Brian Edwards Media

Goodbye Cafe/Coffee Life!

As an Irishman I am genetically predisposed to be a tea-drinker. Before coming to New Zealand 46 years ago the closest thing to coffee that had ever crossed my lips was that glutinous brown mix of chicory essence (26%),  coffee essence (4%),  sugar and water, called Camp Coffee. As the ingredients suggest, the relationship between Camp Coffee and real coffee was distant, but it was all you could get in post-war Ulster and kids like me drank this sickly concoction, sweetened with more sugar, with relish.

So I arrived in New Zealand a coffee virgin. Not only did I not like the stuff, but I had brought with me the Irish working-class prejudice towards what we considered a snob’s drink.

In that near half-century, I have developed a taste not for ‘real’ coffee, which the cognoscenti tell me can only be a short or long black, but for that pleasant and innocuous milky drink, the flat white.

Each fine morning, Judy and I take our morning constitutional around the highways and byways of the coffee capitals of New Zealand – Ponsonby, Grey Lynn  and Herne Bay. We walk for between an hour and an hour and a half, before ordering two flat whites (and the occasional biscotti) at one of the district’s proliferating cafes. (Three new ones have opened in the last month in Jervois Road alone.)

But this is all about to change. Yesterday I approached the counter in one of my favourite cafes and ordered ‘the usual’ and two biscotti from the charming owner. (I display, you’ll observe all the standard pretensions of a regular customer.) I had my $9 ready in my hand – $7 for the two flat whites and $2 for the two biscotti.  

‘$11 thanks, Brian.”

‘What?’

‘$11.’

‘For two flat whites and a couple of biscotti?’

‘GST, Brian. And we’ve been holding our prices for months.’

‘So how much are the biscotti?’

‘$1.50.’

‘So they’ve gone up by 50% since yesterday. That’s a bit more than the 2.5% hike in GST!’

Later, I sat down with my calculator and did some sums. Forget the biscotti for a moment. Unless it’s pouring, Judy and I walk every morning and we finish every walk with coffee. At $8 for two flat whites, that’s $56 a week or $2,912 a year. For coffee! And that doesn’t include the coffee we have at home or if we have lunch or dinner out.

To put this in perspective, for less than we spend on cafe coffee each week, we could have an entire meal at any of these fine local eateries:

The Mutiara Malaysian restaurant in Ponsonby Road. (BYO. Two entrees, mains and coffee.)

The Sri Pinang Malaysian restaurant in Karangahape Road (BYO. Two entrees, mains and coffee.)

The Blake Street Cafe (Brunch with two glasses of wine and coffee)

Andiamo in Jervois Road (Award-winning restaurant. Brunch with two glasses of wine.)

This is sheer coffee madness. If TV3’s Money Man came to our house, the first thing he’d do after pitching his tent on the lawn would be to tell us to ditch the coffee and that in ten years or less we’d have 30 grand to buy the gold-plated Zimmer frames we’ve always dreamed of.

And he’d be right. It makes no economic sense at all for anyone to be spending three grand a year on bloody cups of coffee.

So it’s time to abandon the cafe/coffee life, time to accept that we’re addicted to a drug we can’t afford, time to deprive the coffee peddlers of their ill-gotten gains, time to boldly go where few from the Ponsonby galaxy have gone before – past the coffee house and home for a nice, soothing cup of tea.

, ,

30 Comments:

  1. In that case Brian, you’ll be delighted to know that there is a supply of Barry’s tea to be had in Auckland. Cork’s finest blenders have a tenuous foothold here and I am all the better for it. Finding a decent teapot has proved more troublesome, however.

  2. When you ponder how each bean has made it into a cup of coffee I’m amazed it’s remained as cheap as it has. Where coffee comes from… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Vi8zrqY-I0&feature=related

    • When you ponder how each bean has made it into a cup of coffee I’m amazed it’s remained as cheap as it has. Where coffee comes from…

      Thanks Glenn. Interesting video. But what I saw was mass production of coffee by workers on third-world wages. If I thought a reasonable proportion of my $4 a cup was going to them I might have a different view of the price. It isn’t. Have a look at this Open Letter from Global Exchange to Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/coffee/OpenLetterToStarbucks.html

  3. It makes no economic sense at all for anyone to be spending three grand a year on bloody cups of coffee.

    Which is why you should spend the money on a decent espresso machine and grinder, and make it yourself. If you’re even minimally competent, it’ll be better than most cafes anyway.

