For a long time, filter coffee has had a bad rap. It’s the cheap stuff they serve in American diners, often second-best to milky espresso coffees. But recently, it’s become a little cooler. It’s often described as batch brew and served black (which is meant to enhance the flavours of the coffee, rather than drowning it in dairy) – and it’s winning over Sydney’s coffee drinkers in droves.
Surry Hills’s Single O has been championing black coffee since opening its doors in 2003. And with nearly a quarter of its customers now ordering black coffee (up from just three per cent during its first year of trade), it’s fair to say it’s doing something right.
After closing for a couple of weeks last month, Single O has unveiled its remodelled space – with a new self-serve batch-brew bar. The bar’s taps look a bit like what you’d see at a craft beer brewery (in fact, that’s what they were inspired by), and mean the cafe can serve four different brews at any one time.
Head barista Angus Lindsay hopes the prototype brew bar will help shake off batch brew’s bad rap as a dirty diner drink. “It’s our preferred way to drink and taste coffee, but it’s always been a hard sell with American diner coffee being the first reaction people have when you mention the word ‘filter’,” Lindsay tells Broadsheet. “The taps are a different way to present the coffees, while giving the customer [a] choice between different origins and blends.”
Seeking to convert devoted milk coffee drinkers, the batch bar offers a rotating menu of four single-origin coffees, with the current selection including the juicy San Martin Colombia, the bright and fruity Giathugu Kenya, the peaches-and-cream Sweet Sixteen Birthday Blend and the Nicaragua Cup of Excellence #5, which has notes of mango, pineapple and guava. The filter process means more flavour variety, less need for milk and a much more gentle approach to black coffee than traditional espresso.
Lindsay says the bean menu will constantly evolve. “We’ll try to showcase each coffee for a week or two, then swap it out,” he says. “We try to let our baristas call the shots, based on what’s tasting great and what offers the most variety.”
Single O is also hoping the self-serve bar will reduce that lengthy morning queue, delivering orders in just 15 seconds. Customers just fill up their (preferably reusable) cups and tap to pay at a card machine. “Because we’re able to brew large batches of coffee, this gives the baristas much more time to talk with customers about what they’re drinking,” explains Lindsay.
But the cafe hasn’t ditched espresso entirely. The takeaway counter is kitted out with the La Marzocco Modbar (which has recently popped up in other new Sydney cafes including Humm, Went to See the Gypsy and Industry Beans). Unlike a typical hefty coffee machine, the under-the-counter design removes the barrier between the barista and the customer.
But it’s not just the coffee selection that’s had a makeover. For the past 15 years, there were just four tables at Single O. Now it’s expanded into the neighbouring loading bay and adjacent alleyway, with a 35-seat space designed by Luchetti Krelle (responsible for Marrickville’s Matinee Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro in the CBD and Acme in Rushcutters Bay). And it’s giving Melbourne’s laneways a run for their money with artist Brett Chan adding his creative flair to the cafe interiors and the walls of Hands Lane.
The cafe also has a new menu put together by head chef Ben Hopkins (ex-Reuben Hills, Paramount Coffee Project and Bondi Hall). It’s a nod to Single O’s Tokyo roastery, infused with Japanese flavours and made using locally sourced produce.
There’s banana bread with Vegemite butterscotch sauce, and “Croc-ettes” made with crocodile meat and finished with a Japanese curry sauce. “We have an awesome backyard of ingredients and we’re not really touching them,” says Hopkins. “What’s more sustainable than eating what’s in our backyard?”
60-64 Reservoir Street, Surry Hills
Mon to Fri 6.30am–4pm