Five café trends that keep the industry growing

Whether you’re looking to wile away the hours lingering over an aeropress on a sunny stoop or stop to quickly slurp down a ristretto, there’s no denying that we Sydneysiders are pretty bloody spoiled when it comes to café choice. This year, I had a the chance to pen a few reviews for The Sydney Morning Herald Good Café Guide 2013, which I more than jumped at. Here are 5 trends that’ll keep the Sydney café scene growing for the next 12 months.

  1. Migration south-westwards - despite what some of us may believe, coffee doesn’t begin and end with Surry Hills. Unsurprisingly, Marrickville did fantastically well at this years’ Good Café Guide Awards; although Surry Hills Cafés took out 3 of the 10 awards on offer, Marrickville’s Coffee Alchemy won ‘Best Coffee’, and 3 of the 13 coffees awarded 3 cups (a score of 18-20 out of 20) are located in Marrickville, a result unrivalled by any other Sydney suburb. ‘Best Café’ went to Circa in Parramatta, ‘Best New Café’ to inner-westie Excelsior Jones and a bunch of new cafés were added to the guide in other south west suburbs.
  2. Green bean obsession - whether is be microlots, single origin, home roasting or becoming bffs with the dude that harvests your beans, our coffee houses are fast filling up with coffee bean obsessives. What’s more, cafés without a knowledge of the raw materials look like they lack knowledge full stop, and knowing what’s what bean-wise is only going to become more important as time goes by.
  3. ‘Your local’ - this phrase still applies to our local watering hole, it’s just the beverages we’re consuming these days are of the stimulating variety. The barista is fast replacing the barkeep as the one we tell our troubles to, and multiple trips to grab that picollo each day mean we may spend more time at the espresso machine than having post-work beers with our work-mates.
  4. Alterna-brews just keep growing – From aeropress to syphon, cold drip to pourover, non-espresso black coffee methods with freshly ground beans gives new meaning to the phrase ‘hand-crafted coffee’. To cultivate any kind of rep for coffee geekery, step away from the espresso machine and get back to basics.
  5. Pop-ups, co-labs and add-ons – Last night at the SMH Good Café Guide Awards, Editor Jill Dupleix mentioned the rise and rise of what she called ‘the café plus’; the café-and-bakery, the café-and-bar, the café-and-barber, the café-and-kitchen-garden. I’d like to add to this the growing trend of pop-ups within cafés, collaborations between different food and non-food businesses, and things like beer tastings or late-night dinners after hours, not to mention coffee carts, vans and food trucks. Café patrons are more than happy to think, eat and drink outside the box, quite literally.

What makes a good café is relatively subjective, but it’s always fun I think to grab the guide and pore over it (perhaps over a café brekky?) and argue over why your fave coffee joint was hard done by, whereas that snooty place down the road doesn’t know its arse from its elbow. With 347 cafés reviewed, almost one for each day of the year, it’s really just the beginning as far as getting yourself caffeinated and brunched-up is concerned.

The Guide is available today in bookshops and online for $9.99. It will also be sold for $5 this Saturday with The Sydney Morning Herald.

What do you think are the big café trends right now?

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I fear that Canberra, much like Sydney, is in serious danger of burning through its allocation of milk crates. Not because of the popularity of milk, but rather because they serve as seating for the crop of on-trend cafés popping up in old (but not in a retro way) shopfronts all over town. I love/hate this trend for numerous reasons. Milk crates are fine to sit on (with cushioning); they serve as a signal to customers, ‘take this coffee joint seriously’. But while they look incidental, in an ‘oh we were just SO BUSY making GROUNDBREAKING espresso we forgot to buy chairs!’ kind of a way, they are entirely deliberate. This is why there’s a countrywide shortage. I assume.

Red Brick espresso is no exception. Milk crates are scattered plentifully out the front of this Curtin café, and they’ve taken it to another level with the accompanying tables, made of bread crates. I hope there’s not a delivery guy out Fyshwick way somewhere going broke for lack of crates.

We stand at the counter for a while waiting to order, staff seem a little harried so we wait as they hand out the takeaways. We order coffee and seat ourselves in the unmistakeably Canberran, light-filled and cleverly renovated space, which, as we’re in the southside of Canberra, could’ve been anything in a past life- a house, a pharmacy, or a sex shop – all roads lead to rectangular brick structures. The guys behind the espresso machine look like they know what’s what – they roast their own coffee here, and are well and truly the third wave.

The coffee arrives. One of our piccolos is spilled a bit and the young waitress runs and grabs us a serviette. How about a fresh saucer? The spillage is hardly her fault though, the piccolos are almost flat white flat. My macch is cool, as are all the coffees, and nothing about the flavour grabs me. It’s fine, I can’t fault the method on my macch (other than the temperature, and I’m not a hot coffee drinker), so maybe this blend just isn’t for me.

