The Bach Alehouse, Auckland Airport

the bach outside.jpg
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.

 

Vic Books, Kelburn, Wellington

vic books counter
Cake and culture in one cosy package.

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

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

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

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

My Marks Out Of 10:

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

vic books tea
A pot of hot water and a decent cup and this spread could be straight As.

Tea Ritual Tea Company organic loose-leaf English breakfast 8.5: The eight is for the tea; the extra 0.5 is for the care the staff takes in preparing it to my taste.

The only place I’ve had Ritual is at Vic Books’ Pipitea cafe, and the first time round I found it strong and bitter. I tell the woman behind the counter, and she says that if that’s the case, I should tell them and they’ll make it again.

The pot that comes (there’s no table service; they shout and the Professor collects it from the counter) is, frankly, delicious. Not too weak. Not too strong. The Professor looks inside, and says they’ve taken the basket of leaves out for me.

“A pot of hot water on the side and they could have earned full marks,” I tell him.

“When we have tea out, my wife and I always ask for one,” he says, demonstrating why he’s a professor and I’m not.

The cheese scone that does double-duty as my breakfast and morning tea hits the spot.

vic books menu
Good teas on the menu.

Setting 7: Any place combining tea and books has got to be good on a wet winter’s day in Wellington. Unlike Pipitea, this version of Vic Books doesn’t boast a massive masterpiece (or not that I spotted), but it’s cosier, there are fewer suits about, and all-in-all, it’s a good setting for a discussion on the destruction of life as we know it.

Bonus – I leave with my backpack weighed down with books.

Dog-friendly? Doesn’t appear to be.

Open after 3pm? Don’t know, but I hope so; students need fortifying at odd times.

vic books outside
Right by the bus stop on Kelburn Parade.

Vic Books, 1 Kelburn Parade, Kelburn, Wellington.

Beach Rd Deli, Paekakariki

 

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

Good tea is again spoilt by bad cups – and now I know why

Memories of tea and date loaf at The Perching Parrot lure me off the highway at Paekakariki again in search of a repeat performance.

“It’s important to check they are consistently good,” I tell myself, as I park right outside.

But what’s this? Looking up the road, I spot another cafe just two doors away.

It’s the Beach Rd Deli, and requires immediate inspection.

My Marks Out of 10:

beach rd cup
This is NOT a tea cup.

Cup 1:  Acme and Co. When will this torture end? Acme is a Wellington company based in the Prefab cafe in Jessie St. By its own description, it’s a specialty coffee company. Why oh why, then, are its cups being used for tea? The cups have names like Demitasse, Flat White, Cappuccino and Latte. And they’re probably great cups for those coffees. But not for tea. They’re the wrong shape and too heavy, sucking the heat from the tea before it gets to drinkers’ mouths.

Acme seems to understand and accept that different types of coffee work best in different types of cups. The tulip has “a tall, narrow design meaning the crema is retained for longer when serving a long black”. The Demitasse’s thick wall “retains heat well”. The Cappuccino “features a large surface area which is the ideal canvas for displaying latte art” . Oh, and by the way, “the cappuccino can also be used as a durable teacup”.

And there’s the problem. Tea is an after-thought. You need different cups for every cup of coffee, but just bung the tea in the nearest cappuccino cup. No-one will know the difference.

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

beach rd tea
A fine selection of tea.

Tea 7: T Leaf T loose-leaf English Breakfast. Or is it? One of the reasons I love tea from this Petone blender is because it is consistently good.

This cup, though, tastes like it might have a bit of Earl Grey in it. I ask the woman behind the counter if they might have given me the wrong tea, and she says she doesn’t think so, but English Breakfast and Earl Grey are next to each other on the shelf, so it’s possible someone picked up the wrong one. “I’ll make myself a pot and see,” she says. I like her style.

On the food front, I have a rather nice feta, sun-dried tomato and spinach quiche with a tamarillo chutney so spicy it makes my nose run.

beach rd verandah
Sunny seating at the Beach Rd Deli.

Setting 7: Holtom’s Building opened in 1920 and nearly closed in 2007 because of the extent earthquake-strengthening that needed to be done. Presumably it was done, though, because the building is still standing.

Today, the seat just inside the window is bathed in sunshine, making it warm enough to take my coat off.

