Story: Tea, coffee and soft drinks

Page 2. Water, soft drinks and milk drinks

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Drinking water

Traditional Māori communities drew their drinking water from natural sources, as did early settlers. By the 1860s growing towns required official town water supplies, so dams, reservoirs and artesian wells were constructed. Drinking fountains were also constructed in urban places in succeeding decades.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, doctors debated whether water should be drunk with meals or not – some believed it was fine, while others suggested drinking water before and after meals.

The drinking of water with meals is not well documented in New Zealand. Hotels have always provided water with meals but how much was drunk is not known. A national food survey conducted in 1962 found only 2% of people drank water with dinner.

Bottled water became more popular in the 1990s. Prior to this, the bottled-water market was small and dominated by imported brands. A number of local bottled-water brands were launched in the early 2000s. In 2005 New Zealanders drank 14 litres of bottled water per person, compared to 63 litres per person in Australia.

The tyranny of tea

In 1905 the government balneologist, Arthur Wohlmann, commented about Paeroa’s mineral water spring that ‘I am afraid … that the universal use of tea in the Colony makes the demand for such water very limited.’1

Mineral water

Mineral water comes from springs which contain minerals. It can be still or sparkling.

Bottled mineral water was first available at health spas in the 1870s. It was believed to have beneficial effects such as preventing the formation of kidney stones and relieving indigestion. Though the health-related claims of modern bottlers are more modest, mineral water retains an air of exclusivity in the 2000s.

Carbonated drinks

Carbonated drinks are effervescent (fizzy) water-based drinks with added sugar and flavouring. Carbonated drinks like ginger beer and lemonade came to New Zealand with European settlers. These drinks were imported and manufactured commercially in New Zealand from the 1830s and were also made in the home.

Coca-Cola, arguably the world’s best-known carbonated drink, arrived in New Zealand during the Second World War. It was imported for American servicemen stationed in New Zealand and manufactured in New Zealand from 1944. Pepsi-Cola was first available in New Zealand in 1958, followed by Fanta in 1961. Local brands included Lemon & Paeroa and Foxton Fizz. Caffeinated energy drinks like V were introduced in the 1990s, and in the 2000s drinks made with organic ingredients were also available.

In 2011 New Zealanders drank around 93 litres of carbonated drinks per person.

Buyer beware

In 1896 Mrs Taylor of Riverton, Southland, was charged with selling alcohol without a liquor licence. She had sold plum wine in her confectionery shop, assured by the manufacturer that it contained only fruit juice, water and sugar, but the mixture had fermented. She was convicted and ordered to pay court costs. The case was widely reported because a follower of the temperance (anti-alcohol) movement had purchased the entire stock, believing it to be non-alcoholic.

Fruit juice and cordials

Fruit juice is the juice squeezed from fruit and is sometimes mixed with water and sugar. Cordials are sweet, concentrated fruit syrups drunk diluted with water. Cordials were produced by carbonated-drink manufacturers from the 1830s and also made by home cooks.

In the days before refrigerators, fresh fruit juice did not keep and had to be drunk soon after preparation, so juice was sometimes bottled and preserved in boiling water. Despite the name, fruit wines were not always alcoholic, and were a good way of using up surplus fruit. Because most New Zealanders had fruit trees in their gardens, making fruit juice and cordials was easy.

In the early 2000s commercially prepared fruit juice was common. New Zealanders consumed 25 litres of fruit juice per person per year.

Dairy drinks

Cows’ milk is drunk alone, added to tea and coffee and mixed with powder or syrup to create milkshakes. New Zealanders drank raw, untreated cows’ milk until around 1937, when schoolchildren were given free pasteurised (heat-treated) milk. Milk was mainly drunk pasteurised after the Department of Health banned the commercial sale of raw milk in 1953. People could buy up to 1 gallon (5 litres) of raw milk directly from farmers (this was still the case in the 2000s).

Lemon milkshake

Here is a 1908 recipe for a milkshake: ‘To two-thirds of a glass of fresh milk add enough sugar to taste and a little lemon-juice. Fill up the glass with scraped ice, cover lightly, and shake until it is light and foamy’.2

Milkshakes (cold flavoured milk shaken and made frothy) were drunk in New Zealand from at least the early 1900s. Milk bars started to open in the 1930s and became popular spots with young people, who would meet there over a milkshake. The American servicemen stationed in New Zealand during the Second World War further popularised milkshakes.

Malted milk drinks like Horlicks were popular hot beverages.

Despite the importance of the dairy industry to New Zealand’s economy, New Zealanders drink less milk than comparable nations. In 2005 New Zealanders drank 90 litres of milk each, compared to 113 litres for the United Kingdom, 106 litres for Australia and 95 litres for Canada.

  1. Quoted in Ian Rockel, Taking the waters: early spas in New Zealand. Wellington: Government Printing Office, 1986, p. 176. Back
  2. Star, 1 February 1908, p.3. Back
How to cite this page:

Kerryn Pollock, 'Tea, coffee and soft drinks - Water, soft drinks and milk drinks', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 July 2024)

Story by Kerryn Pollock, published 5 Sep 2013