Archives For Cafe Review

On Monday morning we were confronted with a major dilemma. Something akin to that moment in the operating theatre of a TV medical drama where the surgeon needs a solution, and he or she needs it stat. We needed breakfast and coffee. Bean supplies at home had dwindled to catastrophically low levels. And it was suddenly time to cut to a commercial break.

Having Mondays as a day off is less than ideal when it comes to the specialty coffee scene in Brisbane – lots of cafes offering great breakfasts aren’t open on a Monday – which I can totally understand given that a) I too have Mondays off because I do the most important part of my job on a Sunday, and b) it is Monday.

But amidst all the “closed” notifications on the Facebook pages of Brisbane’s best and brightest cafes came a beacon of hope. Sourced Grocer. A place I’d wanted to visit in something that felt like “forever” – but lets remember, this was Monday morning and I hadn’t yet had a coffee – so that’s greatly exaggerated…

Sourced is about as hipster as it gets in Brisbane, a providore of fine locavore styled fruit and veg, a grocer/deli for the gourmand, a breakfast spot and, perhaps most importantly, a Cup Coffee account.

It’s a fun and lively place, with fun and lively foodstuffs to savour.

The coffee was good, if, perhaps, lacking in the ‘body’ my coffeepanions prefer in their drinks (a flat white, and a piccolo). I had no complaints about mine – I love Cup’s roast profile, and it’s always (in my humble opinion) going to bring out the more exquisite and delicate flavours, at the expense of some of the thick, gooey, body and viscosity that you might get from a darker, oilier, roast.

I enjoyed my flat white.

I enjoyed my smashed avo.

I desired many other items both from the menu and the shelves.

I will go back. One Monday.

Crisis averted.

 

From the team of geniuses (Oxford says that’s the official plural) who brought you Bunker, comes another spectacular reclaimed space turned specialty coffee hotspot. Seriously. I believe these guys could turn anything, anywhere, into a cosy place for delivering stellar coffee experiences. And within a few weeks they’ll be offering up boutique beers as well. So you’ll never have to leave.

The name John Mills Himself comes from the building – apparently formerly a little stationery nook proprietored by John Mills, himself. The tile mosaic that greets you at the door of this space (down a hill, behind some buildings on Elizabeth St) is a beautiful homage to the store’s roots.

The exposed brick interior makes this a particularly comfortable bolthole, especially when the visual vibe is complemented by a beautiful old school bar with touches of marble, and there’s a piano. It’s a great space – and if early indications are anything to go by, once word truly gets out, these guys are going to be kept pretty busy.

I’d just been to Strauss, so didn’t have my standard flat white. And even if I had, I wouldn’t want to talk about it. The coffees at JMH are supplied by three of my absolute favourite roasters – Cup, Uncle Joe’s, and The Single Guys – Marcus from Bunker/JMH spent a fair bit of time trying to figure out how to both minimise drink miles and recognise the incredible standard of coffee roasting in Brisbane, when I spoke to him a while back he was trying to narrow down his choice, but I think the rotating approach, for a non-roaster, is both spectacularly generous to other parties in the Brisbane scene and a win for punters. I have no doubt that had I enjoyed a traditional espresso based drink John Mills Himself would have well acquitted the task. But I want to talk about something else.

The best filter coffee I’ve ever had.

This, believe it or not, is a revolution.

It was poured using the espresso machine. And why not? It is a multi-thousand dollar water heater. This approach was pioneered by St Ali’s Matt Perger at the World Barista Championships last year (video), and while Marcus took his lead from Matt’s approach, the finer details are of his own making. And the man has a palate.

If you’re not a coffee geek – you just need to know that this particular coffee, using an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe roasted by Uncle Joe’s, was delicate, sweet, fruity, and exceptionally well balanced.

If you are a coffee geek – or are aspiring to be – you need to know a little bit about brew ratios and stuff. Here’s how Matt Perger explains his approach to the “Coffee Shot” in PDF form.

