Making Sense of Auckland’s Coffee

As my Auckland series of posts draws to a close, I’d like to write something similar to ‘Seven Lessons Learned in Paris’. This should help visitors to the city make fewer mistakes than I did in finding good coffee, because some of the things they do there are done differently to London/UK. In order to do this, I’m going to use two case studies of cafes that I didn’t think measured up in terms of coffee. These cafes were admirable in other ways but coffee was not high on their priorities. Reuben and Quay Street Cafe.

Now, I want to stress that both of these had good points. Reuben had a deliciously melting brownie, and the food at Quay Street cafe was the finest ingredients put together in a really interesting way. The locations and design of both were very good, and both have, justifiably, received very positive reviews.

Both coffee shops also use Allpress Espresso. In London, the quality of the coffee used by the best roasters is fairly assured. Few coffee shops would get in Monmouth if they were just going to use it in caramel spice lattes or whatever. Similarly, Square Mile are very discerning in who they let produce their product. There is no such parallel in Auckland. I have had some very good Allpress coffees, as I have had some very poor ones. The difference is the effort and training that goes into making the coffee itself.

In a similar, but more interesting area, both coffee shops use La Marzocco machines. In the UK, the presence of these hallowed angels of the espresso machine world is a very good indicator that a good coffee will be served. In Auckland, a Marzocco indicates only that coffee  of some sort or other will be served. I think this is because the status of Marzocco is more readily appreciated by the general population, and so getting one in is a must. Even in the good coffee shops, there was rarely deviation from this norm. Cafes with less emphasis on coffee are thus astute enough to get one in in order to attract knowledgable customers.

The flat white is a flexible drink at the best of times. In NZ, it was my drink of choice. I found that in Reuben I was asked (and it became a familiar question): what size would I like my flat white? Surprised, I replied ‘as small as possible’. Part of my understanding of a flat white is that it must be a certain size cup. In Auckland, there is no such restriction. And the choice of cup sizes is far more varied. In other shops, people appeared to be drinking their lattes in what I can only describe as soup bowls (this appeared very popular). The tendency that has grown in the London coffee shops is to have one-size menus (flexible for lattes and caps, but this is mandatory for flat whites). But this is presumably a new trend.

It’s lastly worth noting that, even beyond the lacklustre coffees of Quay Street Cafe and Reuben, coffee shops don’t do filter coffee. It is, of course, possible to find filter coffee, but you really have to work for it. Your best bet is to visit the roaster’s and try them out at source. And, in fact, variation in roasters is hard to find: there are plenty of roasters around, but the monopoly seems to belong to Allpress. If you go hunting for other beans, be prepared to travel to isolated areas of Auckland and you may be able to find more interesting habits, but the coffee in the centre is very monotone.

Auckland does have very good coffee, but it can also be bad. And, as the case studies demonstrate, there’s no surefire way of telling the difference between the two. I’m sure word of mouth is more useful than any rule I could come up with. One thing I would say is that if a place advertises its coffee on the outside of the shop in some way (stickers from the roaster, signs from the roaster etc.), it’s likely they have a lot of time for coffee. But even as I write this, I think of several exceptions.

Notes
Allpress Espresso
Quay Street Cafe
Reuben on ViewAuckland.co.nz

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5 comments
  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. City based New Zealanders are accustomed to espresso and when traveling to other countries, we are often frustrated at the lack of espresso or the poor flavour of filter coffee when compared to espresso. We believe our coffee is superior, even it it may just be that we are used to our way of coffee. I guess they’re two very different ways of drinking coffee. I haven’t seen a filter a coffee in a long time, they seem only to be available at buffet stations and hotels. Do you prefer filter or espresso?

  2. Thanks! I think when you and I talk about filter coffee, we’re talking about something different. The poor quality stuff you get in hotels is usually down to poor brewing methods and rubbish beans. Filter coffee is a science of perfecting the right mixture of water, temperature, bean coarseness and weighting (see my post about filter coffee here fore details: http://wp.me/p2D6CH-3q). If any of this interests you, then living in NZ is still a good place to be, but you might just need to hunt a bit more. I’m not sure where you live, but if you ever get into Auckland, I would recommend heading to the roasters (Kokako and Allpress for certain). Here you will be able to get a filter coffee brewed from ‘single origin’ beans. If you’re like me this will open up new worlds of flavour. And if you don’t like it, that’s cool, it’s a very acquired flavour, but if you haven’t tried, you really need to!

    P.S. If you ever visit London, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the espresso (provided you go to the right places!)

  3. You may be right, the filter coffee I’ve had in the past was made without love. Surely made with good beans and a proper touch it would be better. Do you prefer this well made filter coffee to a well made espresso? I live in Auckland and I’ve only recently become addicted to espresso.

    • I would probably order a filter over an espresso under normal circumstances. They are very different drinks though, and would be loathe to compare them. A good flat white is sometimes exactly what I want, but a filter is something I drink for the complexity. For many years in the UK (and still now), espresso based coffee was the pinnacle. It is only now brewing and roasting techniques have advanced that ‘good’ filters have come onto the market. It’s still very opaque to many people though, and it seems to many like alchemy. That can put people off, and coffee folk tend not to help the matter; it makes them seem cliquey.

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