“We’ll have to wait for a table to open up,” Russell Beard sighs apologetically, weaving his way through the hoards of impassioned coffee drinkers. The air is laden with anticipation as he and co owners Nathan Borg lead me through the first floor of their new roastery and café, Reuben Hills.
“It’s nice to see such a positive response after all that work,” smiles Borg, gesturing towards some vacant stools at the rear of the cafe. “It’s surprising to think how long we’ve been working towards this,” he pauses. “It seems like only yesterday that I started making coffee, let alone thinking about the effects of thermal transference and hydraulic resistance”.
The truth is, Nathan Borg and Russell Beard have spent years rising through the ranks of Sydney’s specialty coffee scene. “I was fortunate enough to sell one café,” says Beard, referring to the recent sale of his reputed café, The Source in Mosman, at which Borg was head roaster. “I learnt a lot of valuable lessons in that last venture,” he continues with an air of nostalgia in his voice. “Now we’re moving to evolve the concepts we established at The Source and tap into a more refined market”.
Reuben Hills feels like the coffee equivalent of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Spanning the length between two parallel streets and occupying two floors filled with mystifying smells and extraordinary apparatuses. The scale and exuberance of the space provokes a level of fascination normally reserved for theme parks and nightclubs. Every inch of its interior seems to reveal some priceless piece of complex equipment (including a customised three group mistral), completely enveloping you in a world of brew ratios and appellation.
“We’re working to towards complete transparency,” declares Beard, motioning towards a huge elliptical chasm cut out of the roof. The opening is one of two windows facing up into the second storey roastery and coffee lab from the cafe below. “We’ve made a conscience effort to keep both the roasting and grading process within plain view,” says Borg, “It’s all about creating an involved space for customers”.
“We want to give people the opportunity to sample as many coffees in as many styles as we can confidently supply,” says Beard. But “at the end of the day, we want to construct a sweet, balanced cup however we can,” adds Borg, which is a fairly modest statement considering the boys visited over 15 Central and South American counties in an effort to secure a few distinctive coffees. “The plan is to offer some coffees you won’t find on any other menu,” he continues. “We’re not done with the classics, nor are we trying to set any trends; we’re just attempting to make specialty coffee as appealing and accessible as possible.”
Central American coffee regions have influenced more than just coffee at Reuben Hills. The menu also draws inspiration from the boys’ culinary exploits throughout Honduras and El Salvador. “Baleada is a tortilla filled with an array of fillings,” explains Beard. “It’s a dish we immediately associate with coffee”.
“We’ve taken some of these dishes and made them more approachable,” Borg elaborates. “Just like everything else at Reuben Hills, it’s all about accessibility.”
It’s a philosophy that seamlessly reflects the man after which Reuben Hills was named. “He was credited as the first person to vacuum seal coffee, without which fresh coffee wouldn’t exist,” explains Beard admiringly. “We’re aiming for something similar”.
61 Albion Street, Surry Hills
(02) 9211 5556