Growing up in Wellington, it’s hard not to become a coffee snob. There are more cafes per capita there than anywhere else on Earth. One of my major reservations about coming to live here in Samoa was the idea that there would be terrible coffee, or worse - none! - ridiculous! -
This place is becoming a world-class hub. I’ve met resident baristas from Wellington, Melbourne and now California, - not to say that our locals aren’t making amazing coffees – they’re probably some of the best I’ve ever had (you know who you are Mrs. Daily) – so yeah, I wonder when Apia will take the title of most cafés per capita!
So I like to get around and try everywhere for coffee. I quite fancy myself a coffee connoisseur and am laughing at myself for thinking that I’ll ever quit – I tried. It’s never going to happen.
I tried to get up to the opening of the Tiapapata Art Gallery and exhibition “Colours of Samoa,” a celebration of 25 years making and teaching art. The string ensemble of the National Orchestra of Samoa played some classical interpretations of Samoan songs and from what I hear it was a pretty fabulous day. A few weeks before that the Art Centre hosted a celebration of International Jazz Day, another event I’d tried to get to. I have a bit of a thing with crowds, they freak me out. It’s always my intention to go to such gatherings but I always find some excuse to read a book or sit on a beach to write instead. Last week I thought I’d go up to the gallery cafe to check it out (mid week, nice and quiet).
Just past the Bahá’í temple at Tiapapata is the gravel road leading to the large balconied gallery and café – I was in luck, nice and quiet indeed. There were a few coffee art fiends lunching and enjoying the views and the singing birds, but no crowds, just how I like it...
I sat down and was welcomed by a segasegamau‘u, the red-hooded Cardinal Honeyeater who has been affectionately named Birdnando. He remained a fixture watching himself in the gallery windows and being generally gorgeous throughout my couple hours of bliss. This place is beautiful, with an expansive vista of lush green trees accompanied by birdsong caught on the cool, light breeze. This is when I decided my coffee break would become my second lunch break (yes, I am part
Hobbit). I was lucky enough to be served by Wendy Percival, the owner of the gallery and café. She talked me through the menu, telling how they’re making their own breads, bagels and ice creams. Even the café furniture was built by artists at the centre. Wendy, who has lived in Samoa for 30 years now, has a passion for cooking nutritious and delicious food matched only by her passion for making art. I decided,
as it was my second lunch for the day, to order an antipasto platter with some of the homemade bread and asked Wendy to join me. We sat sipping cold turmeric, ginger and lime drinks whilst nibbling on olives and feta, dipping bread into olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Heaven.
She told me about how 8 years ago there was a fire which burned the old multifunction gallery/workshop building down. They lost a lot of precious art and have slowly been rebuilding. Six years ago they built a new art studio where you can take classes in pottery, textile printing and many other art classes.
And now they’ve built the gallery/cafe space. Like a phoenix from the flame, this place is epic. Sometimes tragedy can offer new opportunities and the Percivals havecertainly made the most from that tragedy.
With a 5-meter (16 feet) high ceiling, the gallery is spacious, filled with light and birdsong. Decorating the walls and standing on plinths are works of art made by local artists and visiting artists who come to stay with Wendy and her husband Steve. Samoa, as you know, is quite the destination for lovers of colour, culture and nature, so you can imagine the characters that are being drawn here. Wendy’s husband
Steve is a documentary filmmaker and the gallery has a drop down screen for showing his films. I’ve only seen one of his documentaries(controversial and thought provoking to say the least, my kinda cuppa). I’m looking forward to dinner and documentary screenings here in the future!
The atmosphere at the café is wonderful. I’m drawn both inside to view the art pieces, as well as outside to enjoy the majestic views and the singing of native birds that populate the surrounding bush. The food is sublime and I can’t help but order more food and drinks... I tried the homemade frozen raspberry yoghurt and another turmeric and lime drink (must get the recipes!) before finally moving on to the long
awaited coffee; top marks! Yes! Another place to hang out and drink boss coffee! Livia, who volunteered at the art centre for two years and is now enjoying Samoa as a tourist, is an artist and barrister from California.
She has passed on her skills and flare of coffee art to café staff. Wendy was so welcoming, giving me a guided tour of the art pieces in the gallery and a behind-the-scenes explanation of some of the pieces. It’s always great to hear what the artist was experiencing at the time of creating. We walked through stories of potters, locals and visitors to Samoa. There is one piece in particular that I really love – it’s a painting of a blue guy smiling and one day, if it’s still there, it shall be mine!
After my delicious feast and gallery tour I took a walk through the gardens and checked out the traditional Samoan fale lashed entirely with ‘afa (coconut sennit) and without the use of any nails. It is such a beautiful structure and the tropical garden surrounding it is stunning. Wendy tells me they’re in the process of making a herb and vegetable garden for the café. In addition to her formal education in
art, she has a background in acupuncture, traditional Chinese medicine and a passion for nutrition, and this manifests itself in the café’s menu. You can find the Art Centre open Monday to Saturday, 10am – 4pm.
There will be ongoing events and exhibitions, like the jazz and string ensemble day, to enjoy with your coffee and meals and you can stay updated with the Art Centre’s goings on by visiting their Facebook page. Get up there and meet little Birdnando, the coffee is sublime and the food has me drooling as I’m thinking about it.