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.

River Cottage Cafe, Otaki

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

The first leg of a nostalgic trip through Horowhenua

My sister and I spent a lot of the ‘seventies leaning over the back seat of our grandparents’ Zephyr 6 as we drove around Horowhenua, Puppa telling stories about his farming childhood and Gran looking for good spots for tea.

Sometimes the tea was in a Thermos on one of the wild west coast beaches, or made in a billy on a fire by a river. Other times we went to one of the cosy tearooms that seemed to be everywhere in those days.

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

Baby brother Matt missed out on these excursions, and I’ve always felt a bit sad about that. So early on an autumn morning, while it’s still dark, I collect him from his home in Wellington’s Mt Cook and we head north on our own road trip, Matt getting in the mood by playing ‘seventies music on the car stereo and me trying to retell the stories I heard so long ago.

The first stop on our road trip is Otaki’s River Cottage, a cafe in a converted stable on State Highway One.

I know this place of old; it was one of Gran’s favourite stopping places. In those days it was called The Stables and you sat in the bit that is now a shop.

river cottage old
River Cottage as it used to be.

There’s a hand-written history on the wall, starting from 1939, when the newly opened tearooms were filled with a metre of silt from the flooding Otaki River.

“In 1939, World War Two began,” the author says. “By this time I had two young brothers, Jim and John. Dad cleaned out the tearooms and erected a large neon sign overlooking the highway, in the shape of a large horseshoe, and called it the Green Horseshoe Tearooms. Mother took over then with a waitress and they served light meals such as spaghetti and baked beans and eggs on toast, hot scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam, which became very popular, and of course, gallons of tea.”

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

That’s the way I remember it, scones and gallons of tea. Served on cake stands three tiers high and with butter shaved into little curls. But will the tearooms atmosphere have survived the Age of Coffee? Anxiously we hang about until 8am, when the doors open and we can find out.

My marks out of 10:

river cottage temuka
Temuka teacups, ready for duty.

Cup 9: Temuka Riverstone cup and saucer. How do they know I’m collecting it?! This set was huge in the 70s and my aunt was an aficionado.

river cottage saucer

Temuka is made by New Zealand Insulators, a 94-year-old company whose main business is making electrical insulators. But clay is clay, and in the 1930s, it started producing tobacco jars, mixing bowls and teapots as Christmas gifts for customers. They were popular, and a side industry was born.

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

river cottage cup

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

Tea 6: Tea Total English breakfast loose-leaf. One of my new favourites, so expectations are high. Unfortunately, they aren’t quite met. The pot is small and there’s no hot water for a top-up (though they might have given me some if I’d asked), but the biggest disappointment is that the tea is weak. Eventually, by drinking bits and adding more tea to the cup, I produce a reasonable cup, but I’ve had this tea before, at Loretta in Wellington and Sky Cafe in Auckland, and know it can be better.

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

Setting 10: My brother and another customer try to convince me to sit outside in the courtyard but my warm northern blood is having none of it. It might be sunny, but it’s 8am on an April morning and cold. The mere fact there is a pile of blankets handy confirms that outside is not a good idea. Much better inside by the fire.

The decor is cheerful if slightly whacky, and the food (vegetarian cooked breakfast for Matt, pancakes for me) is delicious, but it’s nostalgia that tips this cafe over from a 9 to a 10.

Open after 3pm? Yes.

Dog-friendly? None in evidence, but it’s not hard to imagine a pup or two in the courtyard.

river cottage outside

River Cottage Cafe, 170 Main Highway, Otaki

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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Who serves the best cuppa in NZ?

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poll 17
Which cafe can make a better cup of tea than this?

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The country’s cafe scene might have been dominated by coffee-swilling trendies in recent years, but there’s a army of tea-drinkers ready to strike back.

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And we will publicly praise those who are getting it right.

Vote in our Facebook poll to find New Zealand’s best cup of tea on the road, and go into the draw to win a yet-to-be-announced tea-related prize.

 

 

Jamaica Blue, Auckland Hospital

Finding a decent cuppa in a hospital coffee shop

Hospital visiting is all very well, but there is a limit to my charity, and we reach it when the tea trolley comes around.

jamaica me pouring
Plenty of tea for all.

Fortunately, there’s a Jamaica Blue cafe two floors up, so we skedaddle off there for a late lunch (lasagne for me, fish burger, or “slider” as the menu has it, for him) and a pot of tea. Or two.

My marks out of 10?

CUP 4: Tea-cup shape but heavy. Lost a mark for bragging about coffee on the side of it (this place is all about coffee).

TEA 6: Elmstock loose-leaf English breakfast – an Australian brew of Ceylon tea, which comes served in two substantial pots. Plenty of tea for all (I have three cups, he has two). Good hearty flavour and nice and strong.

SETTING 4: that’s a high mark, given this is a hospital. They’ve made an effort, with plants and comfy seats and even a double swing seat (though it’s bolted to the floor; health and safety is big in hospitals).

DOG FRIENDLY? What do you think?

jamaica cafe
Jamaica Blue. They do go on about coffee.

Jamaica Blue, Auckland Hospital, 2 Park Rd, Grafton, Auckland.

 

The Lunchroom, Auckland CBD

lunchroom siteri
Lunch in The Lunchroom with NatureFiji-MarequetiViti scientist Siteri Tikoca.

“Meet us at The Lunchroom,” said the women from the Ministry, and so we did, riding the escalator to the atrium in the first floor of a downtown-Auckland highrise to find them.

There we drank tea and talked about important things, and when it was time for the women from the Ministry to return to their office on a floor somewhere above us, Siteri, who came all the way from Fiji to talk about the important things, and I decided we could fit in lunch before our next important meeting.

lunchroom owner 2
Owner JJ Holland and his pies and burgers. I can vouch for the burgers.

 

Lunchroom tea
My third cup of tea at The Lunchroom, with the fourth waiting in the pot.
siteri and i
Gratuitous picture.

 

My marks out of 10?

CUP 5: Proper shape. Quite heavy though. I discuss this with owner JJ Holland, who says he would love to use fine china teacups – he went as far as pricing them – but what with the inevitable breakages that would occur in a busy cafe and restaurant, the economics didn’t stack up. I suggest using mix-and-match secondhand china cups, JJ says they wouldn’t go with The Lunchroom’s aesthetics.

TEA 8: Loose-leaf Forage and Bloom English breakfast. Good. Strong. I had four cups.

SETTING 8: Spacious, filled with light, and with an outlook over downtown Auckland.  Described in Metro magazine’s 2016 Best Cafe awards as the best in the central city for “a smart lunch in an oasis of inner-city calm”.

DOG-FRIENDLY? Is anywhere in the CBD?

The Lunchroom, Level 1, 45 Queen St, Auckland.