Dog-friendly? None here on this day.

Open After 3? Yes.

Beach Rd Deli, 5 Beach Rd, Paekakariki

The Perching Parrot, Paekakariki

perching parrot outside
Sunny day at the Perching Parrot.

Good tea, crazy tea set.

Paekakariki is as far as I get out of Wellington before I have to stop for tea.

I know there will be a cup waiting for me at my destination in Levin, 50 kilometres away, but you know, addiction.

My plan is to get a takeaway coffee to keep me going, but what’s a girl to do when the waitress at the Perching Parrot, just off the main highway and across the railway lines at Paekakariki, is thrusting a tea menu at me?

Settle in for tea and cake, that’s what.

My marks out of 10:

perching parrot cup
Crazy tea set.

Cup 7: The cup itself isn’t so good (heavy) but gains marks for shear audacity; who mixes a bright yellow Rockingham coffee cup with a rosebud-patterned Crown Lynn saucer (in what seems to be bone china; must check with Crown Lynn guru Val Monk whether this New Zealand pottery made fine china) and tops it off with a classic Crown Lynn Autumn Splendour side plate?

Tea 7: TeaTotal loose-leaf Special Blend Breakfast. The first cup is a little weak, possibly because I poured it too soon. Second cup is better, and matches to perfection the moist date, walnut and ginger loaf. There’s no pot of hot water.

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

perching parrot mirrorSetting 7: The Perching Parrot is sandwiched between the wild west coast sea and the Paekakariki Hill, described by the website Dangerous Roads as one of the world’s most beautiful drives.  Inside the cafe, I’m captivated by the faux French decor, which extends even to the toilet. Proceedings are watched over by a well-loved bear that a local tells me has lived in a few shops.

Dog-friendly? A black dog walks past but doesn’t stop. Perhaps he knows something.

Open after 3pm? At 3.30pm the kitchen is closed, but they’re still serving tea (and coffee if you must) and food from the cabinet.

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

The Perching Parrot, 7 Beach Rd, Paekakariki.

Cibo Whangarei

Georgia’s enthusiasm for tea is infectious.

One of the best things about life as at tea blogger is meeting young people who love tea.

When I ask Georgia at Cibo Cafe in Whangarei what sort of tea they sell, she rushes out the back and comes back with a big foil packet. She opens it and breathes deeply.

“It smells so good,” she says and grins.

“It should,” I say, “it’s good tea.”

We talk tea for bit and I tell her I’m a tea blogger. Georgia’s delighted and skuttles away to have a look on her phone, while I get down to the serious business at hand.

My marks out of 10:

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Good food, good tea.

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

cibo fliters
Tea filters.

Tea 8: TeaTotal English breakfast, made in a pot with loose-leaf tea Cibo has put into a Mt Everest tea-filter bag. Georgia brings them out to show me and says it means customers get to drink good-quality loose-leaf tea without a mouthful of leaves, and the staff don’t have to empty teapots. I’ll drink to that, I say.

Setting 6: Not very long ago, this was a car yard. Then Porowini Ave became the place to sell cars and a medical centre was built here. Cibo is at one end – the river/Town Basin end – and opens into the emergency pharmacy, which opens into the doctors’ rooms. It’s enormously civilised, not to mention calming, to be able to have a good cup of tea and something nice to eat (I had a baked salmony thing) before an appointment. The decor is pretty standard but with a nod to Northland’s sub-tropical climate. And the Town Basin, with its boats and crafts, is just a short walk away, across the remains of the car yard and a road.

Dog-friendly? Unknown.

Open after 3pm? No.

cibo front

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

Cibo Cafe, 34 Reyburn St, Whangarei

River Cottage Cafe, Otaki

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

The first leg of a nostalgic trip through Horowhenua

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

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

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

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

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

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

river cottage old
River Cottage as it used to be.

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

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

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

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

My marks out of 10:

river cottage temuka
Temuka teacups, ready for duty.

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

river cottage saucer

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

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

river cottage cup

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

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

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

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

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

Open after 3pm? Yes.

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

river cottage outside

River Cottage Cafe, 170 Main Highway, Otaki

Down Under Cafe, Auckland airport

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

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

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

down under me
Travelling outfit.

