5 Sweet Cafes In Auckland

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Sprudge.com co-founder and editor Jordan Michelman recently visited New Zealand as a speaker for the 2013 New Zealand Speciality Coffee Association Symposium. He spent some quality time touring cafes in Auckland and Wellington, and took heaps of photos and notes along the way. We’ll be publishing features on both cities, and Auckland is up first.

“You won’t love Auckland,” I was told repeatedly. “It’s just okay – a little bit like Santa Barbara or something,” friends said. Low expectations and an air of self-deprecation are worn like a windbreaker around this city, which has long been considered second tier culturally in this part of the world. If you’re cool or into music (or politics, or law), you grow up and move to Wellington. If you’re from the South Island, Christchurch is your hub (especially now, as the city continues to rebuild after a devastating 2011 earthquake). The good brewery is in Dunedin, a college town. Auckland is kind of an afterthought, or so I’d been told; even Lorde, inarguably the most famous Aucklander in the world right now, is not proud of her address.

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An outdoor waterfront library in Auckland.

Well, I’m no Lorde, and I was only in Auckland a few days, but for an afterthought I found this city to be surprisingly exciting and vibrant. The coffee scene here is just part of that equation, one that includes the incredibly hip Ponsonby neighborhood and newly cool Britomart commercial area, where several cafes from this guide are located. I ate great food and went to cool bars in Auckland – so what if some of those are owned by Wellingtonians? The city is dramatically beautiful, with bays and tiny islets that stretch out for days, and mountain viewpoints right in the middle of the city that afford stunning vistas.

Don’t believe the anti-hype: Auckland is cool in 2014, and only getting cooler. Here are 5 cafes that make a compelling counterargument the next time someone tells you that Auckland isn’t much. I couldn’t disagree more.

Kokako

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An independent jewel in Auckland’s bustling speciality coffee scene, Kokako, owned by Mike Murphy, is one to watch. The company’s journey is a fascinating one – their pre-history is outlined here in a piece by the New Zealand Herald – but for a first-time visitor, history matters less than the fully realized product on offer at Kokako’s roastery and cafe, housed inside a disused post office in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn.

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Like many Kiwis, Mr. Murphy has spent meaningful time abroad, working as a food retail consultant before returning home to New Zealand to live (he shouts out time in New York City and London in this interview with Gather and Hunt). And like many Kiwi cafes, Kokako is appreciably worldly, with a wide range of roasted coffee offerings, including both blends and single origins, and several coffee preparation methods, from pour-over to espresso to cold drip. Kokako’s cold brew is particularly delicious, like some sort of naturally sweet liquid coffee chocolate, its packaging inspired by pharmaceutical syrup bottles.

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The food menu is diverse, seasonal, and able to accommodate folks from across the vegan/gluten free/paleo spectrum. There’s kombucha (from fermenter Rene Archner), smoothies (how about cold brew coffee, almond milk, and gluten free brownie?), salads, toasts, omelettes, hash…enough options to have the cafe labeled a food place first back in North America, instead of a coffee destination. This is just kind of what happens in this part of the world: excellent meals at a speciality coffee roaster/retailer. It takes very little getting used to.

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Head roaster Chris Unkovich mans the roasting station in the thick of Kokako’s dining room, separated by what used to be the space’s customer counter from its days as a post office. This is show-roasting without a glass partition or warehouse next door: it all happens on the floor at Kokako, adding to the cafe’s village hub feel.

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The design and branding at Kokako is impeccable, with graphics work by Design Dairy and interiors by Ctrl Space, both based in Auckland. The effect is blissfully 20th Century, bygone-druggist-meets-municipal-facility, both small-town and world-class at the same time. Which is to say, utterly Kiwi.

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Perfect for 20th century design geeks, lovers of cold brew, brunch mavens and the gastrointestinally particular.

Kokako Cafe & Roastery is located 537 Great North Road, in Grey Lynn, Auckland. 

Good One

Housed in a great big warehouse in the heart of Ponsonby, arguably the city’s main commercial and entertainment neighborhood, Good One is Coffee Supreme‘s flagship cafe in Auckland. Originally opened in 2008 and splendidly refurbished in 2013, this is a cafe bursting with ideas. Photographs can’t help but fail to capture the space in one single image: it is a cafe of nooks and crannies, secret rooms and showcase displays. Let’s dig in.

