Memphis Belle (38 Dixon St, Te Aro) – I started my Sunday at Memphis Belle, a small, corner cafe in the Te Aro neighborhood. The cafe is about three years old, and is adorable and cozy. I’ve never been to Memphis, so I can’t speak to that authenticity, but I have been to Louisiana and it felt very ‘Nawlins to me, with lots of mismatched mid century furniture, red walls and low, brown painted ceilings that evoked painted tin, and lots of light.
They serve Flight Coffee for espresso and filter (they call it “non-pressurized”!). Their espresso machine is the always flashy Faema e61, 3 group, and with it they rock a Robur-E. For filter coffee, they use V60s, Cold Drip, Swiss Gold and Chemed, grinding on a Bunn G2. I tried both the Ngozi Mugirampeke from Burundi and the Kenya French Mission Sundried (Nick Clark’s 2013 New Zealand Barista Competition winning coffee) on Chemex. The music was all Etta James – who knew she was so rock’n’roll? Also, I peeped just the cover of the Ozzy Osbourne album, “The Ultimate Sin” hanging out near the newspapers.
Flight Coffee Hangar (171 – 177 Willis St – entrance on Dixon St) Just about four blocks up the road from Memphis Belle, this guy is the official flagship for Flight Coffee. It’s beautiful and bright, with much of the shop laid out in a kind of blonde, light wood that Nick Clark said was his favorite. There’s high tables with stools, as well as low tables and booths. The food is excellent! They rock single origin espresso on a Slayer that happens to have a full body rainbow sticker that says, “Flight Coffee Supports Marriage Equality”.
For espresso they’re grinding on Robur-e’s, and I had a shot of Nick’s WBC Kenyan, the same I had as drip over at Memphis Belle. They roast on a Probat that’s towards the back of the cafe, but very accessible to the view of customers, which is rad.
Maranui Cafe (Lyall Parade, Lyall Bay) – This spot was a few miles from downtown Wellington, which meant I got to take a beautiful drive along Lyall Bay. The cafe is upstairs from with a Surf Life Saving Club, right on the water, and there were amazing old photos of surfers from the club on way up, with handrails made from old kayak paddles. We ordered coffee and sandwiches to go, and squatted around a small, round table with “Kiwi Parking Only” stenciled across it. I had an espresso from their 2 group La Marzocco Linea, whose body was covered with parts from antique metal cabinets.
The coffee was from Havana Coffee Roasters, a hot air roaster that's been around since 1989, and who claims to have installed the first hot air roaster in New Zealand, “configured by ex-art director and inventor Russell Collins.” They say he was inspired by European style roasting, though no direct credit is given to Michael Sivetz, who is credited with inventing the fluid bed roaster in the 70s.
Customs Brew Bar (39 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro) – What a fun place this was. They serve Coffee Supreme, which has been around for about 20 years, but this cafe itself is about 3 ½ years old. The look is very 1960s kitchen/rec room (it reminded me of Everyman SoHo in NYC), complete with a record player and a Nez Du Cafe set on one of the tables. I had an excellent espresso from Brazil, a microlot grown by Renato Ribiero, made on their La Marzoco Strada Slayer, and then I also enjoyed my first NOF: a coffee brewed using NO Filter…get it? It’s basically a cupping in a Chemex, and is a method they're really into at Supreme. Coffee grounds go into the Chemex in first, then followed by a high and fast pour of water to saturate the grounds quickly. After the 5 minute steep and break, it’s gently poured into our cups. We had a La Pira COE from Costa Rica (berries and cream!) and the Gatina Peaberry from Kenya (clove and honey!).
Six Barrel Soda Company Factory Cafe (Corner of Eva St and Dixon St, Te Aro) – Lastly but not leastly, there’s the Six Barrel Soda Company. They’re in a second floor location that overlooks what one could call Wellington’s “red light district” – with a direct view of an establishment called “Dream Girls” through the slatted shades. This place is a soda shop first and foremost, and home to a delicious array of homemade sodas in flavors like kola nut, lemon, hibiscus, sarsaparilla, and ginger, to name just a few. They also serve excellent little sliders, and offer espresso on a 2 group Wega and a Super Jolly grinder. I chose to have a pourover made on a Bonmac – it was definitely Ethiopian, probably from Yirgacheffe, and really stand up.
I didn't want to repeat myself in every entry, but I need to say here now at the end: Every place I visited in New Zealand had stellar service and really friendly baristas. And not just in Wellington – I also took a ferry to the South Island and drove down the West Coast (hitting the town of Nelson on the way so I could hang with Emma Markland Webster, Hayden Thompson and Guy McKracken). The big thing I learned about coffee in New Zealand is that compared to the United States, there is so much more of it in that “acceptable” category, and so much less in the “terrible” category. By and large the bar for coffee is set much higher in NZ than it is back home. And in all of the places I went to, whether it be a shop in this guide, a roadside cafe, or even at the airport, my baristas consistently made bangin' microfoam. Consider me impressed.
I'll close with a short primer on Kiwi slang:
Sweet As = Pretty cool, okay, yes
Taking the piss = Teasing someone (Aw, lighten up – I’m just taking the piss from ya!)
Chilly bin = cooler to keep ice and stuff
Yeh, Nah = Nope
Erin McCarthy (@ErinMcCarthy88) is a machine tech for Counter Culture Coffee in New York City. A career coffee professional, he's also your newly crowned 2013 World Brewers Cup Champion. This is Mr. McCarthy's first feature for Sprudge.com
Original photography by Erin McCarthy for Sprudge.com.