I see so many parallels between wine and coffee and I'm almost as passionate about coffee as I am about wine (even more passionate on particularly long or difficult days and when the jet-lag is really hurting) that I've decided to add a blog page on the subject of coffee. Where to get great coffee, latest coffee sensations and my thoughts on what the wine industry can learn from the coffee world.
Cafe Troppo, 42 Whitmore Square, Adelaide (corner of Sturt St and Whitmore Sq)
Housed on the ground floor of an architecturally bold, award-winning, eco-friendly housing development in Adelaide’s CBD, Cafe Troppo sets a tone in Adelaide coffee haunts which is, on the whole, noticeably lacking; soul. (Bar 9 on Glen Osmond Rd and Coffee Branch in Leigh Street notable exceptions)
On a miserable Saturday afternoon Troppo offered both a fine espresso and a groovy space with classy music, cheery staff (the Barista I noted had at least the requisite number of tattoos to ensure a good coffee) and a view over the greenery of Whitemore Square. The vibe distinctly California, but for the green open spaces beyond and the lack of traffic we might have been in Silver Lake.
Come On you Beans
Some years ago while at a McLaren Vale nursery buying a lemon tree I impulse bought an Arabica coffee plant. I had no expectation of getting anything from the coffee plant other than, well, the joy of seeing it growing on my front balcony. The glossy leaves are rather attractive and as an evergreen it adds a splash of colour to the CBD in winter.
While I was away over Christmas, and Adelaide was enjoying some truly scorching temperatures, the battery-powered timer which operates the watering system ran out of power. Result: one severely crisp coffee tree with just a few leaves remaining green and lively looking.
Battery power restored, a note in the diary to replace the batteries on November 1st this year, water flowing to the tree and some shade provided (isn’t all the best coffee ‘shade grown’?) it has made a miraculous recovery. The remaining leaves have perked up and there’s even a new shoot or two. But what’s really astonishing (reaches for the Superlative Jar) is that the tree has blossomed. Damn near kill a plant and it rewards you with dozens of sweetly musk-scented, star shaped flowers; it’s really quite delightful.
Of course, flowers on a coffee tree betoken coffee beans to come so it will be interesting to see if the Adelaide CBD climate is suitable for growing drinkable coffee. The text books say it isn’t but we’ve got this far..... Watch this space
Rio Coffee, Limited Release
Rio Coffee, Adelaide’s long established quality-focused coffee roaster has in recent times begun to augment its core range of blended and single origin roasts with Buy-Them-While-You-See-Them Limited Release offerings.
The latest roast is from Kenya; the Youm Nyeri Hill Farm Special Reserve. It’s a goodie and retails at $19 for 500g
Bright fruit notes are complemented by caramel and blueberry. It’s smooth, medium-bodied and quite punchy making it a great coffee to kick start the day.
Sweden, it would seem, is a country where you need coffee: for much of the year it gets light for only a few hours each day and for several months in summer the sun hardly bothers to set at all. So, aside from the obvious taste benefits of coffee the functional benefits should surely help even out the body clock’s disfunctionality.
The Espresso House coffee bars are a common site in Stockholm and offer a decent, if unexciting espresso but for really good coffee in Stockholm you have to venture just off the beaten track. Avoid the temptation to have a coffee at the Modern Art Museum; great setting and artwork but dismal espresso, My three top coffee experiences in Stockholm are:
Drop Coffee: Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 10, Stockholm. www.dropcoffee.se On a cold, wet and windy Stockholm spring morning Drop Coffee was a real haven of calories, caffeine and comfort. Conveniently situated close by an underground station (if you pick the right exit) this is a hardcore coffee-lovers’ cafe serving terrific espresso and a selection of single origin filter coffees. A great selection of food including an unusually fine example of the near ubiquitous cardamom bun.
Bakverket: 59 Bondegatan, Stockholm. www.bakverket.blogspot.com.au Like Drop Coffee, Bakverket is on the central Stockholm island of Södermalm. This is a tremendous place for a lazy Sunday breakfast. The food is classic Swedish breakfast fodder of breads, cold meats and cheeses washed down with apple juice and of course excellent espresso. Coffee isn’t the obvious focus here but Bakverket does it brilliantly.
Snickarbacken 7: Snickerbacken 7, Stockholm. www.snickerbacken7.se The funkiest of the three coffee stores; tucked away at number 7 Snickarbacken just off the central area of Stockholm. A great concept combining groovy retailing with a front of store cafe which serves espresso of the highest order.
