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: Reverends Fine Coffee, Fortitude Valley

This morning’s coffee outing was a coin toss. I was in the Valley for a 10am meeting. We’d paid for 20 minutes of parking (we made the mistake of entering a parking station before seeing how much it cost. Ouch). And I was armed with a “to do list” of two – Reverends Fine Coffee, and Ltd Espresso – a new Cleanskin account two doors down.

Reverends (it feels like there should be an apostrophe there, but there’s not) won out. The stark, clean lines of Ltd will have to wait for my next inner-city jaunt.

Reverend is pouring shots from one of the most beautiful machines known to man – the Spirit – I didn’t get a photo of it, because I’m all about the undercover review – but it produces some pretty stellar results in the right hands. And clearly the guy making the coffees this morning had such a set of hands. They roast their own gear, and offer up a blend, and rotating single origins – today, an Ethiopian Sidamo.

My flat white on the Sidamo was creamy and fruity.

My wife had the blend, and it was so good our daughter wanted to get her hands on it right away…

My great disappointment was that the impending start of my meeting, and the exponentially rising cost of our parking, meant I couldn’t linger.

I love the ideas that cafes are a “third place” – neither your home, nor your office, but somewhere to linger and mix with people, somewhere to spend time. There are a few specialty cafes in Brisbane that give off that vibe – some of my favourites are Uncle Joe’s, Veneziano, Cup (and the new Cup which opens tomorrow sounds even more like it’ll tick that box), and Dandelion and Driftwood – though it feels more like a bustling spot that’s geared towards experiencing decadent morsels, especially for women. Most cafes that make great coffee in Brisbane are, as a rule, dedicated to producing consistently good coffee, rather than keeping people comfortable all day (though none of these places are inhospitable). I love the vibe that a good fit out, and friendly staff, can create, but I’m hard pushed to pick a cafe I’d want to sit in all day to study or read a book. Reverend’s is a comfy couch a way from being that sort of place. I love the grungy fitout, the “distressed brick” look, the fairly open space with relatively sparse seating… It was great.

Their attention to detail on some of the little things – like the pew out the front, and the branded serviettes, made it a bit of a standout.

The raspberry muffin I had was delicious too. So it was a thumbs up all round from me.
Reverend’s has a Facebook page.

Brisbane Cafe Review: Blue Sky Coffee, Newstead

If Iron Man’s Tony Stark owned a cafe it would look and feel a lot like Blue Sky Coffee. The place is cool. It’s an open plan warehouse fitted out with all the bells and whistles – and to my knowledge is the only cafe in Brisbane fitted out with a three group lever machine. Some would say having three machines running behind the counter is excessive. But excess seems to be the name of the game here, and that’s not a bad thing.

As if to reinforce the Iron Man feel – the movie is playing on the big screen mounted on the wall, I assume this is intentional, if not it’s a happy coincidence. Red classic sports cars (the real deal, not toys) are scattered liberally around the warehouse.

The roaster is tucked in the back corner. This place is a visual treat. And worth a stop for the ambience alone. I can imagine a lot of blokes feeling like they’ve found a spiritual home at this place. There’s even a suit of armour. By the door. Sporting Charlie Sheen’s face.

According to local coffee lore, the owners of this place are doctors whose passion for home roasting spawned this little enterprise that now supplies beans to cafes around the city. This is home base.

The coffee is a mixed bag – with the investment of time, energy, and cold hard cash that has gone into the setup you expect to be blown away. And I wasn’t. It wasn’t bad, in fact it was mostly good. But it wasn’t “write home about the experience” good. And it could have been. You can tell Blue Sky Coffee cares about the details. Everything in the shop says so – from the range of blends available through the week, to the range of items on the menu – including the quite palatable lever shot from the Athena Leva, and the flat white made on their limited range replica Venus Century. A stunning machine, made (as are the other two) by Victoria Arduino.

First up we ordered our standard drinks, mine a double shot flat white, my wife’s a Piccolo. With breakfast pastries on the side.

The attention to detail is evident even down to the choice of cup and saucer. And the delicious biscuit, which brought out a range of flavours in the coffee and made it almost impossible to distinguish what was coffee and what was biscuit. In a good way.

Our food came quickly, our coffees slowly – service was hampered by the sole barista’s need to be serving, taking orders, taking payment, and preparing one of the other in house specialties – a Turkish coffee (the process pictured below) – single handedly (he eventually called in a little bit of assistance from the roastery). No mean feat. He was friendly, knowledgeable, and happy to chat about the machines.

Plus he pulled off this pretty amazing triple rosetta.

He mentioned, as he delivered this one, that they would eventually have a board of latte art options available for customers to choose from. Which is a fantastic idea that brings a pretty unique level of interactivity into the process.

I loved the art in the place too – including this classic petrol bowser loaded with coffee beans.

