OK, so y'all are in for a bumper crop, this being an amalgamation of things that I had previously written up for my December activities in Sydney. Unfortunately, difficulties using the Macs at my disposal had made completing this a very difficult task. Having misplaced my USB cable, I think that I will just omit further photos and let y'all deal with giant slabs of text.
Coffee Crawl - Saturday 8th December
This weekend was a nice opportunity to catch up with Stephen Frame. Stephen is one of a number of home coffee roasters who has been contemplating going pro for a while. It is my hope that outing him in this post will make it that much more difficult for him to resile from his plan >;) Stephen deserves particular credit for his open-mindedness, humility and dedication. He has been home roasting and making espresso at home for years, but still insists on taking the point of view that he knows very little. In fact, he is probably at the forefront of the emerging crop of domestic roasters turning to professional micro roasting. Long ago, Stephen made the commitment to buy a two group linea for home, built a sample roaster that functions like a commercial drum roaster and started ordering coffees from a variety of roasters across Australia and the world to compare with his own. Stephen has even gone out of his way to send samples of his stuff to people across Australia for comment and I count myself fortunate to have been one of the taste testers. I imagine that this is a level of thoroughness on par with even the best commercial roasters. So go pro, already!
I'm a bit of a prick, sometimes. Emily Oak has been a barista comp judge and the southern hemisphere coordinator for the World Barista Championships for quite some time. She also has a roasting and consulting business called Fresh Ground
. We knew that she was being charitable enough to fill in a shift at Sass Bar at the last minute, so Stephen and I swung around to judge her coffee. After much ribbing, Em delivered the goods. Sass bar's custom blend isn't something that I personally would choose, but it made for a somewhat nutty and strong latte with a distinctive savoury finish to it; I seem to remember a touch of liquorice or aniseed. Sass does a very generous all day breakfast, so I have been back a few times.
A quick pit stop for breakfast at an iconic cafe and then onwards. In hindsight, I should have chanced the coffee, for fun if nothing else. Did you know that the Hillsong church has an ECM Veneziano with their own logo on the backlit glass plate?
No, that's not a typo. I had some green coffee samples to drop off to Dean, so Stephen and I decided to have a bit of fun and make the trek down to Emu plains. We arrived just in time to sit back and watch whilst Dean finished cleaning up after a domestic espresso class, then serious time wasting began. Dean indulged my geeky desire to fiddle around on his Mirage Bastone
. Conversation covered a few topics, from logistics of setting up a roastery, to chocolate, to blending and, before we knew it, several hours had passed. I picked up several kilos of coffee to send back to the Melbourne Mob and some hot chocolate for myself.
Coffee Crawl - Saturday 15th December
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. In Sydney, the local CS
chapter go on cafe crawls, and there was a bit of a monster crawl organised for the 15th. It was an interesting mix of seasoned vets, many of whom were just in it for breakfast at Cordial, and relative newcomers, who were keen to check out as many different places as possible. Our story starts at ...
Cordial, Carillion Avenue
I have mentioned Cordial before on this blog. Cordial is a sentimental favourite for many purely because Sonny and Dave from the Golden Cobra
, their roaster, are amongst the nicest guys on the planet. When Sonny heard that we were coming, not only did he forego his day off to come in and get behind the machine, but he also brought in a number of sample bags of a new blend for us to take away and try.
Whichever blend Cordial is using strikes me as a very good cafe blend. It is not hugely complex, but it is low in acidity, relatively chocolatey and it seems to be extremely forgiving. An alarmingly long double espresso a week or two ago actually tasted fine, albeit a little lower in mouthfeel than usual.
Sunshine, an hour or so of conversation, eggs benedict, chocolatey double espresso and it was on to the next stop.
There was some debate as to whether or not it would be worthwhile hitting up Campos. I love the place, but not the coffee. The rest of the group fell into two camps - those in favour of skipping it and those who had never checked it out. We decided to go for the benefit of the latter group, seeing as it is only a hop, skip and a jump away from Cordial. (It strikes me that this is perhaps the first time that someone has ever described Campos' location with reference to Cordial, rather than the other way 'round.)
As usual, Campos was pumping. As usual, the staff continued to set the bar for coffee professionalism. Money changed hands and spoons, plates and dice were laid out to communicate our orders to the baristi. We melted into the crowd and stalked the benches, pouncing on any seats that happened to become vacant. Roburs whirred, dosers clacked, steam wands hissed. Drinks were delivered directly to us, despite our best efforts to confuse the staff by playing musical chairs.
Unfortunately, the coffee failed to impress. I thought that my espresso had hints of grass and iodine, thin mouthfeel, an unpleasantly high acidity level and slightly burnt crema. Any of these flaws on their own wouldn't have been a deal breaker, but the combination of the lot of them was quite disappointing. Wild speculation amalgamated from all guesses was that the coffee was a bit too fresh and brewed at a temperature slightly too high. Those who ordered milk drinks didn't seem much happier and we actually left with a few cups only half-finished.
I think that it would be extremely unfair of me to write this post without noting that this experience is certainly not characteristic of my past Campos visits. Usually, the baristi do an extremely good job of staying on the right side of the knife-edge between acceptably high acidity and sourness. On this occasion, they fell foul of their own blend. This has piqued my curiosity in trying their blends out at home.
