I’m in Napier this week for a short break. In the heart of the ’00s, I used to go travelling, find the local internet cafe in town and update my LiveJournal. Now technology has changed to the point where I can do all that from the comfort and privacy of my motel room. Or sitting on a bench down by the waterfront, squinting at my phone.
I like Napier. It’s a nice seaside town in a very English way, and New Zealand doesn’t usually do that. Probably because we like our beachy areas wild and untamed, not with long beachside boulevards with minigolf courses, aquariums and swimming pools.
Of course, it helps that Napier has all the stylish old buildings from the 1930s. Though in the spunky new MTG Hawke’s Bay (aka the museum) there was an old plan for a grand Brighton-style Marine Parade, complete with a palatial building called the Coffee Palace, right across the road from a grand church. Sadly, these plans were never realised, missing the opportunity for Snoop Dogg’s 2002 song “From tha Chuuuch to da Palace” to have a special tie to Napier.
I hired a car and drove to Hastings. Somehow it’s hard-wired into my brain that Hastings is north of Napier, not south, so on the drive there I kept thinking I was driving along a thing peninsula of land because – huh – I didn’t realise there was also sea on that side, etc.
Hastings seems quite sensible compared to Napier. It makes Napier seem like a dandy flapping about, all like “Look at us! We have art deco!” while Hastings is all “Yep, we’ve got it too, and a K Mart.”
The last time I went to Hastings was on a family holiday in 1985 or so. The only thing I remember was finding a really cool nightie at Farmers, with pink and yellow geometric panels (I was 10; it was the mid-’80s). Hoping for lightning to strike twice, I went into the new Farmers. It’s just like all the other new Farmers. The sleepware section was filled with the usual boring things – those t-shirts with comedy slogans. A sheep with its wool in rollers and “dreaming of ewe”. I miss the ’80s?
3. Latte bowls
One of the things I discovered from Cafe Culture New Zealand is that some of the cafes haven’t really changed much since 2000. Cafe Ujazi in Napier is one of those. As I walked past it, I noticed an empty latte bowl sitting on an outdoor table. Lattes served in cafe au lait bowls, that very New Zealand invention, have all but vanished from the serious cafes of major metropolises, but it’s heartening that they’re not yet uncool in the provinces. And really, you haven’t lived until you’ve slurped down a giant bowl of hot chocolate, with melting marshmallows bothering your nose.
One of the earliest things I wrote online was a piece called “Why I don’t drink coffee“, a bold declaration against the bitter brown beverage being in my life. But it was less about coffee and more a rage against social culture of Hamilton in the mid 1990s. People kept offering me Nescafe; I didn’t like Nescafe. And what about my friends who were obsessed with “caffeeeeeine!!!!”? And why were people so fixated on having a “hot drink”? So many questions. So much confusion. I was only 21.
But perhaps that piece should have been titled “Why I don’t drink coffee yet“, because within a couple of years, I had become a coffee drinker. One of those people.
The blame lies firmly with Starbucks. One day after work in 1998, my friend Dylan and I ventured into deepest darkest Parnell to check out the fancy new American cafe that served coffee in those white paper cups, just like in the movies. I ordered a grande decaf non-fat latte with hazelnut syrup. Grande because it was the biggest size, decaf because I had to get up early in the morning, non-fat because I was a girl, and hazelnut syrup because I was even more of a girl.
Starbucks was the gateway drug. Soon I’d pared down my beverage of choice to just a latte, and got it from better cafes than Starbucks. It felt good to go to the cafe around the corner from work, get a coffee and mooch around with the cup. Yeah, I’m a grown-up. Glad you noticed. I have a job *and* a cup of coffee, which I am drinking. Because I’m a grown-up.
I was addicted to caffeine. I figured this out when I started getting headaches if I stayed in bed for too long on the weekends. A few times I tried to stop drinking coffee but the resulting headache felt like someone was kicking my skull from the inside. I couldn’t handle that. Once I had to leave a party because the withdrawal headache had turned me into a vile whingebag. Or at least that’s what I blamed it on.
I got to know baristas at the local cafes and coffee carts that I’d go to. They’d remember my order, and we’d chat about the news of the day. My favourite barista was a fellow who worked at the Wellington railway station coffee cart. One day he mentioned he’d been working out with a new personal trainer and he was really seeing some definition coming through in his abs. He lifted up his t-shirt to demonstrate this. Oh, yes. You just don’t get that level of service at Starbucks.
I was right into the power combo of iPhone and coffee – taking photos in cafes. Oh look, the barista has swirled a heart shape on the top of my latte. I will take a photo, whack a vintage filter on it and call it art. Even a provincial cafe with a name like Aromas looks good with an Instagram filter.
