Brisbane Cafe Review: Sourced Grocer, Teneriffe

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.

 

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: 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: 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).

Brisbane Cafe Review: The Little Prince, Woollongabba

We were looking for somewhere new yesterday, and decided to check out the Little Prince, which is a nice little coffee bar tucked into the Princess Theatre in Woolloongabba. They’re serving up Cup Coffee’s sensational Five Star Day blend, pouring shots from a La Marzocco (I was a little disappointed that the Mistral I’d seen on Beanhunter wasn’t in play yesterday), and serving them up with some pretty nice latte art.

The double-walled (not Bodum) glasses for the piccolos were also pretty nice.

Sadly, we were also eating breakfast – and my taste bud objectivity when it came to the coffee was a little clouded by the honey, yoghurt, and tasty muesli that I was eating at the same time that I was drinking my coffee. But it was a nice mix.

The staff were incredibly friendly (it helps that we’ve got a pretty cute baby girl who wins just about anybody over). It’s very family friendly – with a basket of toys. Like this one. To play with.

I’d say they’ve succeeded in creating a little place with atmosphere, good coffee, and a light selection of meals, that I’d be happy to sit in for a while.

It’s also especially handy to the Mater Hospital. Parking is a bit of a pain – don’t park in the free shopping centre car park next door – despite the shared name, the two Princess facilities have nothing to do with each other, and we came back to the car to get a stern talking to that involved the words “towing” and “lucky”…

A rosetta by any other name: A review of Friday’s Brisbane Latte Art Smackdown

On Friday the crema of the crop (see what I did there – it’s a coffee pun) of Brisbane’s microfoam loving, tulip pouring, jug swirling, baristas rocked up at Veneziano’s First Pour cafe in West End for what my friend Mitch described as “the coolest sub-culture meeting ever.” The $400 in prize money, but more importantly the chance for acclaim from one’s peers, was enough of a draw to attract 47 competitors for a string of head to head latte art elimination battles. Those people brought their people, and Veneziano’s First Pour was packed with coffee lovers.

The hosts pulled out all the stops, with a sausage sizzle, free beer (though that went pretty quickly), and coffee from their brew bar.

Three judges – Queensland Latte Art Champion Scott Luengen, Tim Adams from Tim Adams Specialty Coffee on the Sunshine Coast, and Veneziano’s John-Paul Sutton – scored pourers on contrast, symmetry, and difficulty.

It was a fun night, with some amazing pieces of art produced. Here are some highlights from my phone camera – which struggled a little with the lack of light.

Mike Tam and Josh Russell Cup Specialty Coffee ended up going head to head in the Grand Final.

Here are their last few rounds, and the final itself, in video form. I shot and edited this video on my phone – and uploaded it – the sound goes a bit funny when it switches from video to photos. But you can handle that.

These are the winning pours from Cup’s Josh Russell…

In all, it was a really fun night, with a great vibe. Coffee industry peeps are the coolest, I’m always struck by how friendly people who could view themselves as competitors are with one another, there’s a real sense of camaraderie, and wanting to see the industry move and develop through cooperation – which can only benefit us end users.

Gold Coast Cafe Review: Blackboard Specialty Coffee

There are cafes that are hyped up for no apparent reason, and there are cafes that live up to the hype. Blackboard Specialty Coffee is a rare gem – it exceeds even the most hyped up expectations. Part of me didn’t believe some of the stuff being said about these guys on Twitter. I was prepared to be let down. But when a group of us rocked up on Friday afternoon, just before closing time, we were all left more than satisfied.

As it was late in the day, and we’d already been to a couple of cafes already, the four of us ordered piccolo lattes. And they were amazing. From the latte art to the cup. Succulent. Creamy. Delicious. And the best bit, this was a freshly delivered blend from Cup Specialty Coffee, who supply all their beans (well, just about all of them), and the barista behind the shiny Synesso told me he’d only been dialling it in for an hour. It’s possible the sweet and chocolaty blend of Brazilian and Colombian beans was going to get better over time.

