Something you will never, ever hear me say about a café, bar or any other place is that it is ‘so Melbourne.’ I know what people mean when they say that. I can even see what they’re talking about in my mind’s eye. It’s some kind of kitch, bentwood chaired, astro-turfed, bicycle-wheels-dangling-from-the-ceiling, exposed-vintage-lighbulb-studded hole-in-the-wall with hipster clientele and fashionably–mussed student waiters. It’s zany. It’s ironic. It’s ‘more european’. But I refuse to use this term.

I’ve never understood the Melbourne/Sydney rivalry, mostly because it is so one-sided. People from Melbourne will always try and sell it to you, as if Melbourne invented any or all of the following things: coffee, hipsters, black clothes, laneways, graffiti. They’ll give you one million reasons why it’s better than Sydney. But Sydneysiders don’t give a damn, and I in particular don’t give a damn as long as the coffee’s good. We all like upcycled vintage sideboards, we just don’t talk about them all the time. Oh and p.s.- there ain’t no such thing as a long macchiato.

Klink Handmade espresso is the kind of café that would be right at home in Degraves street or equivalent, but I won’t hold that against them. You’ll find it in the foyer of the Gaffa gallery, housed in a strawberry ice cream coloured heritage building. It’s on Clarence street, near the astro-turfed Grandma’s Bar and a couple of other coffee places with good reps. There’s not a lot of room to sit, so if you’d prefer takeaway you can order through the window.

Klink, like The Kick Inside uses Golden Cobra espresso. I wasn’t disappointed with my macchiato as it came complete with a jug of frothed milk, just to be on the safe side. That was helpful as my coffee companion found her espresso a tad bitter and so ended up with a macchiato after all. Sit down coffee is expensive here- $3.40 for a macchiato. But it’s a good place for a quick coffee and a chat.

So, what’s an expression that drives you mad?

Klink Handmade Espresso
281 Clarence Street, Sydney 2000
(04) 1511 8505
Monday-Friday 7:00am – 3:00pm

Klink Handmade Espresso on Urbanspoon

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What makes a subject blogworthy? In certain blogs, such as interior design, wedding, craft and food blogging, it’s the photos. There are very few blogs on these subjects that can successfully publish image-less posts. Recipe blogs will almost always feature photos (check out this popular wordless recipe) and even brief reviews of restaurants and cafés will feature pictures of the food and the setting. This makes sense, as in its current incarnation, we cannot smell, taste or feel things through the internet.

Images can illustrate a blog but also act as a kind of pornography. ‘Food porn’ is a common term these days, and a comment made by John on my last post got me wondering- should we be blogging the supposedly unblogworthy? Does only blogging the gorgeous, the visually appealing, the photogenic serve to undermine the genuine, ‘authentic’ feel blogging creates, making food blogs less like personal cookbooks and more like glossy food magazines? I know of a recent example in a certain wedding blog featuring so-called ‘real weddings’ as inspirations for brides which turned out to be a professional photo shoot complete with a six figure budget and models in place of the bride and groom. Hardly a real wedding.

Of course, I’m guilty of blogging only the beautiful. At one stage my recipe content was skewed heavily in favour of desserts, sweets being generally easier to photograph than savoury dishes. Once it expanded to include café reviews I wrote my own brief (cafés I would go to, newish, solid places with a focus on coffee) but soon realised I had an implied brief as well; cafés that would look good in photographs. I know this skews my content in a particular direction and perhaps leaves out some valuable examples of great places to get coffee. But at the same time, I appreciate good interior design and these are the kind of cafés I like to visit, so the implied brief is still a genuine one.

So when I came across this gorgeous description of a new Stanmore cafe ‘Paper Cup’ in Amanda’s blog, ‘the cake + the knife, a love story’ I knew I’d have to get there asap. In fact, I went the very next morning, keen to check out the new endeavor from Clipper Café’s Adriano Matteoni. I was not disappointed.

