“I blame all my problems on coffee. I’ve either had too much or too little.” – Caitlin Tuttle
I’ve often joked that I am the perfect trifecta of coffee snobbery. I am from Seattle, I am Lutheran and I am Scandinavian. Thus, it was perhaps inevitable that I became one of those people who is particular about their coffee.
I never was much of a coffee fan until I went to Norway when I was 18. There, my dad and I were literally offered coffee morning, noon and night. Sometimes at 9 at night. Sometimes with chocolate cake. Seriously, I think Norwegians have grown so immune to caffeine it no longer affects their ability to sleep. When I returned to the States, I started drinking it regularly.
Before coming to New Zealand in 2011, I expected it to be a tea-drinking culture. Though independent from England, the two countries are distant cousins of sorts that have many similarities. And, on the flip side of coffee culture, coming to New Zealand was an education in tea. The first time I studied at The Centre (Massey’s chaplaincy center, where free hot drinks abound), I discovered a) Kiwis’ affinity for instant coffee and b) sometimes tea is brownish and opaque. Until then I’d just associated tea with what you drink when you’re sick, and it had always been nearly transparent, lemon-flavored and usually had honey stirred in. The idea of adding milk to tea took some getting used to, but eventually I did, to the point that when I was back in the States and had any sort of tea with milk, the taste instantly brought me back to The Centre and the good memories I have of there (aside from just studying, it was also where we had Wednesday night pancakes and card games).
And so I was faced with a choice: instant coffee or tea. More often than not, I chose tea.
Coming back to New Zealand this year, my perspective on coffee has further changed, as I just spent several months working as a barista. To go from a culture where each tiny mom-and-pop coffee stand offers dozens of flavors for each customer’s perfectly personalized drink to a country that has dozens of coffee shops with the same 10 or so drinks, sans modifications – well, let’s just say that has been rougher culture shock for me than the scarcity of quality Mexican food.
The day after I landed in New Zealand, I began my hunt for a coffee maker. It’s a good thing I was hellbent on finding one.
The first store had rows and rows of electric kettles, and one coffee maker: a French press, which back home we only use camping. This led to another discovery about non-espresso Kiwi coffee: it is almost always “plunger” (in American: French press) coffee.
The second store had espresso machines running up to $1,100 (Hmm, espresso machine or flight around the world?), but its cheapest run-of-the-mill coffee maker was $80. No go.
At long last, I found a basic $16 coffee maker at Kmart. I have to say, Kmarts here are a lot nicer and cleaner than the ones I’m used to. At this point I was so happy to find a cheap coffee maker I wouldn’t have cared where it came from. I bought a grinder there for the same price. Finally, it was on to the grocery store for beans and filters. Just as it took some serious digging to find a coffee maker in a sea of electric kettles, the entire coffee aisle offered only two kinds of filters (I had to ask two workers where they were before they magically appeared). And finding the three or four bags of whole beans amidst the dozens of bags of plunger coffee was a fun treasure hunt, as well.
After an entire afternoon successfully devoted to the cause, I figured my coffee woes were over.
Then I started looking for creamer.
I should have realized New Zealanders don’t put cream or creamer in their coffee on my final flight here, when the flight attendant only offered milk. Still, I tried two grocery stores and asked a few employees (oh, I just love the looks I get when asking for something that very quickly becomes obvious is not a Kiwi thing). One worker checked the store database. Nada. Eventually I found a Costco-worthy sized Coffee Mate powdered creamer at the specialty food store, but I opted to wait until I could find it in liquid form.
Fittingly enough, this was right about the time my cousin Kim shared a recipe for coffee creamer to Facebook. I eagerly bought the ingredients and threw them together (my kind of cooking). While not exactly Coffee Mate’s French Vanilla (oh, how I miss thee), it did the trick. If you’re interested, the recipe was very similar to this. But over time the cream and condensed milk got to be expensive, and it was a little too rich for my taste, so I’ve finally settled on milk. I even drink the instant coffee at work (something I never thought I would resort to. Does this mean I’m a Kiwi?). I think my college-student mentality (“Did you say free?”) is still a part of me, and it wins out over my inner coffee snob.
If you’ve read to this point, I congratulate you on making it through 800 words of rambling on coffee. I’ll end with this lovely anecdote that I hope my Seattle-area friends will especially get a kick out of.
New Zealand, which is roughly the size of Colorado, has 27 Charbucks – er, Starbucks stores. Within Seattle’s city limits, there are 424 – at least, there were six years ago. Palmerston North, with about 82,000 residents, briefly had a Starbucks, but was unable to sustain it (I think Kiwis have a preference for mom-and-pop shops). I have to say, that is one American coffee pastime that I can do without.