“There’s a lot of strange and interesting coffee out there,” says Chris Graham, co-owner of Plug Nickel, a specialty coffee bar in the backstreets of Collingwood, Melbourne. “You don’t need to be a geek to enjoy these specialty products anymore.”
Graham would know. Plug Nickel was founded on an impressive collection of coffee-quirks, including sourcing its beans from little-known Canberra roaster Ona Coffee, and installing a relatively obscure espresso machine, a Sanremo Opera, which uses built-in scales for extraction and a bluetooth-enabled tablet for adjusting parameters. Oh, and it makes some very interesting coffees.
Here’s a guide to some of the surprising coffees around Australia and where to get them.
Coffee Cherry Soda
Graham at Plug Nickel likens its Coffee Cherry Soda to a fine wine. “It’s very juicy and has a lot of different red fruits in it,” he says. “You can get plums and prunes and notes of apricot.” The carbonated drink is based on coffee cherries, often known as cascara – the reddish-purple fruit that surrounds coffee beans. Like coffee, the cascara is fermented to give it a gentle acidity before being sundried. When cold brewed the result is a refreshing, caffeinated soda.
A grant from Food Innovation Australia gave Peter and Penny Wolff, the coffee roasters and cafe owners of Queen of Pops in Brisbane, access to equipment and food technologists they never would have dreamed of. How did they put that knowledge to use? Caffeinated coffee pops.
During quiet patches at the cafe in Clayfield, baristas pull double ristrettos, shot-by-shot. These become the source material for popsicles, made in a specially designed kitchen. “Flavours” include long black, cafe latte, hot mocha or cappuccino pop.
Steve Lomax may be a master of coffee craft, but his route to roasting has been an unusual one. Previous jobs for the Perth-based business owner have included radio voiceovers, working in demolition and mechanics. Perhaps that’s why his small-batch micro-roastery, Bolt Coffee, in Hazelmere, east of Perth, employs such an unusual method.
Lomax cares not for carefully calibrated scientific machinery – Bolt uses coffee beans roasted on a modified barbeque. Guided by sight, smell and sound, Lomax uses his barbeque method to burn off the chaff, (which normally roasts in a commercial machine) and can result in the beans acquiring a burnt-peanut flavour.
“The best way to describe it is like, if you’re having a party and you invite someone to come do your spit roast,” says Lomax. “They put a whole lamb inside this big unit and slowly roast it. Well we’ve done something like that – it’s just been turned into a coffee roaster. There’s no other thing like it in the world.”
Bubble Cup Cold Drip
Industry Beans isn’t shy in pushing the traditional boundaries of coffee. “We have our own coffee garden,” says Trevor Simmons, co-owner of the cafe and roaster in Fitzroy, Melbourne. “We make coffee foams. We rub our burgers in coffee – where appropriate. Coffee is a fruit, and like any fresh produce you can get a lot out of it.”
Simmons says he’s always loved bubble cup tea and after experimenting with a coffee version decided to put it on the menu. Tapioca pearls are soaked in cold brew and espresso for hours, then added to condensed milk and soy milk. The chewy tapioca balls sink to the bottom while the coffee floats, creating a cool layered effect. “Bubble cup is really accessible for people who aren’t used to drinking strong coffee or espresso coffee,” says Simmons. “It’s sweet, delicious – it’s summer.”
Coffee made with music
Sydney-based Elixir Specialty Coffee makes its cold brew with just two ingredients – filtered water and coffee. The method? “Sonic-assisted extraction”, or a mixture of filtered water and coffee beans submitted to high-frequency sound waves. The whisky-looking result is sold in small clear jars that list the coffee’s country of origin and a number from one to 24 indicating how many hours the drink was submitted to the sonic process. The higher the number, the darker the liquid will be.
Elixir is beginning to make inroads to the US, but for the moment in Australia it can be found around Sydney. Try The Wedge Espresso, Edition Roasters, Harry’s Bondi, Reformatory Coffee Lab, Almond Bar, Good Luck Pinbone, Apex Espresso and Guzzle Espresso.
Tweaks on cold-brew mixed drinks
A new wave of cold-brew coffee options appear to be directly inspired by the Australian summer. While a cold-brew coffee tonic might seem sacrilegious to the gin enthusiast, coffee tonic has been available for a while thanks to Sydney’s Paramount Coffee Project and Market Lane in Melbourne, which offers a double-espresso with tonic over ice.
Sydney’s Dutch Smuggler is serving a Coco Coffee – that’s coffee and coconut water, topped with coconut ice-cream and cacao nibs. The Ultimo cafe also serves coffee with ginger beer; lemon and lime; lemonade and basil; or rosemary and tonic. Baristas match each creation with different beans for balance.
Over on the west coast, Moana in Perth bottles flavoured cold brew with the likes of sparkling orange; lime and ginger; and almond milk with maple.
Pure Boutique Coffee Bar in Glenelg, Adelaide, is serious about its coffee. Its team was the first in Adelaide to install a six-group brewing rig – a custom-built Synesso Hydra that can pour 12 shots at once – and first in the state to install a nitrogen-charged cold brew on tap.
Chilled in a keg and poured from a regular beer tap, the nitrogen-infused coffee imparts a silky smooth, creamy mouthfeel to the coffee – not unlike a Guinness. Emerging in the early ’10s from the coffee hub of the Pacific Northwest in the US, nitro-coffee is increasingly making inroads into the Australian coffee-drinker’s psyche, thanks to it being a particularly attractive warm-weather option.
Alongside its nitro-charged brew, Pure Boutique also filters and syphons alternatives, and a barista’s choice is chalked up daily.
This article is presented in partnership with the Kia Rio.