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 6.47.09 am

 

Image: From the PDF mentioned above

Unlike Matt’s approach – which involved running the beans through a Mahlkonig EK-43 – a grinder not traditionally used for espresso production in a cafe setting (read more about the EK-43 from James Hoffman, a former World Barista Champion – Marcus is using a stock standard Mazzer Robur. Which he believes delivers a better flavour.

To really understand the geekery here – you’ll need to read up on coffee extraction percentages (James Hoffman again – weight of coffee to weight of drink produced) and “strength” which uses Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) as a measure (Gizmodo this time – concentration of coffee particles in the liquid). For a quick primer from wikipedia:

Extraction (Also known as “solubles yield”) – what percentage (by weight) of the grounds are dissolved in the water.

Strength (Also known as “solubles concentration”) – how concentrated or watery the coffee is.

Brew ratio – The ratio of coffee grounds (mass, in grams ) to water (volume, in litres): how much coffee is used for a given quantity of water.

Perger’s “Coffee Shots” challenged conventional ratios:

“Coffee shots reach and exceed an extraction yield of 24%; far above the now industry standard 18-22%.”

At the WBC, Matt Perger filtered his Coffee Shots through filter paper – JMH is doing this too. But they’ve adopted a slightly different approach. According to Marcus (if I heard correctly) their extraction ratio, from 19 grams of coffee, is closer to conventional (19%), but they are diluting the shots, with water, to achieve 7 grams per 100 mL (7%). I jotted this down on my phone’s notepad app after listening to Marcus – so I may have some of the figures slightly wrong.

Anyway. Coffee geekery over.

All you need to know is that these guys are serious about their coffee, in a seriously cool place. And that should be enough for you to check them out.

From the coffee artists who brought you Cup, and Merriweather, comes Strauss – a beautifully realised and aesthetically delightful alley cafe on Elizabeth Street in Brisbane’s CBD. Where Cup (now sold), and the Cup Roastery (still roasting deliciousness), have nailed the hipster vibe, Strauss picks up its cues from Merriweather, offering something charming, polished, and professional.

Did I mention it’s in an alley.

Coffee is all about precision – and nobody gets that like Josh from Cup, and the members of the Cup family who are now branching out. Strauss is a labour of love and precision. Everything – from layout, to fitout, to output – benefits from this recipe. Even the ceiling speaks of an eye to detail and a passion for quality.

I had the Rwandan Cyebumba as a flat white and an espresso. My flat white was good, but a touch on the hot side, and it was, as I was rightly warned, better without the milk. The shot was like a citrus punch to the face. In a good way. Orangey. My wife had a piccolo on the house blend – which she said was stunning.


 

Strauss serves a fairly limited but tasty looking brunch menu and is arguably the reason that Brisbane is now the coolest city in Australia (allegedly). Well. Not single handedly.

It’s definitely worth tracking down – and all of a sudden there are a handful of coffee options that I can recommend to people in Brisbane’s CBD.

The Cup empire is expanding. Coffee lovers rejoice.

Merriweather (also on Facebook) is the lovingly and carefully conceived offspring of the Cup team – it’s even on the same street as the mother ship. It boasts the same incredible attention to aesthetics. The same simple fare with a slightly decadent touch, and the same approach to the bean. Near perfection.

This was my French Fruit toast with poached quince and Mascarpone. From memory (my visit to Merriweather was a couple of weeks ago – the review has been delayed somewhat by the arrival of my baby boy). It was delicious.

The coffee menu is, as one would expect from Cup, spectacular – featuring a special house blend, a single origin, and the expertise of some fine baristas behind the stunning Kees Van der Western Spirit – there’s also pourover if that’s your cup of coffee.

I described this flat white as “brown sugar in a cup” – sadly, thanks once again to my failing memory – I can’t remember where it was from. But I can remember the taste like it was yesterday.

