Wednesday, 11 July 2012

It’s flat, it’s white … yea, yea, yea

Have a coffee, this might take a while.

 The beginning of the love affair. Naples, Italy, 2002

I relish my coffee, however I am not a fan of  the filtered kind as I find it watery and far too heavy on the caffeine.  In Toronto, I relied on a few sublime coffee houses to feed my yearning, nay, my right to this dark, rich, hypnotic master. However, for my quotidian consumption I rely on my faithful macchinetta for my espressos, café lattes, cappuccinos and cortados. Coffee is so important to me it seems that even while selecting a travel destination, the availability of good coffee factors in, albeit unconsciously, more than I care to admit.  It is no wonder then that for the past five years in a row I managed to somehow end up in Spain.

 The fruit of my humble macchinetta

But New Zealand, really? Not for a millisecond did I suspect it! I am certain that my earlier and very mistaken conviction of this country’s mediocre cuisine would somehow extend to coffee, kind of like Canada.  After all, culturally we have the same roots. Yes, I blame Britain. I had visions of bad filtered Irish Cream flavoured coffees likened to the “pisswasser” one readily finds in Canada (Tim Horton’s anybody?). I am sure this contributed to my growing anxiety before moving down here. I continue to be proven wrong, oh so wrong.


A few of the many lovely coffees I've enjoyed  around NZ

The last thing I expected would be that NZ would be the hidden epicentre of coffee culture, nearly rivaling those which I considered to be the kings of kings, Italy and Spain. You know you are in the presence of greatness when they have even coined their own coffee, the flat white.

A flat white

 I mean, it’s not like there are just a handful of really good coffee houses sprinkled around the city centre, the kind of destination spots you can only access when you’re in the area if you’re not lucky enough to live in hipster-land, as is the case in Toronto. Oh no, it’s far more democratic than that. Everyone gets access to the good stuff, everywhere! Just drop by a BP station for a fill-up and you’ll get a damn good cappuccino, no problem.

A BP station in Auckland adversising their flat white coffee

What is going on here? Could it be some kind of a small man complex? To go so far as to train gas station attendants to use real espresso machines and then have them actually turn out a decent latte!  I’ll need to dig deeper.

So it appears that in the last couple of decades, New Zealand has undergone a coffee revolution as many Kiwis have become connoisseurs of coffee. 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. So far, not much different from Toronto, except that Starbucks hardly stands a chance in NZ. I wonder if Starbucks consumers qualify as coffee connoisseurs in Toronto? (I hope not).

A cortado from Altezano in Auckland

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. Here’s where they’ve really got it right. I mean good coffee is very accessible in NZ, particularly when you factor in the dozens of coffee mobiles trolling around town ready to dispense their liquid gold. I simply love them!

One of NZ's many coffee mobiles, fitted with the finest Italian espresso hardware

You didn’t know, did you?

New Zealand baristas have consistently shown their passion and expertise scoring in the top ten at world competitions since 2002.

New Zealand has more roasters per capita than anywhere in the world, and The Coffee Lovers lay claim to the fact that Kiwi coffees are also the best in the world.

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.
But wait, the Kiwis have landed here too! I’ve been alerted by my friend T that there are some new players in town like Te Aro. I trust her judgement when she tells me they are extraordinary and yes, Torontonians can finally experience the joys of the flat white now (

Midway through my delightful flat white at Te Aro, Toronto

New Zealand coffee terminology:

  • 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
·         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.

It’s a good thing I am in Toronto this month I really miss the flat white.

And if you don’t know, now you know.


No comments:

Post a Comment