Read my piece over at CNNGo.com here
It’s coffee, just not as you know it, by Daisy Dumas
There’s something unexpected brewing in Sydney’s café core – and it’ll change the way you look at coffee forever.
Far away from the espresso-based Flat White debate, a group of dedicated baristas are doing their best to prove there’s more to coffee than meets the caffeine-dependent eye.
The humble bean is undergoing a renaissance. Sydney is waking up to aromatic varietals, roasting techniques, alternative brewing methods and — shock, horror — a cup o’ Joe without milk.
From coffees that fizz to fiendishly complex roasting profiles, every cup of coffee tells a tale — and it’s worth putting down your latte to listen to the story.
Here’s the five best alternative cups of coffee in Sydney. Try them and get wired in the process.
1. Sparkler at Coffee Alchemy
Not for nothing have the espresso-based coffees at this purists’ haunt garnered a fan-base of semi-religious fervour. The game here is coffee and coffee alone, with no food served. And, living up to their name, the alchemists here have been busy experimenting.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get wilder on the caffeine-o-meter, Hazel and the guys at Coffee Alchemy go and invent sparkling chilled coffee on tap.
The south side café is the only place in the world where you can try the sensory-bamboozling drink, the Sparkler ($6). It’s like a beer, but instead of wobbliness, delivers a fizzy hit of caffeine straight to the bloodstream.
Made using a specially selected Ethiopian Nekisse, which is roasted heavily to give it stout-like clout, its chocolaty notes and strong citrus nose add to this bizarre, brilliant and altogether worth-a-try experience.
It’s also poured over ice, making it a predicted hit in warmer months.
Coffee Alchemy, 24 Addison Road, Marrickville, Monday to Friday 7 a.m.-2 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-3 p.m., +61 (0)2 9516 1997, www.coffeealchemy.com.au
2. Filtered La Esmeralda at Mecca
If there is one thing Paul Geshos — owner of this caffeine-pilgrim’s shrine in Ultimo — doesn’t know about coffee, it is unknown.
As well as cupping and brewing demonstrations, Mecca offers some serious coffee lovers’ nectar, such as the rare La Esmeralda ($6), an Ethiopian Geisha varietal that is grown in Panama.
It’s filtered with bells-and-whistles wizardry, producing a clean cup of black coffee — allowing the bean and the bean alone to do the talking.
To heighten expertise, compare it to another variety of filter coffee from the seasonally changing menu. The Colombian Cup of Excellence, for example, is one of the most sought-after coffees. You could start to sound like a pro, picking out top notes of citrus, jasmine and bergamot and ending with a sweet, refreshing finish.
It’s hot, it’s in a cup, it’s called coffee: but that’s where the association with a latte ends.
Mecca, 646 Harris St., Ultimo, Monday-Friday 6 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m.-4 p.m., +61 (0)2 9280 4204
3. Pour-over at Don Campos
This new outpost of the Campos empire — Don Campos — is a bright, airy space partly dedicated to the art of alternative brewing. Siphons and pour-overs put subtler shades of coffee into the limelight. They focus on the lightly roasted and constantly changing seasonal varietals.
It’s technical stuff: weighing scales, thermometers, glass funnels and a metal filters. In a nutshell, don’t try this at home — although all the wares are here to buy.
As Don Campos’ coffee cools, it changes character — the El Manzano (apple tree) from El Salvador ($4.50) has an appropriately apple-like sharpness and intensifying, sprightly zing.
It’s a flavor journey that would, frankly, take a wrong turn with the addition of milk or sugar.
Don Campos, 21 Fountain St., Alexandria, Monday-Friday 6:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 8:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m., +61 (0)2 9690 0090
4. Cupping at Campos
While the slavishly addicted fill the cosy room downstairs, others head up the wooden stairs for an assignation with a difference.
Knock on the wooden door and a hatch slides back. The door opens onto a dark room where spotlights shine onto six cups, six glasses and six small trays of green beans.
Being part of a cupping session ($11) is a rare journey into the selection, judging and global trading that industry insiders know.
Cupping’s an uncompromising system involving smelling, timing, crusts, peeling and slurping at speed from a soup spoon. Like a tribal peculiarity, the louder the slurp, the better — you’ll only stick out if you don’t practically inhale your coffee. Thankfully, spittoons mean you don’t end up bouncing off the walls.
Work your way through the varieties, from floral Ethiopian Lekempti to Indian Monsooned Malabar and Kenyan Gethumbwini – and see if you can spot the supermarket brand.
Campos, 193 Missenden Road, Newtown, Monday-Friday 7 a.m.- 4 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m.-5 p.m., +61 (0)2 9516 3361, www.camposcoffee.com
5. Single Origin’s Sideshow
The offshoot of wildly popular Single Origin, the aptly-named Sideshow next door is all about educating the discerning coffee drinker — and gives them more than they bargained for.
Apparatus that wouldn’t look out of place in a science lab is lined along the counter: pour-overs, suitably showy cold-drip apparatus and the stars of the show, vacuum siphons.
Pick a single origin from the menu — such as the Rwandan Rutsiro ($5) — and watch the theatricalities unfold as barista Charles unleashes the Japanese siphon technology.
The results are impressive: smokiness and lime shine through and sweet carrot notes strengthen the coffee. Brewed at a high 94 C, it cools in the specially hand-blown glasses.
On a hot day, try a cold-drip coffee over ice ($3) — it’s sweet and clean tasting with a nuttiness that has those in the know addicted.
It’s coffee, just not as you know it.
Single Origin’s Sideshow, 52-58 Reservoir St., Surry Hills, Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., +61 (0)2 9211 0665