Merriweather is set up in the ground floor of the brand new Vine building on the corner of Russell and Merrivale. Josh – the brains, hands, and creativity behind Cup is a candidate for some sort of cafe edition of The Block – the fit out is his craftsmanship. It is simply stunning.

Clean. Simple. Elegant. The attention to detail extends to the coffees – or perhaps from the coffees outwards. Long may they reign.

Suburban cafes are the new black. And it takes something special to standout in a sea of black.

Enter Esher St. I should make something like a disclosure here. It’s hard for me to be impartial about this place, owner Jia Brooks is a guy I’ve known since we both lived in Townsville. He taught me how to make coffee. He’s a good bloke. So I want this place to do well. But I promise not to be biased.

Esher St is part cafe, part gift shop, part deli, part delicious. It offers cracking food, all day – we’ve been there for breakfast in the morning and breakfast in the late afternoon. Last time we were there they had a fresh batch of cookies coming steaming out of the oven. The cookies were good.

The deli range is fun to browse. The gifts are nifty. The food is incredible. Seriously. Hearty and full of flavour. Go the “Esher St” – it is rich and warm and nourishing.

The coffee is from Veneziano, where Jia was working before kicking this place off.

I’m a fan. It’s a well balanced blend, and if Jia is behind the machine it won’t just look good, it’ll taste good too. The guy has plenty of experience making great coffee. I can attest to that.

If you are too, and you like their blend done right, with a bit of flair, check this place out. It’s already popular with the mum set from Tarragindi.

The Brisbane cafe scene could be a bit of a dog fight if it wasn’t full of such nice people – so the Red Baron is appropriately named. It’s a customised, kitted out, shipping container in the car park of an office building in Milton.

The team serve up Veneziano’s beans with a degree of finess. I like Veneziano cafes at the not quite best of times – but the Red Baron is up there with the mother ship in terms of quality.

They’ve got a tasty selection of food (we had a muffin). And a bit of a sense of humour to boot.


“In the event of a Zombie Apocalypse please proceed to rooftop in an orderly manner.”


The staff (I assume the guys driving the machine while I was there were the owners – from what I gather from a bit of online detective work, they’re brothers) are very friendly and up for a chat.

Snoopy would be well and truly at home in this little high flier.

Grindhouse is a longtime favourite of mine, coming in my top 10 in 2012. So I’ve been keen to check out their new Roasting HQ, the Odyssey Project, in Milton for a while.

It lives up to its name. The coffee, the South + Central blend, roasted in-house and pouring from a La Marzocco Strada, is epic. Delicious.

The roastery is a stripped back warehouse – there’s nice polished cement, wooden benches, and timber stools. The aesthetic is comfortable, the space is cozy. There’s plenty of parking around, both on and off street. It’s great.

Ordering is simple – the menu is nice and stripped back, but there’s plenty of variety in the beans on offer depending on what’s going through the probat under Roaster Bob’s keen curation.

The coffee is great. The blend is well balanced, sweet, and punchy. It’s smooth in milk, silky even. I highly recommend it – the Odyssey is worth the trip. So does my little one.

I’ve been meaning to check Plantation Coffee Roasters out for pretty much the entire 2.5 months they’ve been open. And today was our lucky day. A trip to West End for breakfast, and 15 minutes spare on our parking meter was a perfect window to jump through to check out this new addition to West End’s specialty coffee scene.

plantation

Shaf started out roasting as a wholesaler with accounts like Shucked, I reviewed a Costa Rican he roasted and it was one of my favourite coffees in 2011, he’s no longer supplying Shucked, but he’s using that experience to eke out his spot in West End, his clean little space has already drummed up a community of committed locals. The house blend is an improved version of his original Shucked blend, with the benefit of significant time refining his palette, and the blend’s dynamic. The result is, not surprisingly, refined. There’s a really nice balance, it rolls around the tongue and slides down the throat like silk.

plantation flat white

Shaf is pulling shots on a shiny La Marzocco, and offering the blend plus a rotating single origin (he’s recently featured that Costa Rican. There’s a cake cabinet filled with delicious looking bits of baked goodery, and a relatively comfortable space to hang out and watch life unfold on West End’s Boundary Street – it’s located at number 140 Boundary Street.

