One of the joys of moving to a new country is discovering the local culinary scene. While New Zealand is famed for its beautiful scenery, egalitarian society and work-life balance, one area that is often overlooked is its coffee culture.
New Zealanders consider their coffee culture up there with the best in the world. Kiwis have a unique and thriving coffee culture that is well worth exploring on arrival. Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is also the coffee capital, with more cafes per capita than New York City.
Here’s what you need to know about exploring New Zealand’s coffee culture:
New Zealand's love affair with coffee began in earnest during the 1980s when espresso machines became much more popular in cafes. Before this, instant coffee was most commonly found in staff rooms, offices and even cafes nationwide. Once espresso machines became commonplace, New Zealanders quickly ditched instant coffee for espressos.
While we might have been slow to the party, New Zealanders weren’t content with mimicking the coffee styles of other countries. Today, the country is known as one of the best places to get coffee in the world, and no matter where you are, coffee lovers can relax knowing they’re never far from a coffee shop.
When you order a ‘coffee’ in New Zealand, you are asking for an espresso.
Filter coffee isn’t very common, although some trendy Wellington and Auckland cafes are starting to embrace filter coffee, albeit in a more refined way that is made for each individual rather than being served from a warm pot made that morning.
When you ask for a ‘coffee’, you will asked to specify your order. A standard coffee in New Zealand is often a flat white or a long black. Lattes, moccaccinos and iced coffees are also pretty standard. At many cafes, iced coffees are served with whipped cream and resemble more of a dessert than a coffee.
Coffee is made with a single shot of espresso. So, whether you’re ordering a long black, latte or cappuccino, you’re getting the same amount of caffeine in each cup. If you want a stronger coffee be sure to ask for a double shot. If you’re used to drip coffee, you’ll find New Zealand coffee much stronger. Most people limit their consumption to one espresso cup a day.
Alternative milks are common, with many cafes stocking a range of soy, almond and oat milk as well as regular and trim cow milk. Most people skip the fancy add-ons to their coffee. It’s not common to order a coffee with a grocery list of modifications. Kiwis generally like to keep it simple.
If there's one coffee that has become synonymous with New Zealand, it's the flat white. This espresso-style coffee is made with a single shot of coffee, steamed milk and a velvety short layer of foam on top. While its origins may be debated (Australia also claims its creation), New Zealand has definitely perfected the art of the flat white, making it a staple in cafes across the country.
Many flat whites are also served with the pattern of a fern in the foam, a practice that’s pretty unique to New Zealand.
New Zealand's coffee culture is not just about the drink itself; it's a way of life. Kiwis take their coffee seriously, and the cafe scene in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch is a testament to how much Kiwis like their coffee.
You’re also likely to find espresso machines in homes and workplaces around the country. As well as being fans of espresso coffee, most households also have at least one French Press for making plunger coffee. What you won’t find is a filter coffee machine or filter papers. In fact, most New Zealanders have no idea how to use a filter coffee machine.
Morning tea is a big part of Kiwi workplace culture. Most office workers (and tradies) like to take a mid-morning break at 10.30 for a coffee and a catchup with their colleagues. You’ll find that cafes around the country get very busy between breakfast and lunch, as these are the most popular hours for having a brew.
Kiwis can be quite particular about where they get their coffee from. This is evident in the fact that there are only 32 Starbucks coffee houses around the country. New Zealand might be a small country, but with 9,051 cafes and restaurants around the country, Starbucks has failed to take a foothold.
Starbucks tried to launch in New Zealand in 1998, but the country already had a strong coffee culture by then. New Zealanders also prefer their coffee stronger and a little more bitter (or just not sickeningly sweet) compared to Americans. In fact, Starbucks once had 50 stores in New Zealand. However, their main target audience was tourists and students with younger taste buds. Starbucks has one store in Wellington on Lambton Quay and mainly attracts a young or international crowd. Most Kiwis know that the best coffee is found at local coffee shops.
For the last twenty years, New Zealand has been following the global coffee trend of a shift to higher quality coffee, artisan roasters, and coffee as an art form. During this time many local New Zealand roasteries were established and started winning the hearts and mouths of coffee lovers in New Zealand and overseas. Local roasteries like Flight Coffee and Coffee Supreme gained international acclaim, further solidifying New Zealand's status as a coffee destination. Most cafes around the country have an affiliation with one particular roastery and bean supplier.
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