Wellington is the city that has it all. New Zealand’s capital city regularly comes out in the top five of the Most Liveable City rankings, claiming the top spot in 2017 and 2018. Contributing to this achievement is the efficient public transport, numerous parks, minimal pollution and crime, value for money and its array of outstanding cafés.
As any Wellingtonian will say, the city is renowned for its booming café culture. The city’s brewing ethos kicked off in the 1950s but saw a decline in the subsequent two decades. With the rise in fashionable dining, the 1980s and ’90s saw a remarkable comeback for the coffee industry. There has never been as many quality cafés around the globe and Wellington’s reputation has developed year after year, emerging as the New Zealand coffee capital in the late ’90s. And with more than 300 coffee shops in the city, it’s thought to have more cafés per capita than New York – and that really is something to “roast” about.
Cafe, Coffee, $$$
Frank’s has two locations in the city – one on The Terrace under the shadow of the famous Wellington Cable Car and another on Riddiford Street in Newtown, not far from Wellington Zoo. With an emphasis on “less is more”, the café’s minimalistic decor complements the stylish and laid-back Wellington lifestyle, and has attracted many regular customers. Famed for its knowledgeable staff, Frank himself is something of a Wellington icon, having competed in (and judged) numerous barista championships. Their menu is heavily focused on breakfast, which is served from 6.30 to 9.30am, Monday to Friday (or until 12.30pm if booked in advance). For a knockout morning feast try its Boston-style beans, complete with Zany Zeus halloumi. With plenty of choices for vegans plus gluten and dairy-free options, Frank’s is worthy of its formidable reputation.
The Beanery, on Lambton Quay, is one of Mojo Coffee’s popular venues. Founded in 2003 as a boutique roastery café, Mojo has numerous venues, but the locals flock to this one in abundance, coming back for more caffeine kicks and learning about the roasting process from the experienced staff. This is a coffee lover’s paradise; with no food menu, all the focus is on the tasty brown stuff. Though manager Logan prefers regular filter coffee, The Beanery has many speciality brews in store, including Ninety Plus – a single-origin, single-variety coffee from Ethiopia and Panama. This is the place to come to be educated: with an in-store hot air roaster, visitors can learn all about the hot brews, as well as purchase informative books, brewing equipment and accessories.
Nestled between Mount Victoria and Kelburn in the southern part of Wellington’s CBD, Customs is a modern, vibrant café on Te Aro’s major thoroughfare, Ghuznee Street. What sets Customs apart from the majority of the pack is its variety; from Brazil to Burundi, Colombia to Kenya, this chic café’s beans will tempt even the most hardened non-coffee consumer. The decor is elegant, comprising brown shades and designer wood panelling at the counter. Perfect for single-origin varieties, Customs is popular for take-outs, keeping the locals stocked up at home with fresh beans.
Cafés need a loving touch, and Origin has this in spades. Originally owned by Jason and Cate Hall when it was called Go-Bang, Origin is based in Petone at the northern tip of Wellington Harbour, and served as the headquarters for Ripe Coffee in 2000. Since 2018, Origin has been Ripe Coffee’s most popular store. For real coffee aficionados, the chocolate-orange Tanzanian RFA Edelweiss Estate bean is a real hit, as is the Fairtrade Mexican FTO Chiapas Decaf. After its recent refurb, Origin now serves a fruity espresso blend and a rotating single-origin espresso. It also sells beans, equipment and food – with plenty of vegan options.
The philosophy at Pour & Twist is simple: to serve the finest coffee, educating customers in the process. Based in Te Aro on Garrett Street, this tiny spot is owned by two huge coffee nerds who exclusively use soft brew methods to create great coffee. In fact, Pour & Twist was New Zealand’s first fully manual coffee brew bar. On the menu are delights such as Nitro Matcha and Orange Choffee (“the most unusual and delicious coffee I have ever tried!” praises one satisfied customer), together with a wide range of sodas and teas. With no coffee machine is sight, Pour & Twist delivers traditional methods in a quirky ambience. Always keen for a chat, the owner’s favourite roasters are Silverskin, Rich and Rocket. If you’re hankering for a cuppa, be advised that there’ll be no pouring or twisting on Tuesdays, as the café is closed, although it’s open on the weekends.
On Tory Street in Te Aro, Havana Coffee Works is a well-known café to suit all budgets. Just a short stroll from the Basin Reserve, this funky coffee venue brings a little bit of Cuban flamboyance to New Zealand’s “Windy City”. Many varieties of coffee can be bought to take home, from the cheaper X Blend to the more extravagant Papua New Guinean Cascara. Havana’s mission statement is all about their customers – they thrive on an open-door policy and encourage customers to be familiar with their brands and equipment. Housed in an Art Deco building, Havana is far from ordinary and is at the cutting edge of Wellington’s coffee scene, with two Loring roasters the backbone of their success.
As a stellar example of a flagship store run exceptionally well, The Hangar is the home of Flight Coffee, and offers a menu that changes with the seasons. Discover a multitude of dishes, from the Brisket Turkish and Big Hanger Brekkie, to the more humble bowl of homemade muesli and Bacon Butties. All meat and poultry is free-range, and the café can be booked for functions. Located on Dixon Street in Te Aro, The Hanger is open seven days per week and serves cocktails, beers and sumptuous New Zealand and Australian wines. With cold drip coffees and coffee tastings (“flights”) for their espresso blends, The Hangar is a cool place to hang out with locals and clued-up baristas alike.
Located on Jessie Street between Tory Street and Taranaki Street, Prefab Eatery is at the heart of Wellington’s business and leisure district, Te Aro. As ACME’s flagship café, this large coffee house relies on its reputation and can seat 180 guests. Founded in 2013 by Jeff Kennedy, founder of Wellington institution Caffe L’Affare, with his wife Bridgett Dunn, the café’s ethos is to treat the community like friends. Kennedy remarked, “It would be a public space without a council bureaucrat in sight.” It concentrates on two main coffee blends: Pure Plunge Brew and Espresso, keeping their focus on bean-to-cup freshness. Very reasonably priced breakfasts merge effortlessly with dishes including luxurious salmon and spinach potato gratin. A light but gratifying lunch menu continues to please the crowds – Prefab Eatery does what it does best and continues to shine.
Adjacent to The Esplanade along Petone’s seafront is Comes & Goes, a very busy café that serves top-notch food and even better coffee. With a minimal interior design, this gem of a café doesn’t feel cluttered, its colourful plating and beautifully presented coffee speaking for itself. Jackson Street is a haven for foodies with a taste for caffeine, and Comes & Goes is a sure-fire winner with both locals and tourists. Contrary to its name, this little beauty is set to remain firmly near the top of Wellington’s A-list cafés