The Red Brick Espresso Hombres were recently quoted in Cafe Culture as saying “We looked at what’s happening elsewhere and said, ‘why can’t we do it here?’ Red Brick ticks all the boxes and, if I lived in this neck of the woods, I’d be here daily. But no matter how many milk crates you give someone to sit on or whether you roast your own beans, it all goes to crap when a teenage girl spills your latte. And for the record, I’ve been back since, the coffee was still lukewarm, and I’ve heard the same from others. But I guess if I was from New York and came to visit my mates in Surry Hills, I’d feel like the café culture here is just a watered down version of what’s going on back home. For all I know the Williamsberg peeps are sitting on upturned shopping trolleys these days. I pray that trend doesn’t make it here.

Red Brick Espresso
4/35 Curtin Place, Curtin ACT 2605
02 6285 1668
http://www.redbrickespresso.com.au/
Monday-Friday 7:30am – 4:30pm
Saturday 7:30am – 4:00pm
Sundays 7:00am – 2:00pm

Red Brick Espresso on Urbanspoon

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Working a three day week has so many benefits, I can’t count them on both my hands. One of my favourite things about it is I get to go to cafes at non-peak times, soak up the atmosphere and have a couple of leisurely coffees. No matter how much fun that is though, it’s always better to have someone to share it with, to revel in it like a kid wagging school. That’s why I’m glad I got to check out Cowbell with my mate Elise of beauty blog Stuff That I Bought. What’s more, she told me her idea for The Potluck Club, so it was a pretty mach a business meeting, yeah?

The Cowbell 808 menu is a 1-pager, listing 13 items. Its a fusion of ingredients and cuisines, served up cafe style, presenting a mish mash of meal times. It’s not the usual suspects ingredients-wise, although weirdly, its what you’d expect. House made is the word du jour; these guys make everything from their own yogurt, to their own bacon. Now that’s hardcore.

Ticking off at least 2 of the 5 big Sydney trends this year, the menu also has a slight ‘americana’ influence. Case in point, fried chicken with ‘slaw, and my dining companion’s order of fat stacked ricotta hotcakes with marscarpone, bacon maple ice cream and espresso syrup. I like that they don’t separate things based on time of day – if you want to have a burger for breakfast, or a Banancolada (house made coconut yogurt with roast banana and lime), feel free. Elise declares her hotcakes delicious but super filling – she eats about half.

I’m well and truly past my one-coffee-a-day limit, ordering two macchs from the list of ‘liquid vices’ (and I had an espresso before I left home…) I’m impressed, but far too lazy to check something basic like what coffee these guys use. It’s an organic house blend, but I’m not sure if they roast it themselves or have someone do it for them. That would be because I don’t much care what coffee is used, as long as its good. Anyone who knows let me know, it seems like the kind of fact I should have on hand.

I’m not sure why there’s a basketball hoop, a graffitti mural or a disco ball in the cafe. Sure, it fits with the 80’s/music theme, but I’m not convinced it makes for a cohesive aesthetic. The rest- second hand furniture, scrabble letters spelling out the coffee menu, the huge windows flooding the room with light, the selectively exposed brick- I love.

We checked out Cowbell 808 on a Monday morning, so we weren’t faced with the hideous crowds that swamped the newly opened, Short Black-mentioned cafe in the previous couple of days. The service was beyond lovely and not pushy – the people working there were so attentive and generally, dare I say it, caring. And they didn’t even blink when I started snapping away, which is excellent, because I always feel awkward doing so. Word on the street (not sure which street, but there you go) is that the weekend experience is a lot less fun. What can I say, chuck a sickie. It’s worth it for the hotcakes and the rich, creamy macchs on offer. I will be back, if only to try the sundae.

Cowbell 808
616 Bourke Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9698 5044
Open 7 days
7:00am – 4:00pm

Cowbell 808 on Urbanspoon

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Now it’s May, I think I’m safe to tell you what you already know – what’s hot in food from where I sit – smack bang in the middle of inner-city Sydney. There are zero surprises and as many predictions. Read on to find out what’s hot right now.

1. diy/dit

From brewing your own beer and cider to from-scratch sourdough to a beehive on the roof, to pickling, canning and preserving, diy (do it yourself) and dit (do it together) food sprung up post-GFC as part of a wider trend including knitting, gardening and squeezing all your soap remnants into one big ball (ok, maybe not so much).

It’s now cool to act like a Granny and no one will laugh at you for growing your own kale. It’s kinda like how we used to take the piss out of people who ate squid, or garlic, or other ‘weird’ foods in the 70s and 80s, and now you can’t walk into a pub without someone shoving a plate of calamari and aioli in your face. We’re all guerilla gardeners and apprentice artisan bakers these days, but even so, this trend has spawned a whole market of people who would quite like to pickle their own cumquats, but simply haven’t the time. This is why ‘homestyle cooking’ is everywhere in cafes right now. Call me crazy, but if I want ‘homestyle food’, I’ll go to…my house?

