The Kiwis know how to make a good cup of coffee. I love the states, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s fair to say that they could definitely teach us a thing or two about a beverage Americans go nuts for. This summer I stumbled across the definition of a hidden gem. If you travel to the South Island of New Zealand by ferry, you’ll find yourself in a cute little town called Picton. Head south about 20 minutes and you’ll end up in Blenheim, the most populous town in the region of Marlborough. Nestled right on the main strip thrives a small, buzzing café known as Ritual.
Just as New Zealand is such a young, growing country, the history behind Ritual is quite young as well. Back in 2009, owner Matt Hellriegel began roasting coffee by himself while working in a coffee cart in Picton. Gradually, more and more wholesale coffee customers became interested as time went by. In 2012, Matt and his mother, Heather McAlpine, began searching for the perfect location to open up a café. They put in an offer for an old tea room café (formerly Cruizies) and found success.
Dan Gillett joined the Ritual team in October of 2013 with a view of growing it’s wholesale coffee business and running a new dinner service three nights per week. The night atmosphere differs from the day in that people have much more time to sit and enjoy their meals with family and friends (and they’re BYOB!). “The goals are still the same,” Dan explains. In the heart of the Marlborough region, Ritual offers an eclectic array of wines — always organic, local, intriguing and well-priced at only NZ$9 a glass.
While I personally despise the term “guilt-free” (all food should be eaten without guilt) many use this term to characterize Ritual’s menu, offering healthy and delicious plates made with all-natural ingredients. All of the meat and animal products used at Ritual are free-range and all produce is organic whenever possible. This place would thrive in the Pacific Northwest, or Boulder, or Vermont…just to name a few.
Ritual started as an idea for a community-oriented café open to all walks of life while providing fresh, nourishing, seasonal food in a pleasant environment. Sure, it’s New Zealand, where you can get caffeinated in style and find good eats anywhere in the country, but the differences that set Ritual apart from the rest aren’t so much product based as they are experience based. “We pride ourselves on giving excellent friendly service and creating a warm, inviting atmosphere,” says Dan, “all the while providing excellent food at an accessible price.”
Aesthetically rich with kiwi culture, Ritual offers something for everyone. No matter what hour of the day, you’re bound to find yourself jamming to one song or another, whether it’s Alt-J or Al Green. From the bookshelf to the bathroom, Ritual’s decor is on point. The chairs are retro and tastefully mismatched, and the tables are collaged with cutouts from old-school nature magazines and historic Maori legends. The bathroom is lit by a hanging lantern overhead, and the walls are plastered with old newspapers and 1960’s Woman’s Day magazines. Looking to pass the time? What better way than a game of Jenga or Dominos, or perhaps looking into the Wes Anderson Collection or Monty Python’s complete book. Aside from their main menu, Ritual always has a fully-stocked jar of bliss balls – delicious and healthy raw treats (great for “take-away”, or to-go). Just in for coffee? Make sure to get it “have here” (for here) and see which part of the world your collector’s teaspoon is from.
One difference between New Zealand and the States is that they really, really hold quality above quantity. They don’t mind waiting ten minutes for their “cuppa” as long as it’s a great one (latte art and all). Ritual coffee is offered in one blend and one blend only. “We don’t offer ten mediocre blends,” says Dan, “but rather the one that we have tweaked over the past six years to produce the best espresso roast possible.” Blending Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Peruvian Norte, Guatemalan Huehuetenango and Mexican Chiapas, the Ritual blend is born. The beans are certified organic and fair trade where they are imported, and then roasted separately by origin in Marlborough before being blended.
While Dan, Matt and Heather all have slightly different and respectively unique goals for Ritual, they share the dream of wanting their coffee and food to be widely consumed and enjoyed by all. Ritual’s success is owing to the hard work and continual effort from the entire staff, to improving on what they currently do and to remaining savvy for new ideas they can create in the future.
Maybe I’m just going through withdrawals, but I think the states could really benefit from a place like this. What began as a small coffee cart hoping to expand turned into much more than that: a cozy, inviting home-away-from-home, perfect for locals, travelers, and anyone looking for a great cup of coffee, cool people and rad conversation.
Location: 10 Maxwell Rd, Blenheim 7201, New Zealand
Hours of operation: Mon-Wed 7am-4:30pm, Thurs-Sat 7am-10:30pm