I became a little obsessed with brewing methods, enough so to start reading CoffeeGeek.com (but not posting – I wasn’t that obsessed). I would visit local cafes that brewed coffee using devices like a syphon, the Chemex, or the fancy one that uses a gold filter. And none of these coffees were served in a takeaway cup, so it would force me to sit down and contemplate life, watch the world passing by, maybe write some poetry… only to get bored and just end up mucking around on my iPhone.
Then a funny thing happened: I stopped drinking coffee.
When I came back from Japan in March, I stayed at my parents’ place for a couple of weeks. Initially I’d go down to a local cafe for a coffee, but one day I couldn’t be bothered. I accidentally went cold turkey.
The familiar headache came and went within a couple of days. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for sticking it out, but then the awfulness came. I felt so ill. It was the classic “flu-like symptoms”. I was tired all the time, I couldn’t sleep when I wanted to, I was achy and just generally felt like the undead.
But that passed. I hauled myself off to Napier for a few days, got back into a regular sleep pattern and realised I’d finally made it out the other side. And I was surprised at how normal I felt in the post-caffeine world.
It was almost disappointingly normal. I felt a little bit let down because things generally didn’t feel any different to how they had felt on coffee. While I didn’t get the dramatic highs and lows of alertness any more and I could stay in bed on weekends for as long as I liked, everything else just felt normal.
But worse, being caffeine-free ushered in a whole new level of social awkwardness. If someone nicely offers to buy me a coffee, I can’t just say “No thanks”. I feel like I have to explain that I’m not deliberately rejecting their kind hospitality. And I probably explain too much, leaving the person wishing they’d never said anything in the first place. I’ll still meet someone “for a coffee”, though. It’s a useful shorthand.
As yet, I don’t have a substitute drink to enjoy in a cafe. I once tried decaf but it tasted empty, and I have mixed feelings about herbal tea. Peppermint and camomile are ok, but everything else usually tastes like twigs dipped in Fanta. Coffee is so tied up with cafe culture (after all, café is the French word for coffee) that it seems completely wrong not to have a coffee in a cafe.
Because coffee is such an adult beverage, I feel like I’ve taken a step away from adult life, like someone’s who’s quit their job to pursue a career in clowning, crossed with someone doing a weird restrictive diet. Yeah, giving up coffee = Chuckles the Gluten-free Clown. It’s like I’m missing out on the secret fun adult coffee society, and I’m due to be exiled to the kids’ corner along with schoolgirls clutching giant hot chocolates and four-year-olds getting fluffies all over their face.
So now I’m left feeling like I have a coffee-flavoured void in my life that I need to fill. But with what? Reality TV? Nail polish? Ponies? I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon enough, but whatever it is, it will have to look good in Instagram photos.
Last night, on the way to the bus stop after work, I stopped by one of the Gloria Jean’s Coffees on Queen Street.
I’d noticed a few GJCs around Melbourne when I was there, but I never patronised any. The name conjured up an image of a 50-year-old woman with sun-damanged skin, big bleached hair and a deep smoker’s voice (yeah, like Madge from “Neighbours”) saying, “Hello, I’m Gloria Jean and these are my coffees. This is my cappuccino, this is my latte, this is my flat white…”
But the reality was much scarier: Gloria Jean’s Coffees is like Starbucks having a manic episode.
(Part of the appeal of Starbucks is how surly the staff can often be. Like, when you’re foaming your 50th jug of milk for the day, it’s hard to maintain any enthusiasm. But I’d rather have someone who’s being genuinely shitty instead of someone who’s copping some corporate line required them to pretend to be “passionate about coffee”.)
As soon as I entered Gloria Jean’s Coffees, a guy asked me what I wanted. I picked out an item from the food cabinet, then he asked me if I wanted anything else. I had to reply, “Yeah, I want a coffee, but I haven’t decided what I want yet.”
After I decided the girl at the till asked me if I wanted a some syrup in my latte. I said no. Then the guy came over with my caramel slice and also asked me if I wanted some syrup. I had to lay down the law and told him that I just wanted an unflavoured latte, kthx.
Over at the pickup counter another guy told the barista chick that her jug of milk was “crap” and needed to be done again. They laughed about it, but there was a weird tension. And it occurred to me that with all the training I’ve done in my new job, if anyone had told me that something I’d done was crap, well, it wouldn’t make me feel like I was making any progress.
While the new milk was being foamed, the guy “crap” attempted to make small talk. He asked me if I’d just been watching the rugby or whether I was just hanging out in town. “I’ve just finished work,” I replied. “You’ve just finished work,” he responded.
Finally the new milk was foamed and my coffee arrived. I took a seat and noticed that the instore music was almost uncomfortably loud. Perhaps they make things uncomfortable to discourage people hanging out there for too long.