This place more than meets my self-imposed brief. Firstly, it’s easy to get their by public transport. Right next to Stanmore Cellars, Paper Cup is a 2 minute walk from Stanmore station, so I was there in a flash. Secondly, it has a very limited menu, which might sound like a negative but in many cases, communicates seriousness about coffee (and, as a former barista, is my own personal dream set-up). I’ve always been a big fan of simplicity and Paper Cup has only 5 items on their menu, with additional pastries should you feel like a sweet treat. And finally, the interior is small and bright, edged with exposed brick and crowned with a calculated tangle of red wiring and industrial shades. It’s cute, quirky and photogenic. Perfect.

I order a macchiato and sit. The staff seem very friendly and my caramel-y shot is brought out promptly with a carafe of water and a glass. I’m pretty thirsty as I rushed out of the house to get my caffeine fix as quickly as possible, so I drain the carafe. As I’m eavesdropping on a hideous-yet-I-can’t-stop-listening conversation between two inner-west helicopter parents, I gaze around the area. I’m just in the middle of planning my relocation to Stanmore when I realise my glass is being refilled from a fresh carafe. Service with a smile.

I go inside to pay, have a quick chat and snap a few photos. It turns out Paper Cup has only been open about a month and business is going well. I can see why. The coffee is delicious (they also do cold drip if you’re that way inclined), the decor is just the offbeat side of minimalist and the service is prompt and friendly. As I wind my way home on a caffeine high, past the iron-lace-edged terraces of Stanmore, I know I’ve found another great café to add to my ever-growing list of favourites.

Paper Cup
157/161 Cambridge St
Stanmore, 2048
(02) 9000 0000

Monday – Sunday 6:00am – 4:00pm

Paper Cup on Urbanspoon

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We’ve all been there. Eagerly awaiting that fist sip of coffee only to find a disappointing brew that can only be described as ‘that’s not what I ordered.’ It’s all too easy to criticise, saying you asked for ‘extra hot’ or ‘strong’ or ‘not too much froth’ but these are subjective terms. Wouldn’t it be lovely if someone would give you a user’s manual for the wank-fest that is coffee these days? Well, somebody has. Here are the five simple rules to get not only the correct coffee, but the best.

1. If you don’t want sugar, never, ever ask for ‘no sugar’.
I know many people do this to pre-empt the irritating, automated query that comes free with any takeaway coffee almost immediately after you’ve placed your order: ‘any sugars’? However, in a crowded, noisy coffee shop, no matter how good the barista’s ears, ‘no sugar’ almost always sounds like ‘one sugar’ and that’s what you will get, which will annoy you no end.

The reason every customer gets asked ‘any sugars?’ is to save us all from that all too common moment after a customer receives their small cap and asks ‘did you put the sugar in?’ and then the barista has to take the coffee, open it, add the required number of sugars, stir and re-lid it. This makes no sense at all because HOW ON EARTH WOULD THEY KNOW HOW MUCH SUGAR TO PUT IN?! So undergo the annoying automated query. You are saving, not wasting time.

2. Don’t leave the coffee shop, either literally or mentally.
It’s a bad idea to talk on your phone, listen to your mp3 player or just not listen for your order. It’s an even worse idea to expect to be served while you’re actually talking on your phone. This ensures grumpy service and its likely you’ll end up with the wrong coffee.

Although the number of people who take the wrong coffee is pretty miniscule it is hugely annoying, not only for the person who does it but for the customer who has to wait for a new coffee and for the barista who has to make their coffee all over again. Listening out for your order assures this won’t happen, as does keeping an eye on who ordered before you. Chances are when they collect their coffee, you’re next.

3. Know your order
It sounds so obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know what they order. I once had a guy come in and order three coffees: a macchiato and two lattes. What he actually wanted was a mug of cappuccino and a mug of long black. He didn’t even know how MANY coffees he wanted.

In a lot of cafés, the staff know all their regular customers’ orders. But if there is ever a new staff member who doesn’t know your order or you change cafés, you need to know what it is you order. So when someone asks you ‘what would you like today?’ it is not at all helpful to say ‘She/he knows’ or ‘my usual’ if you have never in your life seen the person standing in front of you.