2. Every kind of non-espresso coffee (except instant)

Cold drip, siphon/syphon, filter/pourover, french press, stovetop – we’re still loving our fresh ground beans, but espresso just doesn’t have the novelty these other methods do. Add to this the fact that an espresso machine is a pretty pricey (and huge) piece of gear, and low-tech gadgetry becomes a lot more attractive.

People are tasting coffees the way they once tasted wines, and the less milk and sugar the better. It’s fashionable to want to taste the coffee all by its lonesome (well, with water) and all else is considered additive – sugar, milk, cut that shit out right now. We’re all about purity, simplicity

3. locavore-ism

Right now it is suddenly *so important* where your food comes from. Locavore is the organic of 5 years ago, with people growing truss tomatoes on their teensy apartment balconies. We hate Colesworths ‘cause of the pressure they put on food prices, farmers and the waste that results when less-than-picturesque produce is rejected (and yet Aldi is apparently fine?) so we’re jumping on the Farmer’s Market bandwagon like there’s no tomorrow. Which is fair enough, as food security is one of the single biggest issues we face; there may *be* no tomorrow if we don’t sort this shit the fuck *out*. Oh, and heirloom tomatoes. We like those.

4. cocktails and other concoctions

From the old fashioned to the walrus slime parfait (yes, I made that up), cocktails are hot, and the bars that serve them even more so. Signature drinks, mixologists, ‘freestyle’ bars with no menus- it’s all happening. Ok, so a Caipirinha will set you back 16 rather than 6 dollars, but it’s worth it to pretend you’re in Brasil, or Cuba, or an episode of Mad Men, or a Marylin Monroe film or… a really expensive bar. Wake up and smell the spiced rum.

5. ‘Americana’ is still going strong

Anywhere that does a half decent take on South American, Central American, Mexican, southern US or just plain junk food is the place to be seen instagramming on your iphone right now. Hotdogs and Ice cream sandwiches are everywhere, tacos are the word du jour, Brasilian, Peruvian and Argentinean food is more and more common. You can get Chicken and waffles at the Jazz City Diner and burger joints are still going strong. Food bloggers are baking up American candy-flavoured-treats like there’s no tomorrow. Dive bar food and deep fried everything is well and truly on the menu – from The Dip’s Deep fried birthday cake to The Norfolk’s deep fried pickles to the Abercrombie’s deep fried pizza, pubs and bars are dishing up what everyone in the rest of the world thinks Americans eat.

Anyway…you tell me. What’s hot right now in your books? And where can we get it?

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They let their food go cold. They rock fancy SLRs. They tweet up a storm, posting photos of their on-trend lunches and they always know where to get a good feed. Here are five facts about food bloggers you may not know.

1. They hate food fads just as much as you do
Macarons. Masterchef. Those over-blogged ‘it’ restaurants. Food bloggers have been there, done that, or at least read it in their mile-long blogroll. At EatDrinkBlog, one food blogger admitted to me, in hushed tones ‘I don’t think macarons are that great, actually.’ I had another prominent food blogger email me to agree that Sydney’s recent night noodle markets were both overrated and lacking in noodles. Chances are your fave food blogger is as sick of hearing about Jamie’s Italian as you are…or soon will be.

2. They’re zeitgeisty, not trendy
Food bloggers will break the next big thing months before the more cautious mainstream media. By taking risks, readers feel they get the inside scoop and other bloggers can follow suit and put in their 2 cents. As a rule, food bloggers don’t blog an experience they’re not that enamoured with, unless it’s macarons, possibly served at the night noodle markets by one of the contestants of masterchef, so the initial buzz bloggers create is often well-deserved.

3. They work extremely hard at what they do
Blogging requires consistent effort, especially for big name bloggers or those who have successfully monetised their blogs. Once readers regularly stop by or start paying for content, it becomes even more important to provide consistent, quality stuff. Food bloggers know they have to bring their readers something fresh and new that they can’t find on their own. A full-time blogger may work around 15 hours a day, 6-7 days per week. I myself spend about 8-10 hours a week just to produce 1-2 posts.

4. They’re often not as tech-savvy as you might think
Bloggers aren’t all tech heads, nor are they all graphic designers. When figuring out how to do something tricky on their blogs, the default method? ‘Google it’. I’m really glad I’m not alone in this, as along with visiting forums, it’s the method I usually use. Another thing I’ll do is to get in contact with bloggers who have a feature on their blog I particularly like, and ask them where they got it. Food bloggers are usually more than happy to share their knowledge and help you out.

5. They’re not all trying to get published in mainstream media
It’s often assumed by those outside the blogging community that bloggers are trying to get published in a ‘real’ medium. For some, this may be the case – they may be after freelance writing jobs or book deals. But for many, blogging can be a hobby, or it can be a business, it can be just plain fun. I know for myself the motivation is producing something, publishing something myself.

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