So the coffee… which according to the a-frame board in store was the “Green Caffeine” blend… My first double shot flat white was a little on the hot side, not excessively so, it was acceptable, and it was a little watery (though again, within the acceptable range of flat white standards). It was delicious with the biscuit, but a little bland without it. The initial flavour was a little bit bitter, not unpleasant, but not sweet. Not fruity. Not rich and mellow. Just dead centre. Balanced. The aftertaste was the real kicker. It was sweet and long. And mingled in a really nice way with the vanilla flavour of the biscuit. Don’t get me wrong. It was definitely at the “specialty coffee” end of the spectrum, and it’s a luxury having other options to compare it to within Brisbane.

The lever shot was bright, and acidic, it was a bit hollow, body wise, but it was very drinkable. And fruity, though I’m not sure what sort.

The Century flat white (the board advertises a “Century Latte” but I was allowed to choose my preferred option) was odd. And I blame the milk, the barista showed me the shot (and I grabbed a surreptitious smell of it) while he was making the coffee. And everything appeared in order. But sometimes milk just gets a sort of grassy stale funky taste, I’ve bought some that did similar things when steamed, and this had it. My wife’s description of the taste was a little less generous than mine, and you could ignore it enough for the drinking to not be entirely unpleasant. I decided the coffee smelt and tasted a little like Rum and Raisin, and at that point could ignore the funk. Just to be clear, I’m not blaming the barista, I’m not suggesting there was anything they could do about the taste, or that they should even be aware of it – it was, however, part of the experience.

I’d go again (and I will) – but not because the coffee was any better than others in the neighbourhood, simply because I want to feel like Iron Man.

You can order Blue Sky’s beans from their website (it’s flash – literally), follow them on Twitter, or like them on Facebook.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * *    

Brisbane Cafe Review: One Drop Specialty Coffee

When a cafe in your backyard is in the top ten cafes in your nation on beanhunter, and you haven’t been there yet, then you’re not much of a coffee blogger. Are you? So. When I had a moment free this morning I hit the road to check out what is currently rated as the 9th best cafe in Australia. One Drop Specialty Coffee.

So did it live up to the hype? Short answer. Yes.

Coffee at One Drop is an art form, I can’t say that they’re definitely better than a place like Cup (which doesn’t have quite the same level of esteem on Beanhunter). But they’re definitely worth a visit. Repeat visits.

Set in the open lobby of an office building on St Pauls Terrace in Fortitude Valley, One Drop doesn’t look as fancy as the French cafe right next door. But don’t go to the wrong place by mistake.

The coffee was great. Their house blend, a mix of Indian, Brazillian, Colombian and PNG beans (all of which I roast myself, which reminds me why I love the quality service of Ministry Grounds in terms of sourcing coffee). It was delicious. It’s really hard to describe the flavours in milk coffee – but it was sweet, with traces of fruit (berry) and nuts, and chocolate, mixed with coffee. Yum.

Tasty. The temperature was great. There was no trace of bitterness. Well worth another cup.

So I had one. A piccolo.

This was on a single origin from the Dominican Republic – roasted by Wolff Roasters (the roaster behind Dandelion and Driftwood). It was so delicious that the aftertaste lingered in my mouth for a couple of hours. A nice caramel and something resembling apple pie. Really good stuff. I’d drink it again in a flash. Which might mean another trip into Fortitude Valley.

The big downside to this place is that it’s not open on weekends. Which is a pain. I would have been there before (in fact we parked nearby on our coffee crawl only to discover that they were shut). So don’t go on a Saturday expecting to get your daily coffee quota – book a work meeting there instead.

Here the guys behind One Drop (who were a friendly pair, and happy to chat not just with their stream of regulars but with a lone ranger coffee blogger who hung around trying different seats and coffees. I love coffee people) demonstrate their approach to latte art.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * * * *

Brisbane Cafe Review: Fifth Battery Roasters, Fortitude Valley

Another day, another Synesso. That’s how it feels wandering around Brisbane’s specialty coffee institutions. Fifth Battery Roasters is one such institution.

Part of the Brother Espresso family that has outlets around the city – Fifth Battery doesn’t disappoint. Plastic Soldiers line the counter, which feels appropriate given you’re sitting in what feels like a military hanger, albeit lined with colourful glass panes.

It’s a nice space. Open and airy. It has a great little garden space out the back. It feels like you could ride the bike hanging behind the counter around inside the cafe. There’s that much space. Which is tops.

The food isn’t expensive. You can see a menu here. It was tasty. I had the brioche toast with poached pears. The downside was that it took a little while to come out – my wife had just about finished her meal before mine arrived. But it was worth the wait. Just.

