And Then There Was That Business about the Coffee

Being in New Zealand is forcing me to confront all my missteps and another thing  I caught a surprising amount of flack for (this time from the urban literati) was my description in Come on Shore of a particular drink I used to have in the Far North as “what passes for coffee in New Zealand.” It was a kind of powdered instant that we drank with hot water and plenty of milk and sugar. I always enjoyed it-—I still do—I just didn’t think it resembled coffee very much.

Anyway, this clearly irked a segment of the NZ population, who will waste no time in telling you that the coffee served in New Zealand is the best in the world. Twenty years on (from the time I was describing) I would have to agree. We have had coffee everywhere and it has been unilaterally exceptional: huge cups of a great dark brew with beautiful foamy milk. So, clearly, that’s another line I’ll have to change in the second edition.

You know, I would never have been able to write that book if I’d been living in New Zealand—another illustration of the principle I mentioned in an earlier post about how we see things clearest at a distance. Working from memory can be exceptionally fruitful; it forces (or perhaps allows) you to tighten the focus, but, by the same token, it almost invariably has a warping effect—the natural consequence, I think, of selectivity.

Ok, enough philosophizing. I will leave you with one of my favorite pictures from the trip so far. I call it “Contemplation à deux.”

Abraham and me

The Last Uninhabited Land

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Editor of Harvard Review and author of "Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia" and "Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All."

13 thoughts on “And Then There Was That Business about the Coffee”

  1. Friends who immigrated here long before we did tell me that just 25 years ago the only coffee you could get was instant, and the only wine you could get was sweet. My, how things have changed!
    Here in New Plymouth, the town rolled up its sidewalks at 6:00 P.M. on week days, and the streets were completely empty on weekends. The plus side was that families spent more time to gether. Now, they spend it at the mall…seperately.

    1. Well, that’s interesting because the time I was describing was, in fact, 25 years ago. I don’t know why I didn’t date it more clearly; it certainly would have made things a little clearer and might have deflected some of the complaints too about the way I Anglicized certain Maori words (which no one does anymore, but which everyone did back in the day). Ah well, live and learn.

      1. Not knowing when these events in your book took place did leave me scratching my head. At the same time a good copy editor should have picked that up unless he/she is sans a sense of chronology. C’est domage!

  2. yes great photo!
    I agree, coffee in NZ is fantastic. Not sure what you were drinking before? Tx for the posts – great fun to follow you and fandamily on your travels.

  3. Forget the coffee ……. the photo of Abraham above, specifically the object in his right hand, would indicate that he is already drinking like a local; 🙂

  4. Yes, years ago the only coffee you could get was instant or brewed. Now at McDonald’s you can even get a decent espresso or cappuccino as we found out on Xmas day when all the cafes were closed.

    The Kiwi’s won’t admit it, but the coffee/cafe culture drifted first to Wellington from Melbourne Australia, then worked it’s way through the rest of the country. Ah, how I wish it find it’s way over to the US of A.

  5. Trust the kiwis to be so defensive – the “coffee” was – past tense – awful, relax Chris, if it wasn’t the coffee comment it would be some other perceived criticism they would be offended about. I love the pictures and blog, how amazing and beautiful the country is. I had almost forgotten that spectacular scenery – it’s bringing back fond memories for me. Are you heading across to Aust. before home?

    1. Dear Natalie: this is a rather belated reply, but I just wanted to say that it’s nice to be in touch again. I’m really hoping to get back to Oz for some period, not in the immediate future, but at some point when the kids are through with school. Are you in Sydney now? I thought you were still in WA….

  6. Why does that gorgeous hair of yours never get messed up, the New Zealand winds and sea crossings and all? I need only step outside and mine begins to stand on end…

  7. We’ll be in Oz briefly to see, yes, yet another member of Seven’s family, my dearest sister-in-law, Mere. We’ll also try to see a few old friends, though there’s no way we’ll get to see everyone. Obviously what we need is a semester, or better still, a whole year back this way. I’m going to start keeping an eye on the visiting lecturer gigs…if you hear of anything…

  8. Curiosity led me to search for “flack” in a few online dictionaries. All of the American dictionaries say “‘flak’, also ‘flack'”. OED only has “flak” for the sense you use above. Interesting.

    One thing that’s come across clear in this blog is that you and Abraham are almost eerily alike. “Contemplation a deux” drives that home.

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