Oct 06

Where I Go For Coffee In Wellington

This is my default café when I’m in town (well, at least on Courtenay Place). I went there the very first week I was here and I think at least every other day when I was at the Lodge; now that I live in Berhampore and work in Newtown I only go on weekends, which is sort of sad because I really do like it there. I’ve spent some lovely long afternoons there, either alone with a book and my paper journal and or having a three-hour conversation about music and books and spiders and boys and everything else you talk about with friends at a cafe. I am quite partial to their chai lattes and I like the chicken curry filo quite a bit. Last week I went there with Cherie on a very windy and cold evening and we almost managed to make it halfway through a gigantic plate of wedges with three different dipping sauces, which I would say is pretty close to heaven if I hadn’t already experienced that gigantic bowl of hot chocolate I believe I’ve mentioned before. I haven’t even had it again since that first time, not just because I believe it would kill me, but also because some things are so good the first time you don’t want to mess around with your memories of them, you know? The baristas (which I’m sure is not what they call themselves) aren’t suuuuuuuper friendly but the music is good and it seems like there’s a place for everyone there: moms with babies and iPodded hipsters with architecturally styled hair and kids on their way home from school in their crazy plaid uniforms…and silly early-thirties bespectacled fuzzy-haired book readers with way too much stuff in their purses, just like me.

Plum On Cuba
Very easy to give directions to! I went here for lunch yesterday between going to the library and going to the Italian Film Festival as I didn’t feel like schlepping the two and a half blocks to the abovementioned Espressoholic. The veggie pizza wasn’t that good (too many tomatoes, only two olives, and the crust managed to be both soggy and burnt at the same time) but the hot chocolate came in a bowl without my asking, which I love, and is probably better for me than the one at the again-aforementioned Espressoholic because I got it trim and because it does not start out with a HUGE dollop of whipped cream, right in the bowl. You can’t ask for trim milk when they’ve already put cream in it, can you? Ooh, also at Plum On Cuba they have this funny water fountain thing that looks a lot like a birdbath and from which you fill your water glass by stepping on a foot pedal, and that’s kind of fun.

That place on Cuba Mall around the corner from Indeja where I met up with a bellydancer once
I only mention it because it was the day of the eighties’ party and I was in town doing eighties’ party shopping and I went there with the bellydancer and then I was supposed to meet Bridget and Miriam across the street at Farmer’s and that was all fine but then as we were walking down the mall I realized that I had forgotten my awesome black-and-white zipper purse at that coffee place, and so I had to run back over there, all sweaty and cursing myself, and I was afraid someone’d taken it, but no, the nice people at the counter had found it and kept it for me and I was able to buy some horrid green footless tights with matching hoop earrings and it all worked out fine in the end.

And while I’m thinking of Cuba Mall I should mention Matterhorn, which is actually a very swanky bar and restaurant and one of the first places I went to with Deirdre, and at which I also looked like a fool once because when I was there with some friends on a kind of cold evening they told me they didn’t have a chai latte (you can never be sure if a place is going to have a chai latte), instead of ordering something normal like, I don’t know, water or even a glass of bubbles, I freaked out and asked for a hot chocolate instead and they brought it to me in this huge ice-cream-parlor-looking glass and my friends were having wine and beer and everything and I felt like a big idiot. And they didn’t even have trim milk, if you can believe it, so I had to drink my hot chocolate full-fat, which is too…cow-y for me, you know?

Te Papa Café
There are actually two cafes at Te Papa, one downstairs where you can get foody-type things and one upstairs with really comfortable chairs which are good for collapsing into dramatically when you’ve had a little too much museum and need something sweet. I was there a couple of weeks ago and some members of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra were performing for a special kids’ day and it was very lovely indeed, to sit in a comfortable chair with a chai latte (pretty good although it could have been spicier and they brought it in a glass instead of a mug which I always find weird) and listen to a live symphony orchestra. The terrible thing about the Te Papa café is that I happen to have a free coupon for a free drink there, except! Except I learned the hard way (in line with eight impatient people in back of me) that the coupon is not for the nice upstairs awesome-chair-having symphony-hearing café but instead for the not-as-good-in-my-opinion downstairs café…are you following this, now?..where they don’t even have chai lattes. I guess the thing to do would be to get a free hot chocolate from the downstairs café and then, like, smuggle it upstairs to the good chairs, but so far the whole thing has been sort of exhausting for me and I haven’t redeemed my free coupon yet, good until the end of the year.

