It is the sweet nectar devoured by many on a daily basis and it is often the first thing in the morning’s routine. The culture around coffee has changed significantly in the past decade with coffee snobs turning their noses away from instant coffee in search of a refined brew sought out from regions around the world. And with this change has brought an onslaught of cafés to and around Brisbane. Gone are the days where the Coffee Club was the only place to meet when you were after a coffee and a slice of cake in this city. Now good coffee, wholesome food and a dynamic cultural atmosphere are minutes away from every home in this city.
Cafés are no longer far and few between, with the Gunshop Café and Cup at West End only a few minutes walking distance from each other and the one’s in the city are a dime a dozen. They lie within the smallest of spaces and the narrowest of lanes. You can find them nestled in the back streets of the suburbs like Bean on Dean in Toowong or tucked away on main roads such as the Single Guys on Moggill Road in Kenmore or Ltd Espresso and Brew Bar on Brunswick Street in the Fortitude Valley.
With the influx of cafés in Brisbane, the physical location of the cafés as well as the designs have transformed with the times. Nowadays they pop up everywhere and anywhere – from old storefronts and houses to a 1940s war bunker turned café and hidden down laneways. Cafés no longer feature a monochromatic colour scheme with black faux leather couches and coffee tables as the basic furniture options, opting now for ergonomic and environmentally friendly designs through incorporating natural elements and transforming old objects such as wooden crates into stools. The Corner Store Café’s crisp, clean design makes it easy on the eyes (and so do the male staff, who unfortunately, are supposedly all taken) while Scout has gone for a design that shows off the heritage of the building, which was abandoned for over 16 years, through exposed brick walls and original flooring. Ipswich’s Fourthchild has made creative use of old doors by constructing them into tables while the Gunshop Café offers an 18-seater shearers table, both used daily by customers. Those with smaller spaces such as Blackstar Coffee are more selective in their design, choosing a limited amount of smaller tables wtih a number of cafés having adopted a communal approach with a large table or bench, usually situated at the front of the café. To add to the modern café culture, cafés like Kelvin Grove’s Boys House of Coffee have incorporated street art and creative wall decorations into their designs.
The stale, never changing menus of yesteryear are gone with the trend of incorporating organic and locally produced food into the menus. The produce is sourced from farms and markets across the state with establishments like the Corner Store Café changing their menu seasonally. In the past year, one of their most popular items on the menu, the waffles, have come with everything from bananas and a delectable salted caramel ice cream to poached plum and vanilla mascarpone and the most recent menu change has them paired with maple and mascarpone ice cream, bacon and toasted pecans. Others alter their menu daily, depending on what produce they can obtain from their suppliers, such as Fourthchild. One day you could be wolfing down a succulent roast pork roll with a tangy homemade tomato sauce and the next you could be munching on a delectable BLT with locally smoked bacon and an eye-pleasing array of yellow, red and orange grape tomatoes. Some cafés opt for a smaller menu with basics that include gourmet sandwiches and salads on offer. The cake selections haven’t fallen by the wayside either, with the sweet treats receiving the same organic treatment as the main meals and catering to a variety of dietary needs. The Corner Store Café sells mouth watering spelt brownies, Bon Laneway offers a Mediterranean flair with their pistachio and lemon drizzle cake while Bean on Dean serves up a tantalising selection of muffins (poached pear & raspberry, breakie oat and orange).
A café wouldn’t be a café without its core ingredient – the coffee. The coffee has had as much of a makeover as the place in which it is brewed and served. While mainstream coffee suppliers such as Campos coffee are still a favourite amongst café’s and coffee consumers alike, other lesser-known options are making their way into the market. Suppliers Cleanskin Coffee, which has a palate pleasing cocoa aftertaste, are brewed at Ltd Espresso and Brew Bar, New Zealand’s Coffee Supreme satisfies coffee-goers at Scout, while Blackstar supplies their own brew made with beans sourced from all over the world, from Columbia to Ethiopia and our own Byron Bay. Iced coffees have also undergone a makeover with many cafés offering a more simplified version. No longer do they come with the works (cream, ice cream…calculating calorie intake), rather they have been transformed into a basic coffee, water, milk and ice combination. For those who are conscious about what they eat, this has come as a welcome change. Many cafés offer what is referred to as the “cold press” or “cold drip”, where coffee is filtered in a contraption overnight and in the morning, it is a deep, rich elixir that when added to milk, completely transforms into something marvellous. And the best part? You can get them to take away with brewers Blackstar Coffee and Ltd serving them in recycled beer bottles and after high demand from coffee connoisseurs, they now come in different milk options (soy, full fat and skim).
You’d be hard pressed to find someone in Brisbane who is discontent with these changes (this includes the always non-conforming hipsters). The café scene has transcended from a dull, monopolistic landscape to one that is vibrant, dynamic and unique. The options are endless and it’s nice to know that if I wake up craving a coffee or some scrambled eggs on toast, a café that offers a rich cup of java, farm-fresh quality food and an eye-pleasing atmosphere is never far away. This transformation is just another step in moving Brisbane from its once “country town capital” persona to one that exudes the same level of culture as Melbourne or Sydney. This change may have been a very long time coming but it most definitely has been worth the wait, even if it was painfully unbearable and filled with too many dissatisfying coffees.
My top café picks from Brisbane and beyond:
The Single Guys – Kenmore
The Corner Store Cafe – Toowong
Bean on Dean – Toowong
Blackstar Coffee – West End
Cup – West End
The Gunshop Cafe – West End
Brew – Little Burnett Lane
Bean – George Street
Ltd Espresso & Brew Bar – Brunswick Street
Boys House of Coffee – Kelvin Grove
Room 60 – Kelvin Grove
Little Brew – Paddington
Bunker – Milton
Scout – Paddington
Kettle & Tin – Paddington