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.

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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: 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.

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