A recent visit to Sydney gave me a chance to revisit a couple of old favourites and buy some Sydney roasted beans to add variety to my domestic drinking repertoire.
Toby’s Estate Cafe in Woolloomooloo, of which I have written previously, unquestionably provided the best coffee of the trip. That day’s “bean of the day” was an Organic (and Fairtrade) Sumatra Gayo which made if not the “god shot”, then something she’d be pretty happy with; viscous and syrupy with bright fruit characters. What really distinguished this coffee though was the persistence of flavour and the way, as poetic tasters of Pinot Noir describe the finish on a really great wine, a real “peacock’s tail”.....the flavours fan out and seem to intensify after you’ve swallowed each precious drop.
Brewed at home I admit that I couldn’t quite match the in-situ version, try as I might. But results were impressive and that persistent finish hallmarks these beans. I did get a level of syrup character similar to original-and-best, with striking high cocoa solids dark chocolate and black fruit flavours.
On my last visit to Toby’s I discovered the distinctive Indian Monsoon Malabar coffee. This year’s crop is on the money I’m pleased to say; a total contrast to the Sumatra Gayo with its musky aroma and sweet, caramel flavours. Nutty notes and well balanced acidity make this more of an evening coffee than the heart-starter Sumatra (that would be a great brand name for a coffee were it not for the implied medical claim)
Continuing the Indian theme, Campos Coffee in Newtown, was serving Indian Balmaadi Estate Organic. Grown at high altitude in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris District at the south eastern tip of India using the Kent varietal of Arabica coffee. Kent is one of the myriad of Arabica coffee varieties and is regarded with some suspicion because of its high yield. And for those who study such arcania, Kent was bred to be resistant to coffee rust. Of the coffee itself? Well, spice-box sums it up neatly both on the aroma and the palate; this is the Gewurztraminer of coffees and is similarly polarising I dare say. I loved it, and the beans I bought to brew at home made some great shots; no wonder they lasted only a couple of days.
Mountain Horse, Limited Release. Rio Coffee, Adelaide.
Move quickly to secure yourself some of Rio’s latest Limited Release blend. From the home of coffee in Ethiopia, Rio has sourced Harrar Mao Blue Horse beans which they have blended with other beans of undisclosed origin to produce this stunning Mountain Horse blend.
Chocolate, cinnamon and preserved orange on the aroma; this is a gutsy, full-bodied espresso shot with deep and intriguing flavours. If it was a wine it would be a Côte-Rôtie: a bit out of the box, yet classic at the same time. The flavours are black treacle and chocolate with a good fresh acid line and a bright finish of blackcurrant.
Like I say, move quickly to avoid missing out. www.riocoffee.com.au
Sanity Restored, Great coffee found in Chile
Café Cascanueces, Santiago, Chile
One of the paradoxes of the coffee world is that it seems awfully hard to get a decent espresso in Chile and Argentina. The big hotels and branded coffee stores serve coffee which is OK and most other places serve what is most accurately described as ”hot, coffee-style beverage”, this close to the source of some of the world’s great coffee beans merely OK is just not good enough.
One the final day of a recent three week trip to South America I finally hit, if not the “god-shot”, then something heading in that direction. On the basis of my extensive research around Santiago and assorted towns and cities around the country I am happy to declare Café Cascanueces the finest espresso in Chile. The cafe roasts and blends its own beans and delivers a rich, smooth espresso replete with dark, tarry flavours.
General Flores # 48,
Open from Monday to Friday from 9: 00 hrs to 20 hrs.
Saturday from 11: 00 to 14: 00 hrs.
Mud that won’t stick
Cafe de Cuba, Cuban Serrano, Single Origin Bean. $9/250g. Rio Coffee, Adelaide
My wife, who cycled across Cuba some years ago, only semi-jokingly advised that the beans I’d just purchased would be “muddy”. Cuba holds many good memories for Chris but none of them involves coffee.....bicycle saddles are something of a sore subject too. Undeterred, and having bought the beans anyway, I made a couple of shots of espresso with the Cuban beans this morning and sure enough they were a little darker than my usual beans deliver.
Muddy however, they were not.
Dark, deep brown with flecks of black in the thick crema was an encouraging start. The aromas are of chocolate and blueberry and the palate is rich, smooth, full-bodied and finishes with an umami-like savouriness. A great perk-you-up espresso choice.
Bean, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Six days in Brisbane for the Brisbane Wine Show. They say that it takes a lot of water to make good wine; I can vouch that it takes a lot of coffee to judge your way through 2000 and some wines.
