I'm officially famous! Over the last few days, Russell Brown has been collating comments from resident and expat NZ coffee-drinkers. After an initial post where he observed that you don't seem to be able to get a NZ-standard espresso in London (or most places), he was flooded with feedback saying yes, wasn't it terrible, no one (apart from the Italians) knows how to make espresso properly.
Several people pointed out that this was a case of typical now-we-are-so-sophisticated NZ "zealotry" and a "reverse cultural cringe". I agree to an extent that the boasting about our coffee has elements of that "our rugby team is bigger than your rugby team" attitude which you increasingly see from NZers, and is indicative of deep insecurity and ingrained provincialism (i.e. it'd be laughable if it weren't so embarassing).
However, it is based on a large kernel of truth. That was the one thing I really missed about NZ while in South America. Every now and again I'd have a fleeting, nostalgic vision of Aro St cafe with a good English breakfast and a super-strong flat white.
By the time I read the posts Russell Brown had already printed two rounds of comments. I figured I'd missed out, but would send him my tuppence worth anyway. And lo, then he said that he'd got even more comments, they were "improving in quality", and he'd print a third round.
So today he's done a final summation of people's views on coffee. I'm in there, about the third person quoted.
If you don't feel like following the link, here's what I wrote:
"I agree that across most of Europe and N.America the coffee is not up to the standard set in NZ, particularly in the main NZ centres. I've also spent quite a bit of time in S.America and, despite being a major coffee-exporting zone, things aren't much good there either.
In Peru and Chile you only find espresso in a few places in the bigger cities, and it's often sans crema. In even moderately expensive restaurants, "coffee" means a cup of hot water served with a tube-like packet of nescafe. Or it's a strong liquid concentrate in a little jug, which you pour into the water.
Colombia is better--brewed coffee there is called "tinto" and is de rigeur with most meals. As in (fellow coffee-producing nation) Guatemala, it's also quite fresh tasting. Most small bars have espresso.
Again, though, you just want to order the basic espresso--no one really knows how to make coffee with milk.
Only in Italy or places with direct Italian influence do you find the full range of espresso styles. In Italy itself, while coffee is the fuel of life, there's somewhat less preciousness about it than there is in NZ.
Cappucinos are normally made with lukewarm milk because people don't piss about drinking them--they go into a stand-up breakfast bar and toss one down on the way to work. Also, they understand even better than NZers not to add too much water to an espresso--in your standard short black there's usually not much more than a tablespoon of liquid.
There's one coffee experience, however, you won't find in Italy or NZ. This is "cafe cubano", which I discovered in Sth Florida a few years ago.
Cuban-stye coffee is made by expressing a quadruple-shot coffee directly into a cup containing several spoonfuls of raw sugar. It's served in a "colada", a (usually polystyrene) cup about the size of a small takeaway coffee cup, and you also get several thimble-sized little cups. You then drink it in "shots', sharing with two or three people.
They call cafe cubano "liquid cocaine", and if you try it you will see why. Next time you're in Miami, find a little neigbourhood Cuban place, order yourself a colada, and prepare to have your socks knocked directly off.
WRT to Starbucks [there'd been quite a bit of comment about Starbucks amongst the previous posts]: When In Peru, I lived in Arequipa, and on a trip to Lima my Arequipan girlfriend insisted on going to Starbucks, as she was nostalgic for when she spent time in the US. Not only was the milky coffee I ordered the most execrable, burnt, soapy thing I have ever tasted, but it cost more than it would have in NZ (in Peru, most consumables are two or even three times cheaper). My girlfriend didn't care--for her simply being in Starbucks was fulfilling her aspirations. "