The Development of New Zealand's Coffee Culture

Friday 28 June 2019, 11:32PM
By Beckie Wright

New Zealand has a hard-earned reputation as country of innovation and ingenuity. Our knack for breaking ground is evident across many facets of our culture, even into our love of coffee.

New Zealand’s coffee history is storied, originating with the appearance of milk bars in Wellington to serve American troops during WW2, and the subsequent introduction of espresso by European immigrants in the 1950s.

After a dip in the 60s and a big resurgence in 80s and 90s, New Zealand’s per capita consumption of coffee now ranks among top 20 in the world. At nearly a cup a day per person, NZ ranks ahead of America and Australia, but behind the Netherlands and Finland, who are both closer to two cups a day per person!

One of the most unique things about New Zealand is its location in the world. This is – at least in part – why we tend to end up doing things our own way. Way down here, people tend not to worry too much about what we’re doing, and we’re able to take this and turn into an advantage – freedom to trailblaze.

NZ steered away from very darkly roasted European espresso, but also didn’t opt for an overabundance of frothed milk and clashing flavours – so we invented the flat white. There is some contention about this with Australia, but this is more or less just par for the course between the two neighbours.

The flat white has since become a hallmark of New Zealand coffee, and was a figurehead of ‘third-wave’ specialty coffee as it spread to the UK, and eventually America too.

In terms of innovation today, growth is less focused on the brewing of coffee, and can instead be found at the source; in the growing of it.

Many New Zealand roasters are redefining what is meant by ‘specialty’ coffee through the partnerships they forge with their suppliers. More than ever before, producers are working with buyers and roasters in order to drive up quality of crops. The changes being made on farms are by far the biggest factor in moving the culture of coffee at large, and it seems like that will be true going forward, too.  

To learn more about NZ coffee culture and coffee brewing guide, visit