Marta Piigli

Coffee Trip to New Zealand

New Zealand, at the far side of the world, is the furthest place one could travel from Nordics or Baltics. And it really deserves a visit. Top-quality coffee, magnificent wine, excellent food, wondrous nature and its European-like feeling is perfect for a travel and coffee enthusiast.

The arduous flight was forgotten straight away, and the impressions on-site were well worth the long wait. New Zealand, with just under 5 million inhabitants, has similar population density than the forested Nordic countries, and plenty of space to charge batteries. If one were to go, then for no less than two or three weeks.

Best time to visit is February or March, which is like the end of our summer here. This allows one to partake in the coffee culture, start of harvest and enjoy the wonderful unspoilt nature. By this time of the year, the locals are already back in school or at work and the hiking trails and sandy beaches are deserted. It is possible to travel for hundreds of kilometres without finding mobile coverage while even the smallest village café can prepare truly delicious coffee. New Zealand’s coffee culture is world class and excellent coffee is available for all tastes.

Barista – the coffeemaker of a new era

Perfect Latte Art in Auckland
Perfect latte art in Auckland

After a break in drinking coffee, that lasted a total of 36 hours, I was itching for my first pleasant sip of coffee. The fact that good coffee is held in high regard in this country already became obvious in the airport: instead of automated machines a local barista, smiling widely, handed me a beautiful cappuccino with latte art rosetta in the first grab-and-go café.

While automated coffee machines that prepare decent coffee in a café, office or take-away petrol station with the single push of a button are still held in high esteem in the Baltics, Europe and elsewhere, an automated coffee machine no longer fits the bill in New Zealand. Artisan coffee prepared by a barista has become the new standard of quality. This means that almost every coffeehouse from a fancy café to a simple kiosk has a skilled barista and a manual coffee machine. What’s more, it appeared that nobody would overlook these new barista-level coffee providers. Manual coffee machines and baristas were readily available in McDonald’s, petrol stations and even in supermarkets, let alone in all kinds of cafés.

Latte art in the city and in the countryside

The reason why baristas are so irreplaceable lies in the desire of the locals to offer only the best coffee experience. Coffee plants do not grow in New Zealand, but when it comes to experimenting with coffee, this country is at the top of the game. For example, there are more coffee roasters per capita than anywhere else in the world. Latte art is world class over here, and flat white – an espresso-based strong beverage with a thin layer of micro foam – which has only recently become popular also in the Baltics, is a New Zealand invention. At least that’s what New Zealanders think – the same has also been claimed by Australians.

The coffee-and-milk beverage that good-tempered Kiwis prepared for me, accompanied by a joke or two, was worth the wait each and every time. The surface of the beverage was covered with a silky layer of foam and a pattern drawn on the coffee with milk. When I took a rental car to enjoy the wonders of the nature away from the city racket, I imagined that I would be waving goodbye to latte art and have to cope with less in the countryside.

Auckland Espresso Workshop Cafe
Espresso Workshop in Auckland is offering Nitro Brew.

However, in the cafés that connect the village communities, it appeared as if even more attention was paid to high-quality coffee. Major coffee enthusiasts were able to pre-order speciality coffee, though even the beverages offered in the regular menu were not of a lower quality. While Cold Brew and Nitro – cold-brewed coffee with nitrogen-charged Guinness-like foam – were a mandatory part of the menu in every café in the city, more attention was paid on a traditional espresso-based selection in the countryside. Untraditional cup sizes were also exciting; for example, a small latte was in a smaller cup than an average cappuccino. When serving, the proportion of coffee, milk and foam was essential, rather than the cup in which the coffee was served.

Kumara – an open secret of New Zealanders

The love for organic food that New Zealanders displayed was also seriously impressive. For vegetarians, people with gluten intolerances, worshippers of the Paleo diet or any other people who enjoy great food, New Zealand should be at the very top of the list of places to visit.

In several places, urban farmers’ market & café type establishments were full of visitors. In addition to the massive selection of take-away dishes, the bakers and cooks offered truly otherworldly tastes and artisan roasted coffee. In the major cities as well as in cafés literally situated in the middle of the fields, the menus generally offered local farm produce. The endless selection of unique, fresh and high-quality tastes seemed as if it were a mix of British cuisine and that of the Pacific Ocean countries.

Scarecrow Urban Farmers market cafe-shop in Auckland
Scarecrow Urban Farmes market cafe-shop in Auckland

Among the organic products, New Zealand style sauerkraut as a legacy of immigrants from Central Europe was one example. Kumara, local sweet potato of Polynesian origin, is the favourite vegetable of the locals. It is perfect in soups, muesli, cakes and roast meals. Traditional Maori hangi – a dish slowly cooked thanks to volcanic thermal heat in the ground or in thermal water – was a veritable ‘hit’ on New Zealand’s North Island. On South Island, one could enjoy an omelette prepared from fresh eggs laid by the chickens strutting around the yard of every Airbnb, complemented by the endless selection of fresh berries, vegetables and artisan roast houses of the Nelson region, plus the beautiful golden sand beaches and weather like that of the Estonian summer.

 As a surprise, I found that New Zealanders are head over heels in love with yoghurt, which could be bought to go from street cafés everywhere. While I was enjoying the café culture of Auckland, the business capital, natural Greek yoghurt was a mandatory bite in addition to fresh berries, organic and Paleo muesli and other healthy foods to accompany my morning coffee. The take-away yoghurt section seemed as if it were more common with modern city folk, but the selection of yoghurts was just as impressive in retail stores and farm shops all over the country. Natural yoghurt with manuka honey became my unquestionable favourite.

Coffee tour from North to South

To have a thriving coffee culture, it is not enough for the person roasting the coffee to find the ideal roast and for the barista to be able to offer good coffee. The skill to appreciate good coffee and to ask for it is essential. And it seemed that the always stress-free and hospitable New Zealanders can handle their maze of coffees as a duck takes to water.

Cappuccino and affogato at South Island's Queenstownis Vudu Cafe
Cappuccino and affogato at South Island's Queenstownis Vudu Cafe

From North Island to South Island, in the city and in the countryside, it was a certainty that the coffee menu would be comprehensive. The selection was so massive that in order to choose a beverage, I had to sit down and carefully examine the menu. It was possible to choose from coffee of different countries of origin, between espresso and special-brew coffee, as well as an endless selection of coffee-and-milk beverages. Sometimes, the menus included the Spanish-style cortado as well as the affogato with a scoop of ice cream in addition to espresso. Even in shops, the selection of coffee seemed endless and the majority of the selection was dominated by local roast houses.

It was also exciting to note the huge selection of high-quality instant coffee and single-cup soluble coffee bags that turned out to be irreplaceable during a nature tour. The regular filter coffee that we are so accustomed to was not recognised very well by New Zealanders; instead, ground coffee for coffee presses was common, and we were greeted with a coffee press in nearly all Airbnb accommodation places.

But why rely on domestic coffee-making appliances when every café on the corner can offer such high-level artisan coffee? Even where there was no infrastructure for a café, there was still a local coffee truck in which a joyful local farmer earned some extra money with their coffee preparation hobby. When it comes to coffee tasting, I suppose the stress-free demeanour of the locals was the most impressive, as well as their sincere interest in learning a bit more about the opinion of a faraway Estonian guest concerning New Zealand.

Marta Piigli Nea Zealand
The author, Marta Piigli, sipping coffee in New Zealand.