136 Cuba St, Te Aro, Wellington
Opens 7am daily except 7.30 Sun; closes 10pm except 9pm Mon, 11.30pm Fri, Sat
Porridge $15; Grinder coffee, Simpli Ci tea
Espressoholic first opened on Willis St in 1989, making it part of the new wave of cafés offering espresso coffee in the 1990s and rivalling Midnight Espresso as the grungy cool place to hang out. From 1991 to 2009 it was in Courtenay Place in the premises now occupied by Enigma, before taking over a continental bakery in Cuba Street just above Cuba Mall.
Its early-to-late opening hours, high foot traffic location, and plain and filling food mean it gets a pretty varied clientele – mainly, I suspect, of people simply united by a desire for something to eat that isn’t going to set them back a whole lot.
The porridge seems to fit in well to my characterisation of plain and filling. It is billed on the menu as ‘served with home-made berry compote and honey’. That description rather overstates the offering, for the quantity of compote I received was, well, stingy. A desertspoonful at most perhaps. The porridge itself, by contrast, was more than ample in volume. And it was nice and hot. It was perfectly fine, but I am struggling to remember any distinctive qualities. It was made from rolled oats and it was smooth and creamy… I did appreciate being asked whether I wanted honey topping or not.
The Americano coffee (no filter) was good. The Grinders coffee served is ‘Brazil style’ for espresso according to their website, and roasted in Auckland.
The décor tries hard to be something, but I don’t know what that is exactly. A lot of it is coffee themed, but in a rather incoherent way, as though graphics have just been pulled off an internet site and stuck up. By my recollection the black and white floor tiles are from the former bakery but nearly everything else has changed. And it is a long way from the grunge-chic days of the café’s time in Courtney Place.
The strangest thing though, and bearing the least coherence with the main section, is the side room with a large colour photo mural of a Dutch canal on one wall and coffee or wine-related graphics on the others. I’m reminded of graphic art sample books of the pre-internet 1970s and 80s. The ceiling panel lights are super bright and exposes patrons to a clinical glare. If the coffee business ever flags and cannabis is legalised this would make a good growing room.
The oddest part of this is a narrow room glassed off at the very front of it which has three stools and a concertina window. I guess it is the smoking section. On a warm day it might be the best place to sit if there are no smokers. You can feel part of the street without actually being in it.
A pretty straight-forward porridge with minimal embellishment, but overpriced for what it is. You can get cheaper porridge with the same or more topping at other places like Arabica and Urban on Manners, not to mention Espressoholic’s original rival Midnight Espresso just up the road.
Maybe it’s the early opening hours, low patronage, no-nonsense food and the name, but I can’t help thinking of Espressoholic as the sort of place you would want to recover from a hangover. If only it wasn’t for those bright lights.
Reviewed August 2020.
Menus, ingredients and opening hours may change. Check with eatery before you visit.