Very few cafes offer the experience to be genuinely served by a hospitable rock star. But rock on up to the counter at the South Side Tea Room and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be warmly welcomed by at least one member of The Grates. I’ve been meaning to get here since I heard Patience from the Grates doing an interview about their newest project – a Brisbane cafe focusing on providing the sort of tea and coffee experience they’d enjoyed while recording their last album in New York.

The South Side Tea Rooms are warm, quirky and eclectic – kind of like your grandma’s loungeroom, if your grandma was a school teacher who pinched a few classic Australian school desks to use as tables. They’re serving up Dramanti’s lovely coffee – and I’ve never seen a piccolo glass quite like this one.

The coffee was good – the menu looks fun. There’s a bar boasting some boutique beers and other goodies… it’s a fun place. By all accounts the vibe changes at night and the space hosts gigs and events pretty regularly.

It’s also incredibly kid friendly. We arrived and were offered a high chair or some chalk, for floor drawing.

Our 15 month old had lots of fun with that, while we enjoyed our coffees. They were great. Rich and smooth, with a great lingering sweet aftertaste, like a good Dramanti coffee should be – the milk was not too hot, and was well textured. I have no complaints. This place rocks.

It might not be everyone’s cup of tea – but it oozes character and hospitality. One patron was sitting on a couch reading a book while we were there, another came in for a quick coffee and a chin wag… I’ll be back.

Find the Southside Tea Room on Facebook, or check out their fun website.

Ltd Espresso + Brew bar in Fortitude Valley lives up to its wall decal… it serves up coffee worth lining up for (and I don’t think they’re species specific…).

I’ve been meaning to check Ltd out since just about when they opened – but life gets in the way. Learn from my mistake. Get here.

Ltd is all about the coffee. Luke, the owner, has been in the coffee game for a long time, and his experience working as a consultant for other cafes around south east Queensland is coming home to roost. His vision, which he’s very passionate about, is a coffee bar where people can walk up, chat, and have a coffee experience as their beverage is produced to order in front of them. He’s also one of the nicest guys I’ve met, and was incredibly keen to get feedback not just from me, but from every customer who came through the doors.

They’re a Cleanskin account, and are regularly rotating their way through Cleanskin’s assortment of sensational blends, and single origins. The menu is simple. Black. White. Brewed. You can ask for your own variations in terms of size, milk, extra shots and sugar.

Today Luke was serving up Cleanskin’s Blend 13, and an Ethiopian Karote as his single origin espresso, and the brew bar had just ticked over from a Kenyan to a Guatemalan (I think). I’m a sucker for over-caffeination, so I tried them all.

The Strada, replete with wooden handled portafilters and customised tamper handle steam wands, is beautiful. The whole black+white+wood tones look is so hot right now. There’s a lot to love about a simple fitout with an assortment of eclectic odds and ends to make it a bit personable.

Luke is also the first Brisbane barista I’ve talked to who is really getting into the pressure profiling thing with the Strada, and the fruit of his experimentation is in the cup – his coffees using a blend I’m reasonably familiar with tastes like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and the two espressos he served up on the Karote tasted remarkably different as a 10 gram single with a 50 second extraction and a long, soft, pre-infusion, and as the standard offering. The single basket was silky and balanced, the standard fare was really fruity and delicious, but probably not quite so well rounded. I prefered the fruity one. But it was marginal.

Luke’s excited about the potential that pressure profiling is bringing to the coffee game, and after this morning, I am too.

Hit Ltd up on Facebook – but more importantly, head in to the valley, check out Reverends a couple of doors up, and have a nice little journey for the tastebuds.