Each morning of the show a group of the judges set off into the heart of Fortitude Valley and stopped at Bean Espresso Cafe (54/22 Barry Parade, Fortitude Valley) for coffee. By day three Simon, arguably the world’s most taciturn barista, knew our orders; who wanted a take-away doppio macchiato and who wanted an espresso in a porcelain cup. Class. Great coffee. A bit of a detour off the CBD but worth the effort.
Toby’s Estate Coffee Sydney
Toby’s Estate Coffee, corner of Cathedral Street and Palmer Street, Woolloomooloo, Sydney. http://www.tobysestate.com.au/
I visited the Toby’s Estate Café in Woolloomooloo recently having read good things about their coffees. OK, it is a long way from Adelaide but as Adelaide Airport has what is arguably the best airport coffee in the country at Cibo, the journey was not only worthwhile but caffeine withdrawal didn’t have time to kick in either.
Toby’s was serving, as their standard espresso of the day, a coffee which was new to me; Monsooned Malabar. I’ve never been served an espresso before which was so treacle-like in appearance nor one so smooth and deep in flavour. If this had been a wine it would be a really young Vintage Port; oozing flavour and richness yet incredibly balanced. You’ve got to love a coffee like that at 9am.
The name Monsooned Malabar indicates beans which have been aged, during the south west Monsoon season, in warehouses in Kerala allowing them to swell in the humidity and take on their unique characters. Some have described a musty note to the flavour profile but thank goodness this has eluded me to date.
I purchased some beans and managed to get close to the Toby’s standard, close but not quite there. Clearly room for further practice and perhaps a 500g bag of beans this time rather than the 250g.
McDonalds has made a lot of fuss about the coffee at its McCafe stores. Rainforest Alliance Arabica coffee beans lead the sales pitch. Tempted, I ventured recently to try an espresso. The good news is that no birds were harmed in the production of the coffee but taste buds were offended. Insipid and dull, the espresso wasn’t worth finishing. A missed opportunity.
Marks and Spencer
M&S has begun opening cafes in some of its larger stores. Service is not what you’d expect from a business so strong at retail but sadly is what you expect from a retailer with little experience of hospitality. Don’t go on a busy day is all I can advise.
The coffee beans are amongst the most audited in the world: Fairtrade, Organic and Rainforest Alliance certified. It’s quite amazing that the producers have time to grow the beans after dealing with all that paperwork. The coffee? Well, for £1.40 you get a shot of much-better-than-most espresso, and served in a porcelain cup too. Worth a detour.
VELLA NERO Roastery,
Coffee Bean Boutique & Caffé Bar
Shop 3 / 259 Clarence Street, Sydney, 2000 Australia Tel +61 2 9268 0755
A barista has nowhere to hide with an espresso; no milk to distract the palate and cover up any bitterness or ill-behaved acidity in the coffee: the espresso is the test. When next you find yourself in the Sydney CBD visit Vella Nero and order yourself one of their rich, deeply flavoured and smooth espressos. I recently found myself there and well, if one was good, two had to be even better. I rationalise that I had to be sure that the first wasn’t just a fluke and that I’d had an early start to get the dawn flight from Adelaide but fact is, coffee this good is scarce so when you’ve found it, make the most of it.
Auckland, New Zealand
I’ve long held the view, confrontational as it maybe to Australians, that if you want a reliable cup of coffee go to New Zealand. OK, there was that time that I actually hopped the counter and showed two, too shocked to protest, old dears how they should be making double shot espressos but as a rule, New Zealand delivers.
It’s most unlikely that you’d need to hop the counter at Agnes Curran, (181 Ponsonby Road, Ponsonby, Auckland. Ph: 09 360 1551 entrance on Franklin Road ) because this discretely sited cafe with a groovy courtyard and cool cakes serves magnificent double espressos.....and if they can do that steaming and frothing milk is a doddle. Well worth the detour from downtown Auckland.
A top find for a terrific espresso in Sydney. I’ve long been a fan of Campos Coffee; their Newtown coffee shop having been a regular haunt for several years whenever I’m in Sydney. I discovered that Campos Coffee’s beans are being used at The Bunker, 399 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst.
Something is going incredibly right at The Bunker; their coffee tastes even better than at the Campos Coffee shop. Bunker’s breakfasts are great too, though beware, it’s a hole-in-the-wall sized place so queuing may be needed. I don’t queue as a rule but for coffee this good I’d make an exception.
Some Previous Espresso Recommendations
South Yarra, Melbourne, Australia