My only regret was that we didn’t get there in time to sample the previous blend – a ripper featuring the coffee that Australian Barista Champion Matt Perger took to the World Barista Championships (you can watch his routine, which featured the wonders of this bean pretty heavily, here), a Tanzanian bean that is proving pretty elusive.

Using quality beans is the mark of a quality cafe, and these guys were quality. Well worth a stop if you’re in the Varsity Lakes district. It almost had me enrolling in some sort of degree at Bond University.

The coffees were so good that we pretty much unanimously went for a second round.

These guys are serious about coffee, and they’re seriously good. Worth a trip from Brisbane. The food is meant to be pretty good too.

Brisbane Coffee Crawl: Reviewing crawl #1

On Saturday I drank 11 shots of espresso (with milk) and one amazing chemex. I was on a coffee crawl. Lets call it a thebeanstalker.com Coffee Crawl. Accompanying me on the trip were two of my fellow coffee lovers, and my wife (also a coffee lover).

We hit five cafes – starting with Campos in the valley (which I will review in coming days) for breakfast – and there were plenty of good options we didn’t get to. Enough for another coffee crawl.

I think five cafes is about my limit – especially if I’m drinking double shots. Which I like to. Fair is fair. And I want to be comparing the same product in different locations for my reviews.

The highlight of the day, for a couple of reasons, was our stop at Veneziano’s First Pour cafe on Montague St West End (which I’ll also review in coming days). Firstly – we walked through the door and as I was talking to the girl behind the counter I noticed a familiar name on the business cards sitting there. And sure enough, a second later, Jia Brooks, formerly of Coffee Dominion in Townsville, walked out into the shop. Jia ran the barista course I went through in Townsville – and he’s running similar courses at Veneziano. You should check them out. He toured the globe to learn about coffee.

Here’s Jia showing Robyn the ropes in Townsville.

The second reason Veneziano stood out was the chemex Jia recommended, and made for us. He was probably the warmest barista we met – though that’s not casting any aspersions on the others, the ones we talked to were great, the others were busy. And it helped that we knew him already. The chemex was just sensational. Jia promised strawberries in the cup – and the promise delivered, it was a little like drinking a strawberry tea with a soft coffee undertone. Just amazing. It was some sort of Ethiopian bean.

Here’s the chemex in the preparation process.

Just delicious.

We started at 9am and finished at around 2pm, the shakes wore off about three hours later.

All the cafes we visited offered something a little different in the cup – and something different in terms of ambience. I’d happily, and cheerfully, recommend each stop. Though for different reasons.

A list:

Campos – Strong, dark chocolatey coffee which packed an initial punch, a sweet middle, and a long tail. The aftertaste was pretty nice. Good balance. Amazing food, and a pretty cool atmosphere – I love the ceiling fans. More coming in a review.

Cup – Still one of my absolute favourite places – they are sans Slayer at the moment (and their replacement machine fried itself yesterday). The coffee on Saturday had a great balance, fruity and spicy. I got traces of cinnamon, and a bit of berry. So I’m going with “jam donut” as a label for the flavours involved. Sensational stuff. I would have had two if I could have. But I was being disciplined. This was stop number 2.

BlackStar – Dark chocolate flavours, packed a punch. Just what I’ve come to expect from BlackStar. I still never feel quite well dressed enough to sit around with the hipsters and hippies.

Veneziano – Wow. Just wow. The chemex was great, but we’re not judging these places by their obscure single origins, but rather, their run of the mill espresso drinks. In this case the coffee was velvety smooth, sweet, and nutty. Hazlenut to be exact. Like a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. Delicious.

Dandelion and Driftwood – you know what I think of these guys. Just sensational. They sweat the details. The delicious orange and poppyseed cake was almost worth the $6 it cost. The Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence they had in the grinder on the weekend was simply amazing. I can’t recommend these guys highly enough. If you haven’t been there yet – check it out.

Here’s a slideshow of my pictures from the day. I’m hoping to get a hold of some of my friend Steven’s because he’s a professional.

If you want to come next time drop me a line – or comment on this post. It’s a bit of a thrill to see so many good cafes around.

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