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Post coffee

It’s been six months. Six months since I’ve felt a jug of milk heat up in my palm, watched the espresso drip out of a porta-filter and felt sweat glide down the front of my forehead trying to get ahead of the order.

It’s been six whole months since I made coffee and I miss it dearly.

I’ve had dreams of making coffee, thought about doing a trial and daily consider asking my local barista to shove across so I could take over. Ever since I joined the race I’ve been a little down frequenting the café as a consumer, not a producer.

After I finished my post-grad I went into full time work, 9-5 at a desk. It has taken me months to get over the guilt associated with sitting down all day, something unheard of in the field of hospitality.

But throughout this whole transition from working student to clockwatcher, coffee has been constantly in my thoughts. I am obsessed with it and given the lines I see on Saturday morning throughout Melbourne, so is everybody else.

So I am changing the direction of this blog – since I now stand in a very different place in the café. As a paying customer I’m curious as to why the coffee shop is probably the most frequented place next to the office and home.

I’m embarking on a social history of coffee in Australia, following the trends, the people, the influences, growth and how a love of beans became what it is today.

Although I’m pretty sure dreaming about coffee isn’t normal, I bet those that did in the past are the ones that transformed a popular foreign plant into a staple in society.

Keep Cup standards

The Keep Cup has become the green bag for the café.

About a month or so ago I noticed a massive influx of customers using the re-usable plastic cup to replace the cardboard alternative we offer for takeaways.

One or two made me think similar shopping tastes were the answer, but upwards from 50 different Keep Cups from people ranging in age are stark signs that a movement is underway.

The Keep Cup is latte Tupperware. It’s made out of polypropylene, a type of microwaveable plastic that lasts up to four years. It was designed in Australia and marketed under the fact that it is of Barista standard.

Barista standard. What on earth does that mean?

It certainly couldn’t mean that I have to put two shots in the smallest size available to avoid customers telling me their coffee is too weak.

It also couldn’t mean that since the medium and large varieties don’t fit under the group handle I have to waste another cup collecting the espresso to pour into the environmentally friendly version.

I’m a barista, either my challenges are related to machinery or I’ve got to lower my standards.

As The Keep Cup Movement continues to rise, so do the amount of products.

Next month, they rollout the 4oz version for the babycino, pretend-coffee for children. Being a necessity for the two-year old certainly proves its popularity. But doesn’t secure my affection for a company that promotes a drink I greatly detest.

Yet, saving hundreds of cardboard cups from ending up in landfills makes the Keep Cup a hero. Sure it’s not perfect, but by holding it in your hand, like a green bag to the market; you’re showing others that you care about what goes into the trash.

As more and more people make this point, our environmentally conscious standards will rise.

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.

Location:

206 High St
Northcote VIC 3070

An Afternoon at St. Ali

The two young men took turns while laughing and engaging with the large crowd that had moved on from the music. It was an ‘art off’ each barista pouring and pouring to make a better design on top of their latte.

The crowd was buzzing, perhaps in awe of the way an everyday beverage could be turned into such a masterpiece. Although I’m sure the free coffee added to the excitement.

Last Sunday St. Ali invited enthusiasts to watch their baristas demonstrate their craft and give a behind the scenes look at their roasting facility. The South Melbourne Laneway, where they’re nestled, was closed down in order to show off what they do best, make coffee.

The event was held in conjunction with Melbourne’s first food blogging conference (Eat.Drink.Blog.) and photo exhibition which were also sponsored by St. Ali. With that many people devoted to food and espresso walking around, you better believe that everything I consumed was nothing short of perfection.

There were kiosks set up throughout the space. Sensory Lab, St. Ali’s new endeavour, were handing out coffee made from a Syphon and Der Raum were mixing beautiful concoctions full of alcohol and Caribbean spices. The DJ mixed from an apple which gave the laneway a backyard bbq sort of appeal.

The ‘art off’ was like watching two break dancers in the middle of a wooden floor work off one another. The first move was simple but when the one-upmanship started, the designs became more and more complex with the audience clapping and smiling throughout the way.

After the show St. Ali’s soft spoken roaster tried to take the audience through the process. Unfortunately, the caffeinated crowd and his lack of projection turned the tour into a Q and A, the main question being, “could you repeat that?”

Nevertheless, we were all able to walk around their two roasters and glimpse into the amount of work it takes to turn beans into a trademark.

My evening ended with a single ristretto made from their espresso blend. After the two strong cocktails I had tried from Der Raum, it was the perfect finish to a late afternoon indulgence.

Down Some Suburban Laneway

Off the main strip on an unknown street stood an unnamed café with a reputation that reached me last Saturday. 

Ambiguity, the epitome of cool, I’m obviously not in the know because the name was nowhere to be seen.

Word of mouth brought me in from the heat plus an ex-barista from Caffeine had raved about the coffee. It was Atomica, so it took me a while to make my way in there.

Nothing against Atomica, one of the four fathers of Melbourne’s roasting explosion, but we serve their blend so on the weekends I tend to seek out different tastes.

Down the suburban laneway was a beautifully set up café, tightly spaced with meek lighting and a relatively rude staff. Food was travelling at the speed of light, table to table, and I was squashed between a register and old school San Pellegrino memorabilia when I ordered my takeaway latte.

“Strong soy latte thanks.”

“That’ll be four dollars.” I glanced at the menu twice to make sure it was really that expensive. It was.

I searched my purse for the acceptable amount of twenty cent pieces then went to wait for what I thought would be ten minutes.

