Twenty years ago, Single O opened one of the first “third wave” coffee cafes in Australia. Now the pioneers of Australian coffee culture have arrived in Brisbane, bringing their rebellious spirit and creativity to Newstead.
“It was a VHS tape [of David Schromer’s Techniques of the Barista video] that we ordered from the US that taught us how do it,” Single O co-founder Emma Cohen tells Broadsheet. “We were tasting coffee from Mexico that was sweet and fruity and Ethiopian coffees that were all chocolate – we wanted to share that.”
Back in 2003 when Single O first launched, coffee and cafes were all following the same pattern: large signs and umbrellas emblazoned with the brand names, and dark roasts and blends that made everything taste the same. “You would get coffee from Lavazza, Merlot, Di Bella. It was all blended to be the same thing but we realised coffee can be more than that,” says Cohen.
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It is a story Cohen has been telling for 20 years now, since the team first opened a bare-bones cafe serving single origin beans in the back streets of Surry Hills. Single O was a pioneer in Australian coffee, attracting local chefs including Matt Moran and Kylie Kwong, whose approach to food mirrored Cohen’s approach to coffee. “We were very lucky, the chefs came first – they got it.”
Single O opened the doors to its first Brisbane cafe on Thursday August 31 in a former warehouse space on Austin Street in Newstead. Single O offers its flagship reservoir blend, with notes of stone fruit and soft milk chocolate, alongside rotating single origin beans that are available seasonally. You can double down with a coffee flight that includes single origin espresso and a reservoir blend flat white; sample the affogato made with gelato from nearby Allora; or pour yourself a glass from the signature self-serve taps (the first of their kind in Queensland) dispensing both a batch brew and an iced oat latte.
The light-filled cafe, which features a mural by Brisbane-born artist Gemma O’Brien, is full of careful contradictions. Industrial design elements – copper piping and shelving as well as oxidised metal countertops – are offset by polycarbonate tables and Defy Design stools.
The menu is small but exciting. A simple selection of sandwiches, such as a salad sanga with black garlic pate, pickled carrots, beetroot, alfalfa, and vegan mayo, sits alongside more elaborate toasties such as a lemon and pepperberry chicken and capsicum grilled sandwich with salty black olives, haloumi and mozzarella. Carry-overs from the Sydney menu include an avocado toast with achiote cashew cheese, pickled fennel, chilli oil and sweet lemon aspen on Agnes Bakery smoked potato bread. Sweet treats include pastries which also come courtesy of Agnes Bakery (finally, a way to skip the line on James Street) and Single O’s signature banana bread with espresso butter.
16 Austin Street, Newstead