New Zealand's dedicated coffee culture

Over the last couple of decades, New Zealand has undergone a coffee revolution as many Kiwis have become connoisseurs of their favoured black beverage.

The increased popularity of coffee has prompted a growth industry with new cafés and coffee roasting outlets springing up all over the country.

Coffee-making is also very competitive, with baristas vying to make the perfect cup of coffee and coffee drinkers becoming very selective in their choice.

Daily fix

New Zealand coffee connoisseurs will go a long way to get their daily caffeine fix and favoured cafés can be anything from a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ or mobile outlet just big enough to accommodate a good coffee machine and its skilled operator, to stylish venues with lounge-style seating serving gourmet treats and meals.

Children are generally welcome in New Zealand cafés with many offering toys, high chairs and a kids menu. Many young mothers partake in a daily ritual of meeting up with friends at their local café to chat over coffee while the children play or indulge in their own special Kiwi brew - a ‘fluffy’.

As well as social venues and places to catch up with friends, New Zealand cafés are used as corporate meeting rooms and offices with wireless connections turning downtime into uptime for business people and their laptop computers.

NZ coffee guide

New Zealand companies like Zest, which runs food and wine tours in Wellington and Dunedin, offer a personal guide to top cafés in their cities - helping visitors understand the myriad of choice.

Zest also offers a comprehensive explanation of New Zealand coffee terminology for coffee-lovers who want to get to grips with the local social scene.

New Zealand has more roasters per capita than anywhere in the world - and some even argue that New Zealand also has the best coffee in the world.

One of the best places to find out about coffee in New Zealand is the Coffee Secrets website which offers a guide to finding the best coffee and roasters in New Zealand - complete with a Google coffee map showing where to find the best cafés.

The flat white debate 

New Zealand has also gained notoriety on the world's coffee scene having been credited with pioneering the "flat white" - traditionally a less milky brew with textured rather than frothy milk.

The flat white is enjoying new popularity in Britain and the United States, attributed not just to the demand from the number of Aussies and Kiwis travelling overseas, but also the many Australasians who work as baristas in cities like London and New York.

While there is some debate as to the difference between a New Zealand flat white and the Australian version, coffee experts agree that the crux of the matter is to do with the ratio of coffee to milk.

A true flat white ought to have the same quantity of extracted coffee as any other beverage on the coffee menu (generally 30ml) but because it is served in a smaller vessel (175ml) it has stronger flavour than say a latte which is normally served in a 225ml vessel and is subsequently milkier.

The consistency of the milk is another point of difference between a flat white and a latte - a latte has a creamy, velvety layer of milk on the surface which can vary in depth depending on where you buy your coffee. A flat white has a thinner band of the textured milk, ideally with a shinier surface.

Jay Chapman, training officer at New Zealand coffee specialists, Mojo, says the flat white is defnitely an Australasian beverage but the debate about who invented it is "right up there with the pavlova and lamington debate."

"In regards to the difference between a Kiwi and an Australian flat white, there is very little difference in terms of the approach. The rule of ratios is the same but the execution will vary, notably in the style of vessel that it is served in," says Chapman.

Mojo Old Bank

Wellington café Mojo Old Bank received a mention in the New York Times' Frugal Traveller blog in February 2010 for its innovative use of social networking to entice customers.

Mojo Old Bank, located on Lambton Quay in New Zealand’s capital, was praised for using web-based cellphone application Foursquare, to offer loyalty discounts to coffee lovers.

Mojo is the first New Zealand café to use Foursquare, an application where users with the most "check-ins" to places like restaurants, hotels or parks get made "mayor" of the place.

Background: NZ coffee guide 

Zest Food Tours explain New Zealand coffee terms:

  • espresso / short black - basis for all coffee styles, espresso is full-flavoured, fragrant, with a velvety body and lingering after-taste; single serving in a demi-tasse (small cup)
  • macchiato - a single or double espresso shot, just stained with frothed milk
  • long black - single serving of espresso, with the same amount of hot water added; served in large cup filled to just under the top, or sometimes with the water provided separately
  • flat white - one third espresso, two thirds steamed milk with a touch of swirled froth
  • cappuccino - regular espresso with equal parts steamed milk and foam, sprinkled with chocolate or cinnamon
  • caffe latte - regular espresso, topped with hot milk and little or no froth
  • mochaccino - one third each of espresso, steamed milk, cocoa
  • ristretto - (‘restricted’) is 15-20ml of espresso, the essence of coffee
  • piccolo latte - miniature latte made with ristretto and 70ml of steamed milk; delicate flavoursome drink
  • affogato - espresso served over ice-cream
  • espresso Romano - espresso served with a twist of lemon
  • latte macchiato - steamed milk with espresso on the side
  • espresso con panna - espresso topped with a dash of whipped cream
  • cortado - Spanish version of the piccolo served in a 60ml demitasse cup
  • fluffy - for kids, a demi-tasse filled with foamed milk, sprinkled with chocolate and served with marshmallow on the side and a small chocolate fish.

Add to this the selection of vessel - cup, mug, bowl, glass; type of milk - full cream, regular, semi-skimmed, skimmed or skinny, soy; and number of shots, and you start to build a picture of the menu board in most New Zealand cafés.

More information

New Zealand culinary culture