    • Which is why you should spend the money on a decent espresso machine and grinder, and make it yourself. If you’re even minimally competent, it’ll be better than most cafes anyway.

      I don’t think you can get ‘a decent espresso machine and grinder’ for $3,000. And my impression visiting friends with one of these machines is that they spend their entire time making coffee, two cups at a time, while their guests are abandoned at the dining table.

  4. I have to say I don’t understand coffee. Tea is what I drink, thanks to my grandmother who would take me to visit her elderly spinster aunts. Invariably I would be given a warm milky tea and a chocolate biscuit to savour. So for me, it’s always going to be tea.

    Besides, ordering a pot of tea in a tea shop is so soothingly ritualistic. Pot of tea, jug of hot water, jug of milk, cup and saucer and spoon. And you always manage to get two cups out of a single pot. I think I’ll go and put the kettle on now :)

  5. That’s interesting because I’m pretty sure I saw you and a cup of coffee at Fusion this very day. Perhaps moments after writing this. How weak the resolve!

    • That’s interesting because I’m pretty sure I saw you and a cup of coffee at Fusion this very day. Perhaps moments after writing this. How weak the resolve!

      We addicts are sad creatures, though I feel duty bound now to check out every coffee house in the district to verify my claims.

  6. Funny, that you should bring this up. Last week, on Shore Rd., my sister and I bought coffees from one of those ‘The Coffee Guy’ mobile vans, who was stationed in the football ground’s carpark. (The company selling the franchises is owned by Joe Karam’s son). A ‘Small’ cup costs $4, and the ‘Big’ cup (double-shot) costs $4.50.

    The franchisee was friendly, and I got to chatting with him, a bit. He said, while, he could make a living (of sorts) roaming his assigned territory, in hindsight, he wouldn’t have bought into it. It cost him $100K for the setup, and he had to pay the monthly franchise fees, along with the coffee beans and the bits ‘n’ pieces. He said, he wouldn’t be able to recoup anything like the initial amount it cost to buy into it, and that his business was “virtually worthless”. There would be no buyers; besides, Karam would want to expand his business by selling another new franchise. Which means, he’s working to pay off the capital cost of buying into the business. Which means, he’s not exactly “coining it”. And that includes operating at the big events, like working down Victoria Park, on the day of the BMW Marathon etc.

    The $11 that you pay for a couple of cups of coffee and some biscotti, seems a lot. But the cafes can’t be making, much, just selling two cups of coffee and biscotti; especially, when the customer occupies a table. It’s the selling of the food where the profit margins are. Subtract the costs of, say, occupying a table for 20 minutes; the costs of the beans, the labour in serving and washing the crockery etc — and the $11 assumes a different proportion with regard to relativity.

    Part of the enjoyment in having a coffee, is being able to watch the world go by. (You know, seeing Mrs Cougar flitting about with her newly-found young stud). But, I don’t see why you should deny yourselves the simple pleasures of having a coffee after your 90-minute walk. Make up an “Instant” in a thermos flask, pack it into a knapsack, together with a couple of salvaged takeout coffee cups with the plastic lids that came with them; set yourselves down to one of those cafe tables out on the pavement; and ever so discreetly, fill both cups. The cafe owner will be cool, thinking its his coffee that you’re drinking.

    It’s a win-win situation: you don’t forgo your long-standing pleasures and the “gold-plated Zimmer frames” can still be got.

  7. I don’t think you can get ‘a decent espresso machine and grinder’ for $3,000.

    You can. You can go very cheap coffee machine for $200 or a better one (twinblock) for $800. Mine has made coffee and frothed milk to a standard not quite as good as a competent barista having a reasonable day.

    If it is just for yourselves then who cares if it take an extra five minutes to make!

  8. “…highways and byways of the coffee capitals of New Zealand – Ponsonby, Grey Lynn and Herne Bay.”

    Yes, I think you’ll find Wellington is, in fact, the coffee capital of New Zealand, BE. Tragically, these inner Auckland suburbs are little more than wannabes and poseurs.

    Personally, I’m one of that small (non-Mormon) minority who can’t stand either tea or coffee.

  9. Brian: It makes no economic sense at all for anyone to be spending three grand a year on bloody cups of coffee.

    Russell: Which is why you should spend the money on a decent espresso machine and grinder, and make it yourself. If you’re even minimally competent, it’ll be better than most cafes anyway.

    Yes…and no. To me, the true value of the coffee in the cafe is that it also buys time and a passing parade. Cheap entertainment. What value does one put on that?

    I’ve never seen it as just “buying a coffee”.