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Good One is home to several striking, unique design elements, laid out across two floors over several thousand square feet. The cafe houses a complete chronological collection of some 4500 National Geographic magazines, starting from the early 1950s and continuing until the late 1990s, bought wholesale from a private subscriber in an estate sale. Outside of a library, you’re unlikely to find a bigger collection of National Geographics in any one place, and the effect adds history and resonance to Good One’s interior that way only old printed objects can. You can almost smell the magazine ink and weathered paper, mingling amongst the more recognizable cafe olfactory template. The magazines are displayed throughout the cafe, in huge looming racks, back room display shelves, and tucked in amongst the retail brew gear offerings.

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Industrial chic rules the day here at Good One, but it’s far from forced or put-on. Rather, it’s as though the in-house design team at Supreme (everything is seemingly done in-house by Supreme) decided to keep their great big warehouse a warehouse through and through, playing to the natural elements of the space – high ceilings, roof windows, a cavernous interior – with tall display racks and careful display set pieces throughout.

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As with all Supreme cafes in New Zealand, there are Technivorm Moccamaster brewers displayed prominently and in use behind the bar. Here you’ll even find some of the more exotic Moccamaster offerings, in a range of colors and styles not available in North American wattages. Espresso service happens on a gorgeous, custom in-house designed Slayer two-group espresso machine, with see-thru glass paneling and primary-color-painted boilers. It’s a one-of-a-kind machine, this Slayer, and it anchors Good One’s kaleidoscopic interpretation of industrial design.

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They are mad for pies at Good One, just bonkers for them, as evidenced by the cafe’s use not one, not two, but three pie warmer stations throughout the cafe. This is a Kiwi thing — they serve meat pies at McDonald’s here — and the pie warmers themselves are of the kind you’ll find at any gas station in New Zealand. Here they’re using them to warm cups and flatware, and also to serve a bloody proper arsenal of meat pie delicacies from behind the counter. Behold, what appears to be a national obsession with all that is flaky, buttery, congealed, and meaty:

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There’s so much more to show and tell about this cafe. Here’s how they serve their filter coffee, in a tiny wooden tray with tasting notes and beautiful cups with the Good One logo affixed.

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I could keep going; I’m not sure where to stop. This is a cafe, again, that is simply bursting with ideas, unique design elements, and good coffee in a wide variety of styles, from fruity and acidic single origins to deep bass note espresso blends. Here’s the cafe’s back nook, a brew bar of sorts that hosts trainings and public brewing demos.

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Cool and chic, lived-in and unpretentious, immaculately designed and lovingly personal, Good One is a working cafe that also manages to feel almost curatorial, museum-like. I think this might be the most impressive and distinctive cafe in New Zealand. I’m aware we’re still in Auckland.

Perfect for DIY enthusiasts, hip neo-JAFAs, pie fiends, ladies who lunch (on pies), and those who identify as brew-curious. 

Good One is located at 42 Douglas Street in Ponsonby, Auckland. 

Supreme Seafarers

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The newest addition to Coffee Supreme’s growing roster of cafes, Supreme Seafarers sits at street level in the heart of Auckland’s very cool (and only recently cool!) Britomart shopping, entertainment and dining district. It’s a sparse cafe, allowing just a few aesthetic choices to speak volumes towards the overall feel, and is this way it could not be more different than the other Supreme cafe across town, profiled above. You won’t find the lived-in warehouse explorer’s club hive of Good One here; this is an alluring stop over for those in transit, perhaps due in just moments to ship off on some vast seafaring voyage.

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Great good heavens, let’s talk about this espresso machine. It’s a La Marzocco Linea two-group, hand painted in what my notes have down as “polite white,” with gorgeous retro betel red La Marzocco brand stenciling. The matching Mazzer Robur grinders are a nice touch, but look at how it glows against the blonde wood and concrete. This was the most popular image Sprudge shared on Instagram in 2013, and it marks another significant difference between this cafe and its hip, Slayer-sporting, pie-mad older brother out in Ponsonby. Both these custom espresso machine jobs – the Slayer at Good One and this La Marzocco at Seafarers – were done in-house by the team at Coffee Supreme.

