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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 4983 reviews)

    Rimu Was Extraordinary

    We have been dreaming of visiting New Zealand for a long time, we wanted to see and explore all the best sites in an active way, but doing this on our own would have been overwhelming! Active Adventures was the complete answer. They took us to the best places, sites and beautiful landscapes that we could only have dreamed about. Our group was small which allowed us all to bond, our guides Astrid and Steve could not have been better - fun, knowledgeable, organized and excellent cooks. I got the sense they really enjoyed what they do! I would strongly recommend this tour - a trip of a lifetime that words can’t describe - we will never forget it.
    Colleen Clark Review Image
    – Ontario, Canada
    Rimu, February 2018
  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)


    I combined the Kauri trip, last 5 days, with the Tui trip on the South Island. I did not have enough time to do the full 11-day trip. I am really happy with my decision to do the last 5 days. Crossing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing was an amazing experience! I loved everything about this trip... Andy and Jo were absolutely awesome!
    Andrea King Review Image
    – Connecticut, United States
    Kauri, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Southbound Rimu trip

    After being on a Galapagos trip I thought I knew what to expect! Galapagos was amazing too but this trip was an experience in itself!! Every hike was an adventure and the rewards for getting to the top were a treasure to be seen!! A huge thanks to Rachel and Gary for their knowledge and everything they did to make this trip incredible!
    Kathy Lomeli Review Image
    – Indiana, United States
    Rimu, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    The Best Way to Spend my 30th Birthday!

    Going to New Zealand has been at the very top of my bucket list for quite a long time and I finally decided to scratch it off when I turned 30. Active Adventures was, from the beginning, the only tour group I would consider travelling with. They were the only group that not only had everything I wanted to do in New Zealand, but also had the highest level of professionalism and ratings that made me trust them.
    From the moment they picked us up at the airport I was certain I’d judged them correctly. Tess was simply an amazing tour guide (we called her mum because that’s exactly how we felt about her) not only was she fun, she took care of us, fed us, and kept us organized. Andy supplemented the tour with such interesting history and facts that I felt like I was on a school trip (in a good way!).
    All in all it was an amazing vacation, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it!
    Thank you Active Adventures for making my 30th the year to remember!
    Dani Felton Review Image
    – Florida, United States
    Rimu, November 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

    My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

    1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

    2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

    3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

    4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

    5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

    6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

    A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
    Lauren Gerth Review Image
    – Missouri, United States
    Rimu, November 2016



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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