Brisbane Cafe Review: John Mills Himself, CBD

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.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Strauss, CBD

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.

Brisbane Cafe Review, Merriweather, South Brisbane

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.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Red Baron, Milton

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.

Brisbane Cafe Review, The Odyssey Project, Milton

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.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Plantation Coffee Roasters, West End

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.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Ltd Espresso + Brew Bar, Fortitude Valley

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.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Fort Specialty Coffee, North Lakes

If I was a little boy again my fort would definitely have a coffee machine.

It’s never too young to start appreciating good coffee. The guys at Fort Specialty Coffee have gone in the other direction, their comic page encrusted set up features a bunch of boy’s toys including nerf guns, figurines, a collection of base/basketball caps, and some seriously good coffee.


Look up. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman…

I brought a crew of people from a college getaway we were having around the corner and even with so many people arriving at once, the service was sharp (in a good way) and the coffee was flawless. We were all very happy.

They’re pouring shots out of a matte black La Marzocco, and featuring a purpose built house blend from Cleanskin and at the moment a single origin from Cup (interestingly, Josh from Cup has a nice little piece on his blog about the challenges presented by and for multi-roaster cafes).

The absolute standout was the Ethiopian Koke (the house blend was pretty special too). As a flat white. It knocked my socks off. I haven’t had a mouthful of berries like that since eating actual berries. It was amazing. Seriously. There’s also bottled cold brew in the fridge.

Who can complain about boys and their toys when they’re being used to create the sort of vibe that Fort has going for it, or when the more expensive toys are being used to produce flavours like this.

Brisbane Cafe Review: The Single Guys, Kenmore

Do you believe in love at first sight? Then The Single Guys might be for you.

It’s a pretty deer place.

I’d been on an awkward coffee date in Kenmore – not because of the company – but because of the venue, when an old friend, a Kenmore local, offered to buy me a coffee his local cafe a few months ago. It wasn’t awful, but I wouldn’t call them back. So even though I knew I’d be in pretty safe hands this time around, I was hoping that something was going to substantially raise the bar in Kenmore, just in case history repeated itself on this front…

The Single Guys is pretty much what you get when you mix a passion for quality, small lot, passionately roasted fine coffee, a no-fuss aesthetic, the experience of co-operating one of the best cafes in Brisbane, and the lessons one learns from strong connections to other successful people in the coffee scene.

That’s the recipe for the kind of dating profile that scores you a second date in the world of online romance – or the specialty coffee merry-go-round.

Ben Graham is one of the men behind The Single Guys – and you’ll probably find him behind the machine, a shiny La Marzocoo, pouring shots using beans he has sourced, blended, and roasted. Ben was one of the men behind One Drop, still capably producing delicious coffee in Fortitude Valley – which for a long time rated as my wife’s favourite coffee stop.

He’s also a big fan of Dandelion and Driftwood and like many other people in the Brisbane industry seems to have benefited from both observing and conversing with team Wolff. Suburban coffee is where it’s at. And if you want to wow a crowd – and the crowd gathered in the Single Guys Kenmore spot after just two weeks is testimony to this – you’ve got to deliver an experience.

From coffee, to fit out, to the simple, but tasty, breakfast menu – The Single Guys is an experience to travel for – there are plenty of car parks handy, both a small lot in front of the store, and in the shopping centre and gym car parks on either side of the corner block.

I loved it. It’s a big contender for number one slot on my top 10 for 2013 and it’s only the 14th of January. I’ll have to keep going back just to make sure I don’t forget how good this first experience was. It helps that Ben and his staff are just lovely people, and the customer service was excellent. There really wasn’t anything to complain about.

I had a flat white on the house blend (it was so good I bought a bag of beans to take home), and a ‘spro on the featured Costa Rican single origin (where the name comes from, I’d guess). The shot came after my tasty bacon and egg breakfast burger with a zippy relish, so I couldn’t quite split the flavour of the delicious breakfast from the smooth espresso, but it clearly wasn’t bitter or stringent, because it went down a treat.

My flat white and Robyn’s picolo were just sensational. The first sip had us both making happy noises – the blend, which Ben said may contain traces of peanuts (flavour – not actual nuts), delivered a smooth, creamy and delicious coffee experience. It was so nicely balanced, in my humble opinion, and had a charming butterscotchy sort of caramel sweetness and a little bit of a fruity taste towards the finish. It’s a great coffee for milky drinks.

The food was fresh, tasty, and featured really delightful mixes of flavours at a great cafe breakfast price, most items on the menu seemed to be within $3 (higher or lower) of the $10 mark. I had, as I mentioned, the brioche burger, Robyn went for the mushrooms…

I like to think, at times, that part of the process of writing reviews for cafes is providing some sort of constructive feedback about things that I thought could be improved… if you’re too effusive as a reviewer your credibility gets shot a little. I’m willing to put my credibility on the line here – although I did make one suggestion to Ben – open up a store on the south side…

The Single Guys is open 7 days, across the road from the Kenmore Village Shopping centre on Moggil Road. You can, and should, hit them up on Facebook.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Cup Specialty Coffee Roastery, Woolloongabba

I love Cup.

If I’m meeting anybody in West End, that’s where I go (even if a megafranchise has tried to coin the idea that you meet somewhere that has horribly overroasted coffee).

But the problem with Cup at West End is that it’s so popular that sometimes seating (and parking nearby) isn’t so readily available.

This is the price you pay for consistently serving up amazing coffee, both the changing (based on season, taste, and goodness), but consistently grand Five Star Day blend, and a range of single origin delights. Produced on some of Brisbane’s nicest coffee kit, or served up as meticulously prepared filter coffee.

It’s easy to see why Cup is popular. They’ve been picking up some pretty nice little cafe accounts too – including Blackboard Specialty Coffee on the Gold Coast, The Little Prince in Woolloongabba, and the Rogue Rennard in Paddington.

The lack of space, and the amount of roasting that must be required to service these classy outlets, has produced something beautiful. A new roastery/cafe in Woolloongabba. As I was driving home from this new warehouse space today I was thinking that with Cup, Grindhouse, and Uncle Joe’s on my route to or from the city there’s a nice little coffee crawl itinerary just waiting for a lazy Saturday morning. I’m feeling a little bit spoilt for choice in my corner of Brisbane’s south side at the moment. My Brisbane top ten is going to be even harder to come up with this year, especially given I haven’t even managed to get to some of my old favourites.

I mentioned the “cafe as fourth place” thing in my review of Reverends the other day, and in my opinion, Cup’s new warehouse has nailed it. It’s big. Open. And is, as far as I know, the only cafe in Brisbane boasting both a Slayer and a Mistral on their benches (I want to say “in the world”). While it’s the new home of Cup’s roasting operations, there’s also a nice Coffee menu on offer (Josh, the owner and genius behind Cup, says there’ll be very limited food in the future). And did I mention there’s space. And seats. And tables. And music. And coffee.

I’m a big fan of Cup’s aesthetic – from font choice, to the black/timber fitout at this place, to the big roasting robot painted on the wall in West End, to the choice of some of the most beautiful and technologically amazing machines available – so I like this place a lot. The machines and the roaster are the visual heroes. The coffee is the real hero (and according to latte art smackdowns, and the recent Queensland Barista Championships – they still boast Brisbane’s best latte artists). Everything else is functional and understated. Like it should be.

It’s still in the very early days. But I like it. Very much. You can buy their beans online too.

(there’ll be a map here one day – but for now, the roastery is tucked into 43 Balaclava St, Wooloongabba).

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