Thirty minutes later I received an awesome coffee, I was impressed, it was fabulous. They used a different blend than we do, it was Atomica’s Den blend, very smooth. But a half an hour for a takeaway, c’mon now, I do have a life outside the café!

I accept taking time out to make a perfectly crafted beverage, especially if it’s over priced, however, there should be a rule that takeaway coffees come first.

There is a lid on a to go, so latte art is unnecessary. That’s thirty seconds gone. Also, people that come in to sit and have a chat with a friend should not take preference. They’re planted, ready to take their time. Minus ten minutes thirty seconds.

So the wait time could have been nineteen minutes, still too long. Yet I have found when getting takeaways from an assortment of cafés that this is the usual alotted time.

It takes about a minute and a half to steam milk and 18-23 seconds for a perfect shot of espresso to pour. That’s roughly two minutes to make a coffee, thirty minutes is absolutely unacceptable.

I know, I shouldn’t complain, the coffee made me stop in the middle of the street and forget about the oncoming traffic, I immediately wanted another.

Unfortunately, I had other things to do than feel awkward waiting in a cramped unknown bar.

Cupping

I felt like I was taking part in a legal drug trade. There were raw materials lying around the empty garage waiting to be processed. The walls were bright white untouched by dust and the only other people in the room were twitching from the product.

There was a periodic table of sorts, blue tacked to the wall describing the sensory elements involved in the drug. I looked through familiar terms and stumbled across ones I would never associate with coffee.

Balsamic rice, apricot and beef, who knew you could detect such distinct flavours from a little green bean shipped in from all parts of the world.

The roasting equipment was flown in from Italy, Bologna to be exact. It had been carefully picked to turn the new batch into a big seller on the market. I couldn’t wait to taste it; my glands were growing weak from salivating.

Then the cupping began. It was a slow process consisting of careful measurements and perfect water temperature. I was told the coffee had just been roasted, a 10-13 minute event that turns tiny green beans into brown aromatic ingredients.

The grounds were at the bottom of the glass when the water was poured on top, they floated throughout the cup resembling a snow globe then finally settled on the surface.

Next step was to smell. I grabbed a large soup spoon and pushed the coffee that had settled away from me three times while trying to grab every scent the cup let off.

It was heaven, freshly brewed, caffeinated goodness.

The grounds by this time had fell towards the bottom and it was time to taste. I submerged the spoon just enough to get a mouthful of the Kenyan blend that was now testing my patience.

In order to properly taste, to get the full experience, the coffee needs to be slurped hastily past the teeth and directly onto the tongue. This method is supposed to make a high pitched sound as you breathe in fast. The more experienced cuppers had mastered the sound, mine came out rather gurgly.

I spit my mouthful out into the complimentary spit cup that comes with the ceremony.  I almost kept it in but didn’t want to look any more like an amateur after the gurgling. Then it was over.

My palate was obviously not developed enough to notice the apricot that made a Kenyan distinct. But I enjoyed the coffee and was refined enough to call the blend fruity.

The left over beans were packed up into a blank paper bag, scribbled on then left to taste later. Cupping is something you do over and over again to the same blend to see how it ages and develops.

I had met up with Andrew Kelly, owner of Auction Rooms and roaster of Small Batch Coffee. Kelly was a cupping professional and kind enough to show me his red roaster and of course, the process. After all these years of distributing it was nice to finally meet a supplier.

The Spin Room

Working out on a Saturday at 7:30 in the morning does not sit well with my Friday night antics.

Especially, when you have a man dressed like Lance Armstrong intimidating the giggly bits brought on by last nights’ dinner.

Right past Separation Street, next to a bakery in Northcote lives The Spin Room, a lively indoor cycling studio with a twist.

Sam Stapleton, creator and instructor, has brought hospitality to the otherwise banal ritual of exercising. He has intertwined two of Melbourne’s latest cultural phenomenons, cycling and coffee.

 “Early in the morning coffee is on people’s minds.” Sam explains, “It’s a great ice-breaker and is a simple way to create a great uplifted mood for the rest of the class.”

Nearly everyone has been to a café, but a cycling class full of people dressed like they are about to compete can be pretty daunting for a beginner. So with good reason, Sam placed an espresso machine in the middle of his studio.

“It takes away the intimidation of that new class, new experience nervousness. A short black is the most uncomplicated form of coffee and it is a good way to invite a first-timer and get more personal with them. Everyone loves a chat over coffee.”

The Australian Institute of Sport established in 2004 that a serving of caffeine benefits endurance athletes and general performance over a range of different sports.

 A short black is not enough to cause a diuretic effect. The small amount actually energizes the body for physical activity. This is one of the reasons it’s the only thing on the menu.

“A short black is simple and basic which goes hand in hand with exercise, they are both natural.”

Sam, an ex-chef who took up cycling a decade ago, wanted to move away from the long hours and inconsistency in hospitality. It’s no wonder his studio has the social vibe of a café, not a place you dread going to.

 “I’m trying to create a relaxed atmosphere away from a high tech world, a place to chill out and do something for yourself.”

I was more buzzed than relaxed as I pedalled like a maniac yet the theme is certainly catching.

Spinning enthusiasts dropped by and put their name on the schedule for the next class. The list was full by the time I left and a couple of people from the class were organizing breakfast. After the sweating, it had become a place to hang out.

The spinning was tough and I’m still not sure 7:30 was the most fitting time. However, I certainly felt ready to conquer the world after all that adrenaline and caffeine.

The Spin Room

New Location: Upstairs,  407 Plenty Road, Preston

Price: $15 a class, $12 for Spin Boxing (shoulders beware, this is an energetic cross-cardio class)

Website: http://www.thespinroom.com.au/


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