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New Zealand Coffee Culture

New Zealand is a part of the British Commonwealth so up until a couple of decades ago, we were predominantly a tea drinking nation. Many Kiwis will still ask if you’d like to join them for a “cuppa tea” when you visit their home, but there’s a good chance they’ve already had their caffeine hit that morning at their local café or possibly from a home espresso machine gleaming on the granite bench (that’s Kiwi for countertop, by the way).

New Zealand Coffee

We don’t see many Italians down our way (unless they’re playing rugby or racing us in yachts), but I think it would be fair to say it’s probably the Italians who inspired the coffee craze in New Zealand. For one thing, despite the overwhelming number of cafes in New Zealand these days, you can’t get a cup of drip coffee in this country if your life depended on it. It’s something that confuses our friends from North America – sorry, but we really don’t have coffee brewing in a big pot out back somewhere, honest, we’re just not into that type of coffee. Us Kiwis, like our Italian friends, like our daily fix from an espresso machine.

Having said that, you can order a long black or an Americano and… who are we kidding, it probably won’t be anything like what you’re expecting. So, perhaps it’s the perfect opportunity to discover a new favourite drink, eh? 

Making Sense of a Coffee Menu in New Zealand

Some of these terms will be familiar; others may be New Zealand new. 

Short black: This is simply a shot of espresso served in a demi-tasse cup. Look for a rich velvety layer on top of the almost black liquid.

Ristretto: For those who would opt to mainline their caffeine, this is the next best thing. The barista changes the pressure on the machine and uses the same amount of ground beans and half the water so you end up with a high-octane half shot of espresso. I’m shaking just thinking about it!

Long black: A shot of espresso served over hot water. It’s quite common for fussy types to ask for a small jug of hot water on the side so they can water down their own espresso, saving their barista the heartache. Sometimes people will ask for milk with this, as a kind of DIY Flat White (see below).

Americano: This is a cheat’s version of drip coffee (which, as I mentioned, is simply not an option), and is kind of a long black made in reverse. It starts with a double shot of espresso in a big mug and then hot water is poured into it. It’s way stronger than drip, but it’ll at least look familiar.

Macchiato: A single shot of espresso with just a dollop of frothed milk. Ask for a “double machiatto” if you’d like two shots.

Cappuccino: This should be familiar, made up of a shot of espresso with equal parts steamed milk and a generous cap of foam to top it off.

Flat white: Probably the most common coffee ordered in NZ. This is the size of a cappuccino but more milky. It’s made up of one-third espresso, two-thirds steamed milk and just a touch of swirled froth on top, hence the name.

Latte: For those who prefer a touch of coffee with their milk, rather than the other way around, this will get you a shot of espresso in lots of hot milk with little or no froth.

Mochaccino: A chocolaty version of a cappuccino made with espresso, steamed milk and cocoa with froth on top.

Mocha: Basically a hot chocolate with a shot of espresso, whipped cream optional, for a nod to a childhood favourite with a more grown-up kick.

Chai latte: Not technically an espresso drink, but this alternative for non-coffee drinkers has become so ubiquitous it warranted a mention. Originally made with a strong brew of black tea, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom topped with steamed milk, these days all but the best cafes cheat by using a powdered mix or add a shot of chai-flavoured syrup to steamed milk (often soy). Oddly, chai means ‘tea’ in several languages and latte means ‘milk’ in Italian, so chai latte is simply tea with milk!

Fluffy: A demi-tasse cup filled with steamed milk and froth, sprinkled with chocolate and served with a marshmallow on the side – just the thing to keep a sophisticated tot amused while mummy sips her drink. An ingenious idea that has been surprisingly slow to take off in other parts of the world as it’s quite common here to see a toddler dragging mum into a café demanding their daily fluffy fix!

Milk Options:
Ask for “trim milk” or a “skinny [name of drink]” if you want low-fat milk, although don’t be surprised if it’s not available off the beaten track in places like the GYC café in Glenorchy. (If this is important, check that your barista is pouring milk from a jug with a green lid, full-fat milk usually has a blue lid.) Same holds for soy milk and decaf – readily available in tourist centres and urban areas but hit or miss otherwise.