(Update: I went to Campos on the weekend, enjoyed a very good, simple flat white, whose only fault was a slight instant coffee type flavour to the crema. I'm looking forward to trying out a bag of their "Dark City" blend, which isn't actually that dark I hope will be more to my tastes.)
Toby's is the roastery with the big mainstream reputation for quality. I seem to recall that Paul Bassett
even worked there (corrections gladly accepted). Seeing as cutting down tall poppies is part of our national identity, I was concerned to give them a fair go. Only part of the reason why I wore my World Barista Championship T-Shirt was because I am a bit of a wanker. The rest was because I thought that it might be a subtle way to communicate that I have relatively high expectations. At Toby's, not only did this plan not work, but I suspect that it might even have brought down the wrath of god; such was the implausibility of what was to transpire ...
We were told that a Cuban single origin was on offer for espresso, with the fair trade organic blend. I have played around with the latest Cuban lot and never had much joy with it as an espresso, but, nonetheless, I ordered an espresso and a mince tart. Well, it was like there was a party in my mouth. And everyone was butting their cigarettes out on my tongue - something that Castro would no doubt find ironic. Even the mince tart provided no respite; it tasted like the baker made it with equal parts sultanas, fat, sugar and spite. I don't think that I was alone in my opinion. Demitasses littered the table, each one with barely a sip taken out of it.
I thought that I really ought to be fair and tentatively reached for a glass of water. Fortunately, it is pretty hard to screw that up. I went up to the counter, wanky WBC shirt on display, and asked if it would be possible to have an espresso with the fair trade organic blend, thinking that perhaps it might be a problem with the single origin. Though this was slightly better, the overwhelming flavour was as though the staff had neglected to scrub out the portafilters for quite a while.
As we got up to leave, one of the staff had the temerity to say that their espresso is pretty good, hey? Given that less than a single espresso had actually been consumed out of the half dozen espressi on the table, it struck me that the whole experience was so absurd as to come out of Lemony Snickett's A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Except that some lemon juice certainly would have improved the mince tart.
To be absolutely fair, I have to admit that both the Cuban and the fair trade organic blend had an impressively heavy mouthfeel, as though they had a whack of robusta or monsooned coffee in them. Perhaps this is partly due to the use of e61 group machines.
The last time that I was at the Woolloomooloo store, everything was several orders of magnitude better, so, again, I think that it would be unfair to write off Toby's on the basis of this experience. As at Campos, my interest in Toby's is piqued as a result of the experience.
Mecca Espresso, King Street
After Toby's, lunch at Mecca sounded like a plan. Food settles the stomach after so much coffee.
The guys at Mecca allowed us to reorganise the tables outside to suit ourselves and coffee started to flow. My first espresso had a slight bitterness in the crema, but then showed good mouthfeel and some floral ferment. My flat white, pictured above, also had a slight bitterness in the crema, but the rest of it was very good, with memorable Harrar type flavours - some sort of floral flavour. John, whose experience selling aromatherapy was starting to pay off, took a sip and commented that the flat white tasted of orange blossom, whereas the piccolo tasted of rose. The next round tasted very similar, except that the bitter crema had disappeared. We later found out that the first round was made using coffee five days older than the second. Perhaps there's something in having your coffee transported around in styrofoam organ donor boxes.
Ironically, I dropped by Mecca yesterday and they, too, have coffee to hand out to people.
Luxe, Bondi Junction
I understand that some of the people behind this place are the same people who were behind the place of the same name in the CBD a few years back (now called Elixir). This one was a bit of a head-scratcher. Much was ordered from them, but it was mainly fruit juice and cakes. There were only two coffee orders - John's latte and my espresso. The latte came out at "here's one we prepared earlier" speed and did not inspire confidence. The espresso seemed to take an eternity, but wasn't bad. Following on the theme for today, the crema was rather burnt. The espresso itself was totally single-note; I couldn't pick anything except for generic chocolatey flavours, which is not a criticism at all. The espresso also had great viscosity; really, they seemed to do a better job at what Toby's were trying to deliver. The various cakes and things were good, too.Di Bartoli Espresso Centre
Though Di Bartoli's main business is the sale of espresso machines, they also sell roasted coffee and espresso drinks. I gather that the coffee is roasted by Hazel at Coffee Alchemy
. Somewhat amusingly, they only use domestic grinders to prove the point that they're perfectly capable. Perhaps this was responsible for the interesting trick that was played on us - John and I each had an espresso made with whatever El Salvadorean bean was on offer. Both were thin in mouthfeel and somewhat sweet, but we scratched our heads and swapped espressi. One tasted distinctly like almonds; the other tasted more of hazelnuts ... and yet they were two halves of a pour from a double spout.Epilogue
The day's ordeal was, literally, a day's ordeal. From 9am, the day was entirely taken up with drinking coffee, eating and travelling to repeat the process. At 4pm, when we finished, the coffee was definitely starting to take its toll. I felt a strange sense of satisfaction that none of the troops let loose a technicolour yawn.
Waiting for my espresso machine to be shipped up has been made significantly easier by the Cheese Room, a cheese shop a few blocks from home that happens to have a decent espresso set-up. They are one of what seems to be an unending legion of new Campos accounts and I'll go out on a limb and say that they are delivering coffee on par with the mother ship, albeit service is much slower, seeing as they don't have a gagillion baristi, machines and grinders.