Any trip to Wellington now involves changing planes in Auckland, and with connections being what they are, that often means a mad dash from one departure lounge to another (a former colleague was amused to see me running through the terminal recently in a fur coat and hat, but that’s another story).

Or we can face a long period cooling our heels.

Tea at the domestic terminal is a desultory affair, so if it’s a nice day, I often walk over to the international terminal, where things are marginally better.

This is one of those days, and with three whole hours to kill before my next flight, I order a pot of tea and settle down in a seat in the sun to do some reading.

Concentration eludes me though, because a chap at the next table (his name is Henry) is talking tea. “I’m a tea drinker, preferably white tea,” he tells the coffee-drinkers at his table.

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

I go over and we talk tea. Henry has asked for a bigger cup, and says the cafe should be using pyramid-shaped tea bags , as they give the tea leaves room to brew.

“And you really should try white tea,” he tells me. “I think you’ll like it.

My marks out of 10:?

Cup 2: Coffee cup. Say no more.

Tea 3: Dilmah classic teabag in pot. Well, it’s in the pot once I put it in there. And the pot is only half full of water. Sometimes there’s a woman behind the counter who drinks tea herself and makes a reasonable fist of making a good brew with what she’s got. Sometimes there’s a young woman who has never drunk tea. There’s a special tea menu on the counter and a wide range of teas – although no white tea.

Setting: The trend for ’70s fashion has got as far as the airport. It’s not an unpleasant place to be as far as airports go, and the 10-minute walk over is a change from all that sitting.

Dog friendly? No.

Open after 3pm? Yes

down under sign

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

Delimarche, Whangarei Base Hospital

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

Sadly, I’m more familiar with the tea in this hospital than I would like to be.

And while there was a time, when I was lying broken in a hospital bed in the orthopaedic ward, that I was absurdly grateful for a cup of hospital char, let’s not pretend it’s anything other than it is – institutional tea, in an institutional cup.

Back then, I was confined to a bed and not free to sneak down to the hospital cafe where things might be better.

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

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

My marks out of 10:

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

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

delimarche cake
Tea and cake.

Tea 5: Sir Thomas Lipton English breakfast teabag. Served with the bag sitting in the cup and a separate pot of water. Which means the water isn’t piping hot when it hits the tea. Sigh. Still, not a bad taste. A bit flat, but better than you get on the wards. Taken with a slab of sultana cake.

Setting: Sunny and warm after sitting in the chilly radiology department for a while. A bit on the noisy side.

Dog-friendly? Dogs in hospitals are becoming a thing. Sadly, not in this one though. Am pretty sure that having a waggling Cody (Jess’ predecessor) visit me would have aided my recovery.

delimarche entrance
Welcome to Whangarei Base Hospital

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

delimarche closed
Open after 3pm – sort of.

Delimarche, Whangarei Base Hospital, Maunu Rd, Whangarei.

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 Rusty Tractor, Kerikeri

Rusty tractor bike
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.

rusty tractor tractor
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.

Miner’s Rest Cafe, Hikurangi

miners-rest-outside.jpg
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.

miners rest inside
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

sky cafe teresa
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.

sky cafe view
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

vic books I am
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.

vic-books-sign1.jpg
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.

There’s always a tea in Christmas

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Christmas is a summer affair in the Southern Hemisphere.

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.

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Christmas lunch, NZ-style.

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.

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Zealong cup and gift pack.

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,

 

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PS the fabulous cup and saucer in the picture at the top are from the Australian company T2.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Six tips for making perfect tea

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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

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The kettle comes to a full boil then swtiches itself off.

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.

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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

caddyThere’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.

 

 

 

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.

Breaking news….new tea at New Day!

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There’s a new tea in town…

Popped into New Day Cafe at Parua Bay to grab a bite on the run and look what’s on the counter!

Last month I was less-than-complimentary about this otherwise excellent  local cafe serving tea-bag tea, so am very excited to see this and to learn from Frank (the owner) that Kerikeri Tea’s Black Darjeeling is also now on the menu.

No time for a cup now, but will be back asap to give it a try.

 

The Lunchroom, Auckland CBD

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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.

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

 

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My third cup of tea at The Lunchroom, with the fourth waiting in the pot.
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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.