The Ballroom
This is right around the corner from my work and is where I went for after-work drinks with my workmates last Friday. I don’t know about where you live, but here in Wellington it’s very much a thing to have work drinks on Friday evenings (or, you know, afternoons). What my department does, usually, is have wine and food upstairs in the meeting room at about four, and then people go out after that for a couple of hours. I have never worked anywhere where people did, like, a happy hour thing with any regularity, so this is still a little unusual for me. Usually when we go to the Southern Cross I drink half a glass of champagne but the other afternoon at The Ballroom (which has nothing to do with kinky sex, waltzing, or IKEA, if you’re wondering) I had a chai, which was not so good, being altogether too thin and not spicy enough. They do have a fantastic veggie panino there, though, that I like so much that I went back there Saturday for it. The hot chocolate is much better than the chai, I am happy to report, and I really like the interior of the café, all whitewashed and spare and pretty and funky. I am sorry to report, though, that they played nothing but the Beatles the entire time I was there on Saturday and not even the healing power of the veggie sandwich…which I probably should just learn to make at home, how hard could it be, right, it’s just pesto and spinach and mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes (which they call “half-dried” here) and goat feta…could ease that pain.

Across the street from the Ballroom, I’ve been here a couple of times for work-related reasons and it’s very nice. I don’t think they do chai latte but the hot chocolate is great and apparently the spirulina smoothie is to die for. The cookies look good too.

Post Espresso
This is a tiny place that not only roasts their own organic coffee beans (hippies!) and has a very nice guy working behind the counter, but it also located right at the corner of Adelaide and Mein Street so if I were the type of person to get coffee every morning to take into work, this is where I’d do it. Except the chai tea is actually a little too spicy, and not in a good way, which I learned when I had strep throat the first week I was here. They have outdoor tables but it’s always felt a little weird to sit outdoors with a coffee on a busy road next to the line of people snaking into the post office and the crowd of bus-waiters.

The Coffee Shop Downstairs In The Hospital
And speaking of work, I usually come here for emergency hot chocolate only, because even though the hot chocolate itself is pretty good, it a) is very overpriced and b) takes forever to get. On the upside, they do give you one of those weird pink-marshmallow chocolate-covered fish, which I always say I’m not going to eat because it’s too sweet but then I always do. Hey, have I mentioned the thing with the marshmallows in New Zealand? You know how when you get hot chocolate in the States (Europeans reading this, please report on your own country’s quaint cobblestoned customs), usually they’ll ask you if you want whip on that? Not here. You never get whip but you always get two marshmallows, one pink and one white. They’re about a third the size of American s’more-and-rice-krispie-treats-making marshmallows and they’re not…pillowy. In shape, I mean. They’re round and flattish. And always pink and white. Pink and white, that’s what color marshmallows are here. And very sweet. Sometimes, too, they arrive in chocolate-covered-fish formation, just like at the coffee shop downstairs in the hospital.

I should I have written about Fidel’s up there in the Cuba Street section, but maybe that would be a little misleading since Fidel’s is up at the other end, the opposite direction from the library (which also has its own café but I’m not going to write about it because I only had hot chocolate there once and I had to transfer my for-here into a to-go because I was late for something and it turns out you get a lot more hot chocolate for your three fifty when you get it to go as opposed to when you get it for here, is what I’m saying). Anyway, Fidel’s is fantastic. They have really good hot chocolate (although no chai latte, sadly) and super yummy food, including a very good veggie sandwich almost as good as the one at the Ballroom. The atmosphere is too precious for words, with little crowded tables and dark wood floors and criminally good looking servers, all wearing the hip Fidel’s t-shirts which are also very good looking. I also enjoy going to a place with a name that would probably get you shot or at least spat upon in my hometown. It makes me feel…dare I say it?…revolutionary.

Midnight Espresso
Also on Cuba Street, a little up from the Cuba Mall and next to a really hip clothing boutique that sells darling a-line skirts and cute hand-embroidered undies I can never hope to afford. They have fantastic chai here, not too thin and not too not-spicy, brought to the table in a glass, which I still find a little funny. They have a ton of vegetarian and vegan food here which is nice and they are generally playing Johnny Cash on the stereo and there are always a lot of funny ads for flatmates pasted on the walls. They put leaves and flowers on the food displays and it’s all very cool and awesome.

Café Zilli
There aren’t really any cafes near my house in Berhampore so the couple of times I’ve wanted to stay relatively close to home to drink hot chocolate or chai lattes and also be out of my pajamas during daylight hours I’ve had to go to Island Bay, just a couple of blocks down past the golf course. This is a middle-eastern-y-hippie-ish sort of place, with, like, rugs and Tibetan flags on the walls and a very nice window seatish alcove with many cushions. I really want to come here for dinner, actually; the hot chocolate was okay but I couldn’t concentrate on it very well because I kept getting distracted by all the people having huge plates of pancakes and bacon for brunch and I know you’ll forgive me when I say that, excellent as hot chocolate is, it really doesn’t compare to a huge plate of pancakes and bacon. (When I say “pancakes,” y’all Americans, what I am referring to is what we’d probably call “crepes,” where it’s a very thin pancake that you roll around jam or fruit…or bacon, as the case may be.)

The Bach
I have various fond memories of the Bach for various reasons, one being that it is the place I went to that one wonderful day when the sun was actually shining in Wellington and I had such a good day at the beach. If it ever stops raining and gusting and being generally awful (i.e., “never”) around here I will make sure to go there again and see if I can have another one of those, along with a nice trim hot chocolate and a chocolate covered pink fish marshmallow.