumed.

The pub burnt down in 2001, and a multi-coloured, multi-million-dollar apartment building stands on the site.

But a bit past there is the Schnappa (their spelling) Rock restaurant and bar, and after ascertaining that it is, indeed, dog-friendly, we take a seat for a long-postponed birthday lunch.

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Delicious lunch.
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Best-ever sticky-date pudding, for two.

The food is delicious; fish (sustainable) for him, chicken (free-range) for me, after which I introduce my beloved to the wonder that is sticky-date pudding, and it is the best I have ever had.

But the real proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the tea-drinking.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 2: Coffee cup. Sigh. Again, I lecture the person waiting on our table. Again, I get a courteous hearing. The young man looking after us today goes as far as saying that while he doesn’t know much about drinking tea, he is very interested in its history. For the record, or in case you’ve forgotten, here is the scientific explanation for why tea must never, ever, be served in a coffee cup, especially not one of the modern, heavy, shallow cups used by rock-star barristas.

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Tea – off the menu.

TEA 8: t leaf Tea loose-leaf English breakfast.  It’s not a good start when I realise that tea isn’t even on the menu. This is early in the piece, when we’re ordering lunch, and I challenge the waiter immediately. He assures me that not only do they serve tea, but that they have a good range of it.

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Bad name, good tea.

Me: “Why isn’t it on the menu then?”

Him: “The menu gets changed a lot and sometimes things fall off.”

I go into a decline; any place in which tea matters so little that it falls off the menu is unlikely to make a good brew.

Nevertheless, I’ve got a job to do, and so I order a pot. Obviously, given what’s gone before, I’m not surprised to be given a coffee cup. But I am surprised by the tea itself. It’s good! Summoning the waiter again, I ask what it is. He fetches the caddy from the kitchen, with a warning that I can’t take it home. t leaf T (annoying name, makes it very hard for writers who care about starting sentences with a capital letter) is a Wellington company. As someone who spends quite a lot of time in the Capital, I make a note to pay them a visit.

SETTING 10: It’s the second time in a row I’ve awarded full marks for setting, but Schnappa Rock is friendly, laid-back and rustic, with a front-row view of the harbour.

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Tea and lunch by the harbour.

DOG-FRIENDLY? Definitely (the Hairy Maclary-looking dog on the left is our Jess).

Schnappa Rock restaurant and bar. Marina Rd, Tutukaka, Northland.