Archive for April, 2010

A Journey to the Centre of Northcote

The suburb of Northcote has recently fallen  for the steampunk trend, a culture which pays homage to makeshift industrial looking trinkets. They were decorated throughout the two month old café on High St, named, Penny Farthing.

A penny-farthing is a high wheeled bicycle, where the front wheel is substantially larger than the rear, it is right out of something you would read in a Jules Verne novel and the very name describes the café to a tee.

Owners and brothers, Trevor and Steve, also allocate the dress code. Their coffee making skills are best displayed when the suspenders and checked newsboy hats are on. They smile when you enter the large, high ceilinged cafe and are passionate about their weekly single origin special.

I sat in the courtyard, a tiny space which goes in this part of Melbourne with my water and raw sugar slowly collecting the leaves from the hanging tree. A short black was the only thing to compliment my order, the Smash,  feta, avocado, chilli and oil on crusty bread, it sounded like the perfect afternoon indulgence.

One of the brothers brought the caffeine and a birth certificate to explain its origin and flavour characteristics. It was what the guide said, an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, peachy with a hint of lemon myrtle, it pulled off my snack.

They house 5 Senses beans, a proper ally to their coffee professionalism. When I went to pay I saw the octopus-like barista and all his ambidexterity move through the steam wand and pouring shot to place an empty cup in the sink. There should be a bachelor’s degree in multi-tasking.

I left feeling refreshed, not too full and wired of course. It was lovely to transport back to London circa 1800, where coffee was a drug and all the men dressed to impressed. Roll on Penny Farthing.


206 High St
Northcote VIC 3070

Espresso’s challengers

This was first published in Broadsheet Melbourne on 20 April, 2010

The white residue that lingered on the recently sponged blackboard said Ethiopian Sidamo earlier. Now it’s Yirgacheffe. If Kenyan were to make an appearance this afternoon, all palates in the cafe would be balanced.  

Melbourne’s reputation for knowing good food and good wine is matched by its reputation for knowing good coffee. But as the city’s ever more sophisticated coffee culture proves, there’s always something new to discover about its favourite brew.

The single origin boom is well underway. In cafes all over Melbourne it is now possible to sip coffee from most corners of the world. Some purists insist it must be black, but single origin lattes and flat whites are not unheard of.

As the beans escape the brand of the roaster, longer, more exotic names are taking over the black boards – names of farms, homes and towns. An increased appreciation for the origin of our coffee is powering this cultural shift.

In conjunction with greater understanding of where the beans have originated, brewing methods have proliferated. Melbourne cemented its coffee reputation by offering some of the world’s finest espresso. So for many, weaning off the European style has been tough. But a few brewing methods better suited to extracting the subtle flavours of single origin beans have been popping up with increased regularity.

The syphon is gaining widespread popularity in Melbourne now. All of the St Ali cafes have at least one. Auction Rooms and Proud Mary also heavily feature the contraption, which resembles a gas lantern and works using a vacuum effect.

It is a delicate brewer and takes a skilled hand to multitask between the heat, water and grounds. However, the results can be close to perfect and the theatrical process gives an air of importance to the brew that’s delivered to your table.

The theatrics also give a glimpse into the production behind coffee. What is being tasted is not just caffeinated goodness, but the origin, region and estate.

It’s easy to say that a Sumatran blend is best used for espresso because of its earthy undertones but when you remove the cloak of milk, blackberries, toffee and plum surface.

The clover is another part in discovering which blend best suites your taste. This machine is about the size of the domestic espresso machines many coffee addicts have nestled next to their toaster, and like the syphon it uses a vacuum to make a single cup of black coffee. The clover and syphon produce different textures in the coffee and display different subtleties in the taste.

Abbotsford’s Three Bags Full sells clover-brewed coffee for five dollars – a fair price considering the machine costs as much as a new car. Aside from its technical sophistication, the price is also a result of its rarity. There aren’t many clover machines floating around these days; Starbucks bought the Seattle-based company last year and took them off the market, perhaps as defence against the independent cafes leading this ‘third wave’ of coffee culture.

At the end of the day the point of finding a roast that makes you salivate is to be able to bring it all home and do it yourself. Enter the pour over.

Dead Man Espresso and Market Lane are some of the cafes offering the pour over. This will produce a cup that is closer to American-style filter coffee. The measurements and water temperature are key to this endeavour, yet it is a simple paper filter that does its job once the grounds and water go in; all you need to do is stir.

It lacks the theatrics involved with the complex syphon and mechanical clover, but it enables the characteristics of coffee to come through the pour. It is also very affordable so cafe-quality coffee can be done in the home kitchen without the need of a barista course.

As the chalkboard scribbles turn into paragraphs, identifying a region that suits your taste is getting easier with the help of a number of cafes.

Being able to identify a well-developed fresh product already works well through food and wine; coffee was always going to be next.

Coffee Cup Filth

I was doing a round, picking up the glassware and ceramics that had been scraped down with a spoon to get every inch of the coffee I had made out. In the corner of the shop stood a lone empty, I went to pick it up and take it to be washed.