The coffee was good, the slice was good, the service was freaky, the atmosphere was not relaxing. I may go there again, but I think it would be takeaway only.
I met up for coffee today with a few MCC people. It’s actually really cool how we can all sit around and talk about all the cool stuff we’re doing. The bling isn’t rolling in yet, but it will be eventually.
Meeting up with people for coffee during a weekday seems so cool. I’m not sure why. I should do it more often.
At the table next to us were a couple of mothers with small children. The mothers had coffees, the kids had fluffies. Ah, the fluffy. A small espresso cup filled with milk foam, sprinkled with chocolate powder and possibly a marshmallow, or if you’re really lucky a mini chocolate-marshallow treat. Some cafes charge about 50 cents or a dollar for a fluffy, but others let kids have them free.
I guess the theory behind the fluffy is that a) it’s something for the kids so they can be just like the grown-ups. While a cappuccino would cause a typical three year old to turn into Satan, a little cup of milk fluff would be harmless. Unless they were lactose intolerant. And then b) it familiarises the kids with cafe life, readying them for a life of latte addiction. The younger they start, they more they spend.
But when I think back to all the kids in cafes I’ve seen, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a child enjoying a fluffy. The average kid will eat the marshmallow and then go and play in the sandpit or throw things at the cafe’s cat. Why could this be? Oh, maybe it’s because a small coffee cup filled with milk foam is really boring and that no one – adult or child – would willingly eat one.
There’s a geeky girl who works at a coffee place I frequent. None of her co-workers like her and they’re always telling her to piss off if she tries to join in their conversations. But all the times I’ve seen this happen, she’s never got offended by their comments. She usually just goes back to the milk jug and steams some more milk, then tries to join in later. I would say that I admire her spirit, but she’s really annoying.
You know how sometimes you’ll be in a chatroom and you’ll be like “penis.jpg plz” and some hilarious person will send you a pic of an insect penis (-1 not hot), but then one day you say it and then the next thing you know, crikey, there’s a penis.jpg of an actual male human penis (+1 hot). And it’s not a porn star, it’s an ordinary-but-hot dude who’s snuck out into the stairwell at work with his digital camera. You ever had that happen? Nah, me neither.
I’m considering joining the old gym I used to go to. I went along there today and had a look around. It’s very nice. It didn’t used to be nice. There were no masseuses or lap pools back in the day. Just weights.
Ok, it’s time for part three of the places to get coffee from that aren’t Starbucks, or whatever I’ve called it.
There’s a Starbucks on the corner of Pitt Street and K Road. Just across Pitt Street and down K Road a bit is Brazil. It could be named after the coffee-producing country, or it could be named after the Terry Gilliam film. Or maybe it’s a bit of both. It’s got the coffee and it’s got a really unusual interior.
The building its used to be just an alleyway leading to the back of Mercury Theatre, but then narrow, deep building was built in the gap and it was a fruit shop for years. Now Brazil lives there.
I really like the mezzanine level. It reminds me of old suburban coffee bar mezzanines and the adventure of bringing your tray with a sausage roll, a lamington and a plastic bottle of pretend orange juice up the stairs. But today at Brazil all I had to carry was a glass of orange juice, my latte was being brought up by the staff.
The seating up stairs looks like it’s from an old bus. It fits right in with the very non-renovated walls. The ceiling has layers of peeling cream and green paint which from a distance look like a map that’s been painted on the ceiling.
There was no ambient jazz playing in the background. Instead the foreground music was some really stimulating, really satisfying reggae. (I think I’ve developed a thing for reggae.)
Places like Brazil don’t/won’t/can’t get killed off by Starbucks because they exist outside of the Starbucks universe. You can’t just pop into Brazil for a quick coffee, you have to be enveloped by the Brazil existence for a while.
My latte was good. I was very pleased with it. I’m also going to recommend the coffee milkshake Brazil does. It’s $5, but it is so incredibly good that it’s worth every last cent. It kicks the arse of a Frappaccino.
“This will be a free family fun day with lots of prizes and fun activities for the whole family.”
Are things like this ever really fun for the whole family? Or do guilty parents drag their kids along for some quality time, ignoring the fact that staying indoors with the Barbies and the Playstation might actually be their kid’s preferred use of the day. Maybe.
Hey, part two of the tentative series about alternatives to Starbucks.
When the Ponsonby Road Starbucks opened, people reckoned on of two things would happened. Either the Starbucks would suck up all the business of the local cafes, forcing the locally owned cafes to close and transforming the Three Lamps End of Ponsonby Road into even more of a mall. Or no one would go to the Starbucks and it would close in a couple of months.
Neither happened. The Starbucks happily co-exists along with the cafes down that end of Ponsonby Road. Even just a quick walk-by will show that the kind of people who go to that Starbucks aren’t the kind of people who’d normally go to any of the other cafes.
