Coffee Highs and Lows
How do you screw up something as basic as a good cup of coffee? Well, there are any number of ways: burning the beans at the roasting stage, grinding the roasted beans too fine, packing the coffee well too tightly, not cleaning equipment and not using good water will result in burnt, bitter tasting coffee. And that’ll be five bucks, thanks! After many such experiences over the years in our nation’s beloved capital, I’d mostly resigned myself to ordering bu (when available) or overpriced cups of supermarket brand teas at Suva cafes, saving my coffee fixes for when I travel. So imagine my glee when I recently landed in Wellington, New Zealand’s little capital of cool – and now coffee, ranked one of the top eight places to get great coffee in the world by CNN. With a massive coffee drinking culture, population base and disposable income to support the habit, there’s literally a beanery/roastery/coffee joint on almost every corner of this quirky and compact little city. My very first Wellingtonian coffee comes out of a container the next morning and it doesn’t disappoint. Not just any old container but the coolest little hipster container café called Stories Coffee on bohemian Cuba Street. I get an almond milk flat white (for the lactose-into-leranza) with a beautiful, natural, washed Peruvian espresso, slightly bittersweet without tasting one bit burnt. I have to say almond milks abroad have come a long way. Back home I’m mostly only able to get the pricey 97% filtered water, 3% almond variety but there’s a new batch of barista blends in Australia and New Zealand that are as full-bodied and creamy as milk. Soy is more widely available in Fijian cafes but I prefer nut milks to soy (which can create excess phlegm in the body – very unsexy – and I’m convinced all the extra phytoestrogen it packs is to blame for my manboobs). Fresh coconut milk could be another possible dairy-free substitute but requires some experimentation. Overheat the milk and the fats turn to oil, overpowering the taste of coffee. In Wellington on another day I hike all the way up to Havana Coffee Works, a hot air roastery with a café on Tory St to meet an old Kiwi friend I’ve not seen for six years since he left Fiji to move back to New Zealand. The heady aroma of beans roasting next door hits me even before I’ve walked in the door. Then comes the flying coffee kick which gets me so buzzed I speed talk through the next hour trying to cram as much of the six years we’ve not seen each other as I can into 50 minutes. Impossible. Over the course of the week I’m there, I have meetings at two different Mojos, the hugely successful chain of coffee shops scattered throughout Wellington, each one outfitted differently to suit the location. I’m not hugely impressed with the service nor the almond milk flat white at the St James Theatre outlet. I have an earlyish 9am Monday meeting with my editor and our young and surly server seems to want to do anything but work that morning. I have a better luck at Mojo Aurora at the Terraces where business types are conducting meetings as my friend and I have a quick catch up. I get a healthy green juice (instead of coffee) and a delicious gluten-free treat that we split. But what sells me on Mojo is the free sparkling water. I could sell my soul for air bubbles. My search for Wellington’s next level coffee experience leads me to bustling Harbourside Markets behind Te Papa Tongarewa Museum* on Sunday, where I try Nitro Coffee for the first time. Triple filtered with Petone artisanal spring water, the 18-hour cold brew produces lower acidic coffee that gives me a dull all day buzz. As a final step, it’s gassed with nitrogen when served, which absorbs into the coffee giving it beer-like head. Te Papa is hands down one of the coolest museums I’ve been to and absolutely free (NZ$10 donations are recommended but not compulsory). It’s reason
enough to visit Wellington. Prefab was pretty fab, geddit? It came highly recommended by a local foodie (that’s the kinda travel intel I like to rely on, rather than TripAdvisor which aggregates travellers’ listings) and it didn’t disappoint. Tucked away on nondescript Jessie Street with no signage, the casual, modern outpost is where I had hands down the best almond milk flat white (beans roasted on site) and indulged in a spot of lunchtime people watching. Caffeine fixes and casual voyeurism go hand in hand. On the day I’m scheduled to fly back to Fiji, a friend and I head to Beach House & Kiosk, a newish joint in picturesque Island Bay for a last minute brunch. I get Kipper fish cakes and poached eggs with hollandaise and a lovely – you guessed it – almond milk flat white. Much as I love it, there’s a part of me that had been resisting Wellington’s perfectly gentrified white hipster yuppie bubble. But sitting here, having another great meal and what may be my last great cup of coffee in a while, I give in and enjoy the ride.
Over the past few weeks since being back in Fiji, I’ve had – surprise, surprise – great coffee. I had a good cup of coffee at the Gateway across from Nadi Airport of all places, then another at BirdRock in Martintar (that many Suva transplants have raved about and with good reason) and another nice cuppa at Café O on Denarau, although massively unhappy about having to fork out an extra $2 for soy on top of the regular price of flat white. On a recent assignment to Tokoriki Island in Mamanuca, I had more great coffee. Ditto, the Blue Ginger in Lautoka, where I got a perfectly executed ristretto (all of the flavor, half the caffeine) flat white with soy milk ($1.50 extra, groan). I’m told the Burning West is much more relaxed in many ways (“You can go to Eds in shorts,” one Westie told like it was a good thing) but also way fussier given the tourism trade and generally higher expectations of inbound travellers who might know a thing or two about good coffee. Which makes my imminent move from our beloved capital to the tourism belt all the more appealing. I’m just happy I no longer have to get on a plane to get a decent cup of coffee.
Havana Coffee Works Stories Coffee Close Up
Nitro Coffee Stories Coffee