The coffee is good without being spectacular. It’s incredibly well rounded. So well rounded it’s hard to describe a distinguishing feature. The milk didn’t help, most of the flavours the signature blend promises were lost. But in their place was a solid, nutty, cup that didn’t change much from start to finish, there was no bitterness, and the temperature was perfect.

The single origin, a Guatemala Sierra Azul, as a piccolo, was tasty. A very front of mouth experience. It had a touch of brown sugar, a hint of buttery popcorn in the aftertaste, it was a little bit like a caramel popcorn where the sugar hasn’t dissolved completely so the flavours aren’t fully mixed. It was very mellow. And worth a try. So I bought a bag of the beans, so stay tuned for a review of those.

I grabbed a bottle of their cold brew coffee too, which I’ve enjoyed at home. And they sell coffee bags for a gold coin donation – which is perfect if you’re looking to do a little bit of coffee inspired art and craft.

Fifth Battery has a great aesthetic, the atmosphere is friendly and casual, the tunes were good. It’s everything you’d expect from a little gem tucked away in the back streets of Fortitude Valley. A worthy breakfast stop.

Follow Fifth Battery on Twitter.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * * *  

Brisbane Cafe Review: Campos, Fortitude Valley

We’ve been meaning to get back to Campos for some time. The food there is just amazing. One of the best cafe breakfasts I’ve had – it is like Campos have created the optimum crossover point between breakfast quality and coffee quality – in some places the food is significantly better than the coffee, in others the coffee is significantly better than the food. At Campos, food and coffee are on par. It’s an attractive package.

The coffee jumps out at you on first taste, it rounds out on the tongue and has a lingering chocolatey aftertaste. On previous visits the coffee has been hit and miss. This one was a hit. My first trip to Campos I got there as it was closing, and all I got was a takeaway, and for some reason it was just too hot. It was so hot it was almost undrinkable, and the taste in a takeaway cup is always a little less pleasant than in a nice porcelain cup.

I love the atmosphere at Campos. It’s a place that just smacks of coffee. There are carved rosettas on the wall. And two La Marzocco machines on the counter. The cake cabinet is full of pretty amazing looking sweet goodies. But I haven’t tried them yet. I love the fans (which you can’t quite make out in this picture).

I love Campos, and highly recommend it as a breakfast stop. But I do think there’s a trade off that comes with being a bigger operation. They lose some of the intimacy on offer in some of the other cafes I’ve reviewed here. Some people I’ve spoken to have suggested that Campos are a little too coffee snobby – and they do have a legendary reputation for taking snobbery to new levels in Sydney. That’s not a critique I think is valid. I want my coffee makers to be as snobby as possible, so long as they’re also able to stay human. Legend has it that in the espresso bar setting Campos baristas don’t even speak to each other. They communicate with dice and spoons. And these dice, and spoons, are there. Sitting on the counter.

I love this place.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it:

* * * * ½

Brisbane Cafe Reviews: Bellissimo Coffee & Spoon Deli @ James Street Markets, Fortitude Valley

My wife Robyn and I went for a bit of a breakfast/coffee jaunt on Australia Day, a public holiday. And we were keen to head to Campos – because they do the food/coffee combo pretty well. And last time I went there the photos I took with my phone weren’t so good, and I thought I could take some more and post a review. But alas. They were closed. Which left us in a predicament. We needed coffee. And breakfast. Stat.

The coffee situation was addressed more than ably at first by Bellissimo Coffee. Who admirably solved the problems presented by my caffeine withdrawal headache. And their coffees were cheap – perhaps to celebrate their recent storefront opening (they’ve been operating as a boutique roastery online for a bit longer). Mark, the owner, was fun to talk to and I’m liking the look of their approach to coffee and to customer service. The coffee, produced on their award winning blend, was good, close to great, but perhaps would have been better another day post roast. It didn’t quite pack the same mouthfeel as offerings from Cup, or the complexity and sweetness offered by Dandelion & Driftwood, it perhaps sat nicely between the two. Which is not a bad place to be.

The breakfast situation was a little more serious. The James Street Markets were our only hope. So we headed to Spoon Deli. The food there is quite expensive, especially if you’re there looking for breakfast after 11.30 – we settled for $20 late breakfasts (which run until 3pm).

The food was sensational. My bacon and egg panini with avocado and special sauce was great. Robyn’s Eggs Benedict fantastic.

The coffee left a lot to be desired. Acrid. Bitter. Stale tasting. Over extracted. Nasty stuff with bubbly foam. And too hot. I finished the double shot flat white I had ordered for the purpose of scientific analysis. No more, no less.

I hit up Google looking for their website – and the page title says “Good Coffee”, I’d have to give them another chance to prove themselves, but at this stage I’d say: “nope”. There’s much better coffee to have nearby. But breakfast was a winner. And I was able to get rid of that taste by heading back across the road to Bellissimo.

Bean here (excuse the pun)? Rate it (Bellissimo):

* * * ½  

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