  10. Lord, brian.
    having also grown up in ulster in the same era, I too drank camp “coffee”.
    what harm did I ever do you that you reminded me of it?
    a kind of sugary,watery treacle as I recall. arghh!

  11. “ditch the coffee and that in ten years or less we’d have 30 grand to buy the gold-plated Zimmer frames we’ve always dreamed of.”

    You probably won’t be around in 10 years time and you can’t take your money with you so why not spend it in something you enjoy. Even if you save $11 a day what are you going to spend it on at your time of life? And if by some miracle you are still around in 10 years and have $30,000 the government will rip it off you to pay for your geriatric care.

    If you are really desparate try the Nescafe sachets of flat white/cappucino etc. OK so they are not ‘real’ coffe but they are not at all bad and they are a lot cheaper than buying a flat white in a cafe. As for the biscotti by a pack from the supermarket and slip a couple in Judy’s hand bag before your constitutional.

  12. Easy does it, Ben.

    BE’s only in his early 70s, for christsake ! My parents are 79 and 80, and both are still working – my Mother part-time, my Father full-time. Little different to how they were in their 50s.

    Although I suspect your chiding of BE is a little tongue-in-cheek, it smacks just a touch of ageism.

  13. Some of us did the sums a while back and stopped buying regular cafe coffee, but it doesn’t stop one having a treat every now and again, even though the prices are now outrageous.

    You don’t have to pay a fortune for a coffee machine. I bought one for my other half for around $300 and now get a wonderful flat white every morning, served not with a biscotti, but with love.

    • You don’t have to pay a fortune for a coffee machine. I bought one for my other half for around $300 and now get a wonderful flat white every morning, served not with a biscotti, but with love.

      How lovely to hear from you, Joan. I know the ‘other half’ you speak of. A true romantic. Enough to bring a flush to a girl’s cheeks!

  14. Ben, you overdosed on caffeine or what?

  15. Heh… my mother would fall out of her chair if Brian Edwards – legend of the smaller silver screen popped in for a cuppa.

    Seriously though, if you and Judy are in Greymouth do pop in (it will be tea though).

  16. Move to Kosovo where a Flatwhite costs 40 cents (euro) for a small or 80 cents for a large! :)

    An interesting blog Brian, I think you are right that everyday purchasing of cafe coffee, at that price, is a straight up waste of money. Although Merv does raise a good point, that you are paying to occupy that valuable table space in a trendy spot so you watch the world go by :) – Why not just make it a weekend treat?

  17. Try drinking soy on top of that – for the extra price!

  18. No, Merv, I am not overdosed on caffeine or what.

    I happen to believe, especially as one gets older, some self indulgence is in order; as I say you cannot take it with you. If having coffee on a sunny morning at a pleasant location and commmunicating with your partner costs $11 so what, providing it gives you pleasure. Although I do not do it every day I love going out with my wife and having coffee on one of those rare days in Wellington when the sun is shining.

    I have other extravagances of my own which I have no intention of relinquishing.

    Life is too short to worry about the price of something you really enjoy, especially if you are able to share that pleasure.

    And Markus, at my age, I shall be as bloody ageist as I like.

  19. Ooops, sorry Ben, I thought you were an Aucklander ! I would never knowingly rebuke a fellow Wellingtonian. Forget everything I just said.

  20. I’m a tea man, myself – enjoy the odd cup of Dilmar during the course of a day. Rarely drink coffee, but when I do, unless I’m in Turkey drinking what the Turks call coffee, much prefer instant (so long as it wasn’t Nescafe).

    I recall watching the last few moments of the last episode a coffee show on TV some time back – a show I had never watched for more than two minutes at a time. As he was wrapping up the series, the host remarked that, for all the wide range of coffee veriaties that might be obtained around the world, and joys of blending the same for that really special cup of coffee, you couldn’t beat the good old cup of Instant.

    Vindicated.

  21. Speaking of coffee substitutes, I did develop a while back a taste for Bushells Coffee and Chicory. The flavour was ‘different’ and pleasant enough. I have heard that chicory is ‘good for you’, but never knew quite why. Can you still get this stuff?

  22. Money well spent rewarding yourselves after an hour or more of healthy exercise. Keep it up and damn the expense.

  23. Can you still get this stuff?
    Yes,and at $8.13 a small bottle it is hardly a cheap substitute for the real thing.

  24. Far out. I haven’t drunk a cup of Bushells for at least 25 years. Looks as though it will be another 25 before I will again…