Visiting Your 'Local'


For Kiwis, the café where you buy your daily fix from is nearly as important as the coffee itself. Whether it be retro décor, funky tunes playing in the background, or the café owner who remembers your name, even if you’re only able to make it in once a month (yes, we’re talking about you, Steve, from Refuel café in Queenstown).

Kiwis are staunch supporters of mom n’ pop establishments and are still resisting the trend toward chains. So I was shocked to discover there are currently 40 Starbucks stores operating throughout the country where a homesick tourist can order a venti gingerbread latte with sprinkles and extra whipped cream. I hope you don’t mind if we give it a miss. (Flavoured coffees are not the norm around here, although some local cafes that get lots of tourist traffic are starting to stock some syrups.)
As the story goes, when CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, was pitching the idea of setting up coffee shops in the U.S to investors in the late 80′s, he didn’t focus on the coffee. He said this instead: “We’re going to build a 3rd place between work and home.” Well it seems they built a 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th place between work and home as well - and their coffee is average in all of them!  

Favourite local Queenstown haunts:
Vudu Café and Larder (or if you’re reading this, Steve) Refuel Café

Thinking of coming to New Zealand?

If you're not sure of your plans just yet, a good place to start is our free New Zealand brochure. With a full fold-out map of New Zealand, information on our hiking and adventure trips, as well as lots of cool photos, it's a great place to begin your research.


Or, if you want to have a chat with a local about your plans, feel free to give Miri, Fiona or Matty a call on 1 800 661 9073 (USA/Canada), 0808 234 7780 (UK) or +64 3 450 0414 (worldwide).

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 5005 reviews)

    New Zealand is Majestic...Thanks Active Adventures!

    This was my first trip traveling alone and traveling overseas. Active Adventures made this trip amazing and so easy. From initial planning of trip, to the moment of pick up at the airport, until drop off at the end of the adventure all details were taken care of. The guides (Amanda and Joe) were fabulous and the prepared meals were fantastic. New Zealand is truly beautiful. Thanks for sharing your country, can't wait to go back!
    Jennifer Smith Review Image
    – Arizona, United States
    Rimu, December 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1903 reviews)

    Perfect amount of adventure

    From gazing upon Franz Josef Glacier to biking along Hawea Lake Trail, to gliding on calm waters in Milford Sound, it's been a most memorable adventure! Our guides Tess and Amanda were a great duo! I loved that it was just enough activity without being sore while still being able to see so much of South Island.
    Grace Zheng Review Image
    – Hawaii, United States
    Tui, January 2017
  •   4.64 out of 5 (from 565 reviews)

    Winter Rimu to Remember

    Coming from a small island which is tropical year around, I didn't expect to have a wonderful winter experience. We had amazing adventures all around the southern island from hikes, kayaking, and food. Everything was well planned out. Even when obstacles with the weather occurred, their alternate plans were just as amazing! Mel and Gary were our guides. These two are the best in each their own. They both displayed great hospitality and patience. I've learned so much about New Zealand while trekking with a great company. Overall, I would return to New Zealand to do more adventures.
    Eliseo Silverio Review Image
    – GUAM, Guam
    Winter Rimu, August 2016
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 5005 reviews)

    Rimu—Feb., 2018

    Could not have been happier with our guides, their level of preparation/organization and the stunning scenery of the South Island.
    Tom Townes Review Image
    – North Carolina, United States
    Rimu, February 2018
  •   4.49 out of 5 (from 305 reviews)

    Melissa's Weka Adventure

    I knew from pictures taken by family that New Zealand is a beautiful place but the beauty is much deeper than the eye can see. Everyone we came in contact with was wonderful and I can't think of enough superlatives to describe our guides, Nick and Elder. The trip was above our expectations. The biking was varied and interesting and the hikes worth every step. The food was too good and we enjoyed the variation in accommodations. We would go back and do it again.
    Melissa Contos Review Image
    – Virginia, United States
    Weka, February 2018



Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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