The spoon was delicately placed next to the discarded dish, but sitting next to the cup was a dirty half-eaten chicken bone.

I jumped back, overwhelmed with disgust yet somewhat curious about the wing and bean combination. Shaking my head back to the sanitizer I wanted to throw it in the trash, as if the bone had tainted the plate because some customer was too lazy to walk to the bin.

Coffee cup filth is a usual occurrence. Mostly its apple cores, wasabi, soy, and chewed gum, the chicken bones come in twice a week and they are the worst of all.

I have, however, gotten used to the cigarette butts. It’s such a regular find you’d think we were a tobacco dispensary.

I like to think of a café as a third home. After your actual abode and the office, getting a coffee is something most people do every day, usually at the same place. But that does not make me your mother and it certainly doesn’t mean you can leave crap all over the place thinking I’m going to come along to gladly demonstrate how to use the trash.

I’m lucky enough to have a workforce in place that supports my cleaning duties. The blue shirted men and women that work hard at La Trobe to ensure a clean environment do offer the alternative to walking towards a smelly bin.

Although it’s pretty sad that many of us weren’t taught that bits of paper and uneaten lunches go into one of the hundreds of trash cans situated throughout the uni.

Without me and the fleet of disposal experts, La Trobe would be a pretty dirty place. Yes, it’s my job to clean the cups, but c’mon now we don’t even serve chicken wings or apples for that matter, be a little responsible and discard your manky food scraps. Also, apply elsewhere, a little spit shine on the world is always welcome.

Black is Always in Fashion

Clover Coffee

Our slow Saturdays are often spent in a café, hovering over some sort of eggy dish whilst nursing a hangover in the company of equals. The conversations don’t differ, make fun of the boss, the creep on the tram and evaluate the quality of food and drink.

As our palettes refine from the abundance of fine food we are faced with a new challenge which will hopefully make those breakfasts last just that little bit longer.

The challenge, you say? Black-filtered coffee.

Even though black has always gone down well in Melbourne, this diluted, Septic version of espresso has got to have a lot going on before our European taste buds jump on board.

Lately syphons, clovers, cold drip coffee makers and pour overs have been taking up space on the coffee counter. They are the new tools for a completely different way to enjoy a morning cuppa.

Noticed the freshly sponged blackboards that border the walls in many cafés? They used to showcase food, but now house blends, single origins and estates are listed for fare.

The equipment not only produce cups of black coffee but they extract the bean in a way that makes it possible to taste every single flavour within your little glass cup. The lingering lemon myrtle from an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe is powerful enough to make you re-think the bircher and go after some smoked salmon.

Sipping a fine coffee with a morning meal, is much like indulging with wine at dinner. The flavours compliment your dish and you get a background of where your hand picked cup came from.

Proud Mary, Brother Baba Budan, St Ali, Auction Rooms and Market Lane are a few establishments offering this very different approach to appreciate coffee. All of them have incorporated at least one new tool and are constantly changing their menu to offer a variety of different coffees throughout the week.

The most important thing about the quest to find that defining joe, is that all of these cafés offer a tasting guide and the patience to tell you anything you want to know about where your little brown bean came from.

Socializing with the café, sipping with a friend and giving your taste buds a work out is making that black stuff seem more our style. As the gradual shift from our European ways move towards a love for specialty coffee, the world of beans will open up.

Plus, I’d rather take a little bit more time out on a weekend morning drinking something that took many tastings to find.

Suburban Café Recipe

½ cup hoarded items (if you aren’t a hoarder befriend one)

1 cup espresso machine (Suggested: Synesso)

1 cup location

Pinch of cold beverages

2 tablespoons of sweets

1 bag of quality beans (Suggested: fair-trade or organic, otherwise strike a deal with a small roaster)

3 eggs

1 signature dish


Sift location into a small community, it should look dilapidated, peeling paint is a must, next to a well populated pizzeria would be prime.  Location will look small and crumbly, sprinkle hoarded items throughout to make nostalgic. It will add a flavour that will suit a variety of customer interests. Set aside.

In a small bowl add eggs, signature dish and sweets. Sweets should look homemade and have quirky names. Eggs must be at room temperature always poached. Signature dish should be some take on pesto or fish. Whisk ingredients together until light and fluffy. Then add a pinch of cold beverages, make sure they are Phoenix Organics. Set aside.

Melt music in a saucepan over medium heat. Music will begin to turn a light brown colour which should be quite temperate to taste, not overpowering. Take off stove before it turns Pink or else you will ruin the music. Set aside to cool.

Combine location, egg and music mixtures. Use a wooden spoon and fold all sides into each other until you see a courtyard with mix-matched chairs, old alcohol bottles filled with water, staff dressed from an op-shop and chalkboards. Music should be easily audible through mixture.

Bake for twenty minutes at 180 degrees.

Let cool. Then add espresso machine and beans on top, if you used Suggested people will come.




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