You may not know this about me, but I’m a sucker for a striped awning. Anyone clever enough to attach one to the outside of their cake shop/patisserie/boulangerie/espresso bar (because that’s where you always seem to find them) has a good chance of piquing my interest. And if it’s a sunny Saturday morning and I’ve ‘forgotten’ to have breakfast before Senhor R and I go out for coffee, your chances increase exponentially.
Thus ‘La Banette’ has always been referred to by me as ‘the place in Glebe with the yellow striped awning’. I don’t spend much time in Glebe because I find the coffee to be as it is in Newtown – a few brilliant places dotted here and there, but you gotta know where to look. And while in Newtown I have a fairly good idea (Campos, Vargabar Espresso, The Old Fish Cafe, Berkelouw Books), in Glebe I have no clue. And I’m usually too damned lazy to find out.
So I never realised it was a patisserie, boulangerie and café, let alone the second in a series (the other is in Avalon). After visiting, a quick Google reveals that the owners, Vince Luong and Uyen Le, have garnered acclaim all over for their interpretations of French classics. And it’s no surprise.
The interior is small but artfully arranged with bench seats and tables down one side and pastries, cakes and breads wherever they will fit. The selection is impressive and, to my mind, not at all on the expensive side. On our first visit we pick up a rustic sourdough baguette for something like $3 and grab our standard coffees to have in. The baguette isn’t as sourdough-y as I like it, but it have terrific crunch factor. The coffee is good. Very good. Good, rich crema, latte art which I can take or leave in real life but can’t get enough of for blogging. On our next visit we order croissant and a danish and they are divine; so buttery, rich and flaky I could eat ten.
The procedure is to order and pay at the counter before you sit down and the staff will bring your order out to you, or you can get it to go. They purport to be a bakery, not a cafe and thus although all the coffee comes with real saucers, cups and spoons the food comes in bags, boxes and on doilies. They request that you dispose of them yourself (they have bins) and I take no issue with this but if I have one criticism it’s that this policy seems wasteful. However, in the face of some of the best pastries I’ve had in my life and golden delicious coffee, this seems a small thing.
So, what less-than-subtle sign is guaranteed to pique you interest in a place?
18 Glebe Point Road, Glebe 2037
(02) 8095 9688
7:00am – 6:00pm Monday – Friday
While it might be a common occurrence for other food bloggers, it’s not usual for me to receive invitations to, well, anything. So when the folks at Campos asked me if I’d like to come check out The Cupping Room above their flagship store in Newtown, it’d be an understatement to say I was excited, especially since it had been on my to-do list since forever.
When I arrive at 5 to 3 on a Saturday, it’s hot and crowded and I can’t move for the customers. I’m not surprised, it’s one of the reasons I don’t come here that often, but when my partner in crime arrives, she’s shocked. ‘It’s as if there aren’t any other coffee shops in Newtown,’ she marvels. Well, for some, that may be true. We elect to wait outside. 10 or so minutes later we’re led through the crowd to the back of the store, up the steep stairs lit by a single dangling light bulb. Like an old-time speakeasy, a panel in the door slides open and a pair of eyes peer out. ‘Two?’ Asks a voice. We nod. We enter.
The space is pitch black save for a long wooden table, stainless-steel edged and lit by a line of spotlights. Our host, Todd has laid out 6 small bowls of coarsely ground coffee for each of us to ‘cup’ or taste. Cupping, he explains, is standard practice for roasters all over the world. The idea of cupping is that because you’re removing all the variables inherent in brewing coffee, you’re leveling the playing field and you really are just tasting the coffee. Each step of the cupping is usually given a score and that’s how a coffee is chosen by buyers.
Latte glasses of water and metal spoon glint in the light as Todd explains the process. The first step, he says, is smelling each grind. We inhale each cup (well, not literally, but you know what I mean) and leave the descriptions to the expert. Next, Todd lets the coffee steep in 93° water for 7 to 15 minutes. We then break the ‘crust’ of grounds that has formed on the top, careful to expose rather than destroy the crema. Once we’ve ‘crusted’ each cup we are to taste each one in turn without speaking – this is the time to form our initial impression. Each coffee must be taken with a single, sharp sip from our spoon. Todd makes a loud definitive ‘slurp’ with his, practically inhaling the brew but we’re more timid.
Afterwards we take our time though the 6 grinds, which have been set up in a very deliberate order, and we discuss the flavour profiles of each one. Todd says there’s no wrong answer here and encourages us to describe the coffees. I find this very difficult to do, but as soon as he mentions a flavour, for example ‘citrus’ or ‘earthy’, I find his description fits what I’m tasting, and it’s more than just the power of suggestion.
The coffees we taste are:
Indonesian Toarco Jaya – a solid, well rounded base.
The Ethiopian Lekempti – fruity, lemony. Yum!
Panama Emporium – I’m not sure how to explain this, but I don’t like it. It reminds me of that nauseous feeling of having had 5 or 6 coffees.
Colombian el tiestro –I liked it but I don’t remember much else about it.
Kenya Gethumbbwini – Very strong and zesty, like lemon peel.
Supermarket coffee – tastes like nothing.
Campos cups a variety of beans every day in their warehouse to maintain the consistency of their signature blend, ‘Superior’. They will roast on a Monday, cup in a Tuesday and adjust the ratios accordingly on a Wednesday, and this cycle continues each day. Visiting coffee plantations and tasting their crops has been recreated in a much more pristine and theatrical setting here at the cupping room. I ask what coffee producers would think of their gleaming setup and he admits they’d probably find it pretty bizarre.
The Cupping Room
193 Missenden Road,
Newtown NSW 2042
(02) 9690 0294
Sessions Tuesday to Friday at 7:30 and 2.00pm
Saturday’s at 8:30am, 1:00pm and 3:00pm
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