Thursday, 5:00pm
22 September 2016

Coffee in NZ – an unfiltered scrapbook

Coffee Houses of Wellington 1939–1979; coffee in pre-espresso New Zealand

By Craig Miller

Many great projects would never exist without one person’s unreasonable obsession. Did any publisher ever think that what the world needs now is a book about the coffee houses of Wellington, 1939-79? Or commission a focus group to test it?

Yet this book – by New Zealand coffee roaster Craig Miller – is a cornucopia of obscure pictures and facts, which benefits from extensive visual research and detailed accounts of three pioneering coffee houses in the North Island: Suzy’s Coffee Lounge, Chez Eelco and The Coffee Gallery.

Neon sign for the Casa Fontana Coffee Lounge, Wellington, 1959. Duncan Winder Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL) / Evening Post Collection, ATL.
Top: Advertisement for Fagg’s Coffee from the late 1950s or early 60s.
Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Suzy van de Kwast, ‘the Queen of Cona’, in Suzy’s Coffee Bar, Wellington, 1964.

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To a certain extent, the book functions as a scrapbook: a large number of images assembled in a deliberately ‘artless’ fashion. There is no design credit. The main narrative text and captions have a simplicity that echoes the archive pictures. A picture of a cheery young coffee-drinker is captioned ‘The Modern woman enjoys taking time out in the coffee house, by herself or with others.’

Wardell’s Espresso Coffee Lounge, with Gaggia espresso machine.

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Classic WMF Espresso machine, ca. late 1950s.

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Sections of the book go into great detail about Cona machines, milk bottles, cups and glassware, and the text maintains an engaging tone of celebratory innocence.

Together with family snapshots, sketches, paintings, street views, coffee packaging, newspaper cuttings (including dozens of kitsch small ads) and and magazine tear sheets, the collection adds up to an unfiltered, unprecedented, mid-century retro treat.

Cover of Coffee Houses of Wellington 1939 to 1979 showing a photo of Suzy’s Coffee Lounge by J. Daley, 1968.

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