A life-changing Kiwi coffee quest

When American journalist Ron Laughlin first visited New Zealand in 1989, he found himself gasping for a decent cup of coffee - a desire that eventually set him off on a life-changing journey.

As New Zealand's coffee culture developed, Laughlin’s taste for coffee would eventually lead him into a new profession and turn him into an ambassador for New Zealand and its strong coffee culture.

Ron spent five-and-a-half years touring New Zealand on the coffee trail - sampling, talking to baristas, roasters and importers, and compiling a definitive New Zealand coffee guide.

After a short stop for a few years in Picton - at the top of the South Island, Ron moved south to the heritage town of Oamaru from where he continues to make regular forays to far reaching corners of New Zealand to follow up on any new leads.

Each coffee-related recommendation is personally checked out as part of an anonymous, independent and unbiased survey - catalogued on his travel website - New Zealand Travel Guide (ronlaughlin.net).

Google coffee map

Ron judges each café on its coffee, ambiance and service, and those that pass the test are added to the website’s Google coffee map - making it easy for locals and visitors to locate New Zealand’s best coffee destinations.

The website provides a comprehensive insight into the "land of the long flat white", and also applauds New Zealand baristas who have "consistently shown their passion and expertise scoring in the top ten at world competitions since 2002".

New Zealand has more coffee roasters per capita than anywhere in the world, and Ron claims that Kiwi coffees are also the best in the world.

Coffee lovers

The self-titled 'coffee lover', Ron has devoted his life to "a non-ending search in a continuing journey on the quest of the holy grail of coffee".

Once a cappuccino drinker, he has long since converted to flat whites because he prefers that combination of milk and coffee. "You just can't get the lingering satisfaction while relaxing with the morning paper at the café as you can with a flat white," says Ron.

Ron, who spent eight years working and living in downtown Wellington, says he became spoiled for choice with a number of cafés in the vicinity.

"I made sure I checked out each and every new place that opened plus patronised daily my old favourites," says Ron.

"When I began my travel odyssey I contacted one of the local roasters, who had proven to be one of the best for me, and I asked for his list of cafés in the South Island where I was to spend the summer. I couldn't bear to contemplate the fact I might be without high quality coffee.

"After six years I no longer have that concern, having investigated and listed the cafés I find completely acceptable and programme my trip to be sure to be near one for morning coffee and one for the afternoon each day. Now, I just want to share information with the many other coffee lovers who don’t want to start their day with anything less than a good cup of coffee."

Ohio to New Zealand

Ron Laughlin was born in Dayton, Ohio, where he spent much of his youth honing his skills in the outdoors.

Laughlin’s varied career has included a stint as district marketing manager for southern Ohio, writing for newspapers and magazines, hosting radio and TV shows. He was dock master of the largest big game fishing marina in Florida Keys, and is also an award-winning trap shooter. He has dived, boated and sailed in most of the Caribbean waters.

Laughlin discovered New Zealand in the mid-eighties when his business-related travels included six weeks in New Zealand. He fell in love with the country.

After a three-year attempt at setting up a resort in Mexico, he decided to settle back in New Zealand where he set up a retail business selling Mexican silver jewellery.

In Wellington, Ron returned to writing. He has also worked for television, done TV and magazine ads, and worked on Lord of the Rings movies.

On the road

In 2003 Ron bought a 7-metre Hino bus, converted it into a travelling home, and set off in early 2004 with his two cats, Chocolate and Sylvester, on his New Zealand journey.

He spent more than five years cruising the country from north to south while continuing to write and photograph New Zealand. He has produced three New Zealand travel books sold on Amazon.com and on his own travel website, writes for travel websites such as Trip Advisor, and creates travel itineraries for visitors.

"Many of the visitors have turned out to be friends after stopping by and visiting me on their travels," he says.

Ron is now based in Oamaru where he is spoiled for choice in his need for high quality coffee with local cafés The Bean, Steam and Long Black fulfilling his every coffee desire.

He still travels and writes about New Zealand but spends the majority of time in the South Island.

More information

New Zealand’s dedicated coffee culture