4. Expect the barista to know what the coffee they just made is. Don’t expect them to know whose it is.
Once your coffee is made, if the barista yells out ‘large caramel cappuccino with two equals’ and that’s what you ordered, there’s not much point in asking ‘is that my coffee?’. The barista, in a flurry of making 25 coffees at once, will have no idea, he/she will only know what the coffee is as he/she most likely did not take your order. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice the person who ordered before you just grabbed their coffee so it must be yours. Or you might notice you are the only person left in the coffee shop. Or you might notice that your order is so incredibly unique that no one else could have ever dreamed it up. A large-strong-half-skim-half-full-cream-Chai-latte-no-cinnamon-on-top-extra-hot, for example. That’s yours for sure.

5. Want stronger coffee? Reduce milk, don’t add shots.
The cheapest way to strengthen coffee is to reduce the amount of milk, not add more coffee shots. This little-known secret also inadvertently leads the barista to take your request more seriously. Why is this? Well, it’s because by asking for a small ¾ full cappuccino instead of a double shot small cappuccino, you are being particular and your order is memorable. This means that the barista knows if they get your coffee wrong you’ll return it, and so, to avoid this, they’ll make exactly what you asked for. You’ll also get their full attention so there’s less chance of mistakes.

So there you go. Truly, it is knowing how not to order your coffee that is the key to a) receiving what you ordered and b) it tasting delicious. Why? Well, a) because the barista will have a clear understanding of what you want and b) they will go out of their way to give it to you.

I bet you’ve all got something to say about café etiquette. What really irks you, chums?

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There’s an interesting phenomenon when it comes to coffee in the Sydney CBD. It’s fast. It’s cheap. It’s abundant. It’s usually pretty good. But there’s not often time to blow your mind at 9:45 on a Tuesday morning. And come the weekend, going out for coffee becomes a daunting prospect as the men and women in suites retire to the inner and outer suburbs for a spot of R & R and CBD coffee more or less shuts down.

Another phenomenon is the ‘black holes’ all over the CBD. Sure, you’re spoilt for choice on the Surry Hills/CBD border, but what about Chinatown/Ultimo? I struggled to think of anywhere off the top of my head, but then, Ultimo never really occurs to me as a place to go for coffee. Until now.

There are a few well known ‘solid’ cafés in the CBD and Mecca is often cited as one of them. They now have three stores, one at 67 King Street, one at 1 Alfred Street and the newest addition in Ultimo at 646 Harris Street, just down from ABC studios in what used to be Gloria Jeans. Having previously checked out their King Street café I decided to give the Harris Street Mecca a go as it is sort of walking distance from my place and only opened last month.

The interior of Mecca is quite spacious so there’s plenty of places to sit, with polished concrete floors and sheet glass windows. The decor is sparse but welcoming, old-style wooden school chairs and polished black tables arranged in an orderly fashion. Not unlike Don Campos, the decor screams professional, but in this case with a touch of quirkiness.We ordered and payed for our two macchiatos at the counter before sitting down. Our coffees came promptly and were a tad milkier than many macchiatos, but I never consider that a problem myself. The flavour was creamy and rich and it was nice to sit for a while and not worry that we were taking up a table. I’m used to the cramped cafés of Newtown and surrounds which are generally pretty tiny, not the kind of places where you could spend the whole morning.

Mecca also have a breakfast and lunch menu with various toast-with-stuff options for breakfast and sandwiches, salads and Panini for lunch, which all seemed very reasonably priced. There is also a liquor licence in the works. All in all a solid experience and I would definitely visit again.

What are your top picks for places to go in Ultimo?

Mecca Espresso
646 Harris Street Ultimo, 2007
(02) 9280 4204
Monday-Friday: 7:00am – 4:00 pm
Saturday: 7:00am – 3:00 pm

Mecca Espresso - Ultimo on Urbanspoon

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Flint and steel in Marrickville is one of the many cafés I’ve been itching to try for ages now. It’s on Addison Road, one of those hip, up-and-coming main drags in the inner west, the kind of exposed, cracked and uneven arterial Marrickville Council road that make the City of Sydney Council look like an overbearing helicopter parent. It’s dotted sparingly with second hand furniture stores, Thai takeaways and of course, cafés.