But anyway, just down from Starbucks is Espresso Love. I have much love for Espresso Love. It’s very hippyish and there’s all this new age decor. They do a larger than usual amount of vegan menu items, but there’s meat there too. They also do a range of really good smoothies. But I was there for the coffee. I ordered a latte and went out into the garden out the back.
There was a little fountains and heaps of plants. Its was lovely. The coffee came in a bowl, which I don’t like, but I guess latte-in-bowls is just a cultural quirk of New Zealand, up with which I should put. But it was good coffee, very creamy, which I think makes a good latte.
1. Whenever I go to St Lukes people apologise to me. I don’t seem to get this reaction at any other mall. Fo’ example, today I was walking along a corridor. I needed to turn right down another corridor that lead to the toilets. A woman was coming along that corridor and we ended up reaching the corner at the same time. We both paused and she said “oh, sorry.” What was she apologising for? I was in her way as much as she was in my way. I’ve also noticed a few times at St Lukes I’ve been in a crowded store and have kind of bumped into someone and they’ve said sorry. It always seems to be women, and I’m getting sick of it. Stop apologising!
2. Waiting at the lights on Dominion Road I saw the most spectacular sight. A woman, probably in her late 30s, was walking along the road. She was wearing a pair of baggy, MC Hammer-style pants. The fabric was a red and white pattern and was quite a thin fabric. I know this because I could see her underwear. Oh, how I could see her underwear. She had a pair of black bikini briefs on. They were so clear through her trousers that it was almost as if she was only wearing her underwear. Was it deliberate? Was she going for a “I don’t give a damn about fashion” thing, or did she just not look in the mirror before she left the house?
3. I was driving up One Tree Hill and there were cows all over the road. It was quite exciting driving through the cows. It reminded me of living in the country, when there was that day when all the farmers used to herd their cows down to the saleyards. (I hated living in the country. Like, do you know how inherently uncool cow poo is?). As I slowly drove through the cows one of them jumped up and started humping another – right next to my car. Wow, a hot bovine lesbo a go-go show.
4. I was going to get a latte from Starbucks at St Lukes. I waited in line one person made coffee, another made frappuccinos and another served at the tills. The serving girl was really, really slow. The following took place:
Serving Girl (at microwave): Um, excuse me, do you want this heated?
Serving Girl (moves closer): Do you want this heated?
Customer: What is it?
Serving Girl (goes to cash register to see the name of the pastry): Um, the cinnamon roll. Do you want me to heat it?
Serving Girl: I think they taste really nice when they are heated.
Customer: Uh, how hot?
Serving Girl: It makes it nice and warm.
Customer: Um, well, as long as it’s not too hot. I don’t want the icing dripping.
Serving Girl: Ok, right. I’ll heat it up for you.
She then went through a similar painful conversation about some minor detail of some other item ordered. I couldn’t stand being witness to such mundanity so I went downstairs and got a latte from the Take 5 coffee stand. I was served quickly and there was no arsing about with the customer ahead of me. By the time I’d put my change in my wallet, my coffee was ready. This may possibly be part one of an occasional series of visiting the nearest alternative to Starbucks (i.e., if, like my neighbour’s homemade bumper sticker says, friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks, where do you go for coffee?)
5. I don’t get why “Lose Yourself” by Eminem is so popular. I’ve always thought it was really mundane, but then, I’ve never really been big on those “go for it, don’t give up, hold on to your dreams” kind of songs. “Lose Yourself” seems like a combination of that kind of song and a promo from “8 Mile”. But so many people I know like it – I mean, really like it. It seems that even though the lyrics are pretty specific, people manage to put themself in the song and come out of it feeling elevated, uplifted and inspired. Well, that’s not a bad thing.
Apparently when Molasses was sold and became Aqua Velvet, none of the staff was kept. So the head coffee guy started his own coffee place. It’s located down the alley between Right Up My Alley and the ever-excellent GAg. There’s no menu board, just an espresso machine. So I went up there and ordered a takeaway latte and – oh my God – it was made in a normal-sized latte cup, not the usual big-ass bowl o’ latte that someone has become the way that lattes are served in New Zealand. There was no price list and the dude said I should just pay whatever I think a latte is worth. I gave him $2.50, but in retrospect I think I should have given him $3.00. It was a good latte.
I’m going to Hammo for New Years. There’s going to be a barbecue and beers, which is a good way to celebrate. Damn, I’ve spent the last month being all like “OMG! I will be spending New Years Eve on my own! No one loves me!!!” etc. So now I can officially tell myself to STFU.
I still haven’t figured out how to not scare guys, but I’m working on it. More pink, perhaps?