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Minimal offerings fit this minimal space, with filter made via Moccamaster and a standard spate of espresso brews. There are just a few pastries in the cabinet, nary a pie warmer, and no full kitchen to speak of. If you’re really hungry, the rest of Britomart is teeming with food options; Seafarers is much more of a coffee bar in the North American sense, meaning espresso and filter coffee first and foremost in a compact space.

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Recommended for longshoremen (by trade or fashion), espresso lovers, La Marzocco completists, Britomart hoi polloi and outbound yachtsfolk. 

Supreme Seafarers is located at 52 Tyler Street in Britomart, Auckland. 

Espresso Workshop

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Another seaside cafe in the Britomart waterfront district, Espresso Workshop has been roasting in Auckland’s Parnell suburb since 2007. Their Britomart showcase cafe is manned by Melbourne coffee veteran Tom Austin, formerly of the St. Ali Family. It’s almost as though that thing about learning overseas, then making something cool back home is wired into the Kiwi DNA.

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Wood and steel dominate Espresso Workshop’s design space, along with recognizably third wave touches like an AeroPress and Bee House dripper pour-over station and a nice assortment of home brewing gear. Kiwi-designed cups from Acme & Co. in Wellington make for a lovely display focal point.

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EW is much-loved by Aucklanders as a native boutique speciality roaster, something noteworthy back in 2007, and now comfortably part of a pack of Auckland cafes that make up the city’s top-end coffee experiences. Chat up an Aucklander about his or her coffee scene, and this is likely to be one of the first places mentioned.

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Espresso service happens here on a La Marzocco FB80, paired with Mazzer Robur grinders. Espresso Workshop’s sleek modernity extends to its outdoor seating, and the cafe is just a stone’s throw from the harbor. Poke your head around the corner and you’ll see yacht sails. I advise you to literally hold on to your hat, as the ocean here in Auckland – and throughout New Zealand, really – is mighty gusty, and takes no prisoners where headwear is concerned. Fasten your KeepCup lid tight.

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Recommended for an AeroPress, a bag of beans to take back home, and a touch of ocean-pinched ruddiness on your cheeks. 

Espresso Workshop Britomart is located at 11 Britomart Place, Auckland. 

Coffee General

Multi-roasters are not common in New Zealand, but Coffee General are winning the charm offensive necessary to undertake this service model. Here you’ll find coffee from fine roasters across New Zealand, including Kokako, Espresso Workshop, Merito Coffee Roasters, Three Beans, Ark Coffee, Flight Coffee, and more.

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So enamored are Coffee General of some of these purveyors, they’ve painted their branding on an interior wall. Even the most ardent North American multiroaster might not go this far…

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Coffee General is the youngest company on this list, having opened in just 2012, but they’ve already expanded to three locations across Auckland, and have garnered inclusion on the hotly watched annual Metro Magazine Top 50 Cafes list. We visited their cafe in Birkenhead and found it charmingly full of gear, art, coffee, and character.

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Flight Coffee’s Bomber Espresso blend sings here, as did the flowing procession of Chemex options. A space this intimate can’t help but be personality-driven, and proprietor Hans Pronk is the driver here at Coffee General. He’s also the owner and roaster for Merito Coffee, and widely considered one of the city’s top baristas, in addition to occasionally covering his city’s coffee scene for various news outlets.

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Mr. Pronk (at right) with staff.

This place is small, plucky, and again, highly charming. There’s a real suburban vibe happening here, too; sit outside for a while and count the prams, and watch the sleepy world of Birkenhead go ambling by. You’re only minutes from the beach here, and the weather can go from tropical to chilly in the span of a long black. This is one of those shops that you know is winning converts to the world of speciality coffee, from discerning mums to neighborhood high school kids – peers of Lorde, I suppose – who aren’t getting over to Ponsonby on a regular basis just yet and still want somewhere cool to hang out. I had places like that in my suburb growing up; they were very important, and I mean that comparison as a high compliment.

Go here to sample a wide variety of Kiwi coffees, for great service, and its familiar, neighborhood pace.

Coffee General is located at 100 Hinemoa Street in Birkenhead, Auckland. 


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