Apart from house hunting, a few trips to Reverse Garbage and the bogus Marrickville Organic Market (not all of it is organic, not all of the prices are marked), it’s a road I’ve been down without stopping many times. This is not a criticism of the Marrickville/Enmore border; far from it.  Everything you need is there, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. You’re just outside the action, just outisde of Enmore/Newtown, a few bus stops from Sydney’s Little Portugal and a half hour bus ride from the CBD. The area has a lot in common with my current home, Alexandria, with its wealth of industrial conversions, dog parks and cafés. But Alexandria is a 25 minute walk from the CBD and I’m one lazy blogger who cannot drive her boyfriend’s manual car, or any manual car for that matter, so it has always seemed quite far out to me.

I stepped off the ever-reliable 355 bus to find I was more than 10 minute early, again! As I turned the corner I could already smell the coffee roasting. I followed my nose and the smell was even more enticing inside the shop. I ordered a macchiato and sat out the front as it’s quite dark inside. The barista brought out my coffee soon afterwards with a little glass of water which I appreciated. The macchiato was very short, the way I like it, with a beautiful striation. I took a sip and the first flavour I tasted was this overwhelming caramel note, I know that sounds pretentious but there you go. I’m not well-versed in coffee tasting lexicon but it was a very singular flavour, not rich or deep but clear and sweet. I was impressed with the clarity of flavour but I have a preference for something a tad darker and richer.

Waiting for my usual coffee pal, I was a tad nervous as I wanted to take photographs. I knew that Coffee Alchemy is primarily a coffee roaster and training facility, so it only has a tiny espresso bar at the front (Flint and Steel). I was going to have to ask permission. I generally feel ok with photographing interiors of cafés without asking as café owners don’t seem to mind and I consider cafés semi-public spaces. But in a small space it was inevitable that I would end up photographing staff and/or customers so I felt the need to ask.

My friend arrived and ordered a short black. The barista offered her a choice of three single estate coffees, and she chose the Guatamalan, which promptly arrived with a glass of water and had a darker, more chocolatey flavour and a tad longer shot, as she’s specified. We ordered two more coffees for good measure, a piccolo latte for me and another espresso for her. My piccolo had a gorgeous pattern on it, very photogenic. I wasn’t actually in the mood for a milk coffee, I just wanted a point of comparison and that’s the largest coffee I can bear to drink. It was smooth and creamy but lacked the body I was after and I couldn’t finish it. I wanted a short black if I’m honest.

Flint and Steel describes itself as ‘a little café tucked away in a quaint suburb’. While this description may seem a tad corny, it is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of shopfront, if not for the massive logo on the front window. Inside there are a few benches facing the front counter and a couple of side tables, and outside are three shabby-chic stools with large arm rests, so there is always somewhere to rest your coffee. However it’s not a place to wile away the hours and they don’t serve any food whatsoever, as they are primarily a coffee roaster. It wasn’t particularly busy, but then it was 10am on a weekday in Marrickville. We were there about an hour as people popped in and out, mostly getting takeaways, beans or freshly ground coffee to take home. I popped in 15 minutes prior to closing on Saturday arvo and they were a lot busier, with about 8 customers squeezed in sipping coffees and 5-or-so more ordering coffees and beans to takeaway.

Overall, I thought it was definitely worth the $3 each coffee cost. The staff were pleasant and knowledgeable and their attention to detail was impeccable, they were clearly focused on what they were doing and knew their stuff. My friend tried two coffees, the Guatamalan and the El Salvadorean and preferred the Guatamalan  as she found it to be just a little bit smoother, richer and with less of an aftertaste. When I went back on Saturday they had three completely different blends on offer, so there’s plenty to try.

At the end of our visit, I stammered out ‘Uh, do you mind if I take a couple of photos? I write a blog…’ ‘Sure!’ the cheerful barista beamed at me. Phew. No stress.

Flint and Steel (Coffee Alchemy)
24 Addison Road
Marrickville, 2204

(02) 9516 1997
Weekdays: 7:00am – 2:00pm
Saturdays: 8:00am – 3:00pm

Coffee Alchemy on Urbanspoon

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