Brisbane Cafe Review: Shucked Espresso, Newstead

I’ll be posting my year ending cafe rankings for Brisbane some time around Christmas, and there’s a new contender for the top five in the house. Shucked Espresso in Newstead sits in a commercial district, surrounded by car yards and a light industrial vibe. It offers a pretty nifty little food and drinks menu, and the espresso/brewed coffee combo Brisbane snobs have come to expect…

This is actually a handy rule of thumb. If a coffee shop has the words “single origin” on a board somewhere, and sells the Aeropress or Chemex (stay tuned for the 2011 Christmas Gift list that’ll include those coffee toys, and more) then it is probably worth the effort.

Shucked definitely fits into that category. Its cute. Its quaint. Its eclectic. And in six months its established itself as having game when it comes to the Brisbane scene – taking out Map Magazine’s award for Best Cafe this year, and sharing the runners up prize with perennial favourites, Dandelion and Driftwood, for best coffee in Brisbane. These competitions are opt in and rely on votes – so the results can be skewed by a bit of populist campaigning and a loyal fan base – but you don’t get that sort of fan base without quality output.

Shucked is a converted warehouse type space, with a graffiti alley for those who want the full on Melbourne vibe. Inside its littered with found items (including some old school salt and pepper shakers), an eclectic mix of wooden chairs, comfy couches, a big wooden communal table, and a striking wooden work bench which holds the La Marzocco. The barista had the appropriate hipster cred with tattoos and genie pants. And the alt. country/folk soundtrack made breakfast conversation pleasant and relaxed.

One must also mention the wallpaper. It was striking. Retro. And not tacky. The Courier Mail profile of Shucked reveals the wallpaper was purchased from New York.

The staff were friendly. Service was quick. And the food was sensational – I had the French Toast with Maple Syrup and some cracking crispy bacon. My wife had the delicious French Toast Croque Monsieur.

Sensational breakfast. But this is a coffee blog. Above all. So what about the coffee.

The Shuck ‘N Awe blend, named by a Facebook competition, lives up to its billing. Its well balanced, sweet, and better as a flat white than as a piccolo. It delivered the promised creamy finish in spades, and a sweet and fruity complexity up front. The temperature and texture of the milk was first class. I love a rich dark dash of crema, even in a medium roasted coffee…

The latte art on coffee number two – made on the single origin Costa Rican (UPDATE – via Facebook I found out that this was a Costa Rica La Lapa)- was better, and this coffee was sensational. Maybe it was the effect of being coupled with insanely good bacon. Maybe it was some maple syrup lingering in my mouth (though I did have some water) – but this was perhaps the best single origin I’ve ever had. It tasted like a lemon meringue pie, or like a sweet lemon butter with something caramel. It was amazing. And herein lies my only criticism of the trip to Shucked. There’s a bit of a lack of transparency in terms of what exactly is in the blends (and who roasts what) – even the description of the Single Origin was limited to the country of origin and a couple of tasting notes. In my mind its complete transparency that separates the big specialty coffee players and educators from the also rans. Its part of the process of creating informed and enlightened customers and raising the bar for coffee production and consumption. There were bags from BlackStar (and their signature Revolution Blend is on rotation), and I spied a bag marked Plantation Coffee (which I assume is from Plantation Specialty Coffee in Melbourne – though I could be wrong).

But that’s relatively minor. I’d say Shucked is well on the way to winning over a pretty substantial place in my coffee loving heart. And I’ll definitely be taking friends there in the future and heartily recommending it.

You can follow Shucked on Twitter and like them on Facebook to stay in the loop.


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: [five-star-rating]

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