Whimsical Banality: How I Find Coffee

I’ve just returned from spending two weeks in Perth, followed by a weekend in Sydney. During that time, I drank a fair amount of coffee, and I did not have a single coffee that was even average, let alone bad. They were all excellent. I manage this by a combination of Zomato and shameless profiling (my “get coffee from the first Middle Eastern place you see” strategy has yet to let me down).

I used to drink cappucinos with three sugars, many years ago. I now drink short macchiatos – or long blacks – or espresso shots – with no sugar whatsoever. This is what happens when you discover that, not only are you mildly lactose intolerant, but you hate the taste of soy milk, and sugar is actually making you feel sick in the long run. To be fair, I don’t mind soy milk in chai, but these days even chai lattes are too high in carbs and sugars for me to safely consume.

The problem with the “macchiato or black” coffee preference is that, for reasons I don’t quite understand (not being a barista), most average to half-decent cafes mess them up horribly. Burnt milk. Bitter beans. It’s the kind of experience that makes my tongue want to curl up and die in my mouth.

In fact, since I moved to the hills, this experience has become so common to me that I’ve started wondering whether I actually like coffee. Maybe I don’t. Maybe I’ve been fooling myself this whole time. Maybe I just thought I liked coffee, but was addicted to the caffeine hit, and perpetuating a cycle of sensory punishment: imminent tongue death.

Then, of course, I went to Perth, and stayed above a hipster “Breakfast Bar.” Not only did they do marvellous spanish baked eggs, but their coffee was exceptional. Every day. Every single day I got a “traditional long mac” (Perth has this weird “topped up” macchiato where they basically fill it with milk, which makes me wonder why you wouldn’t just order a freaking latte, but they can have whatever weird coffee practice they like when they give me such excellent coffees). Or maybe two. And they were unerringly awesome.

When I stopped off in Sydney “on the way home” (it wasn’t really on the way, but hey) to visit a friend I sorely miss, I consulted Zomato, which reliably steered me to the Harika café in Ashfield, which not only had marvellous coffee, but really good baclava (yes, I broke keto that weekend. Long story).

Once again, I had amazing coffees. I had two, because they were so good I needed a second one.

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So, I thought, I’ve confirmed that I do actually like coffee. And I really do like macchiatos. What’s going on back in Melbourne?

Melbourne has an understandably bloated reputation as the coffee capital of Australia. We are – justifiably – proud of our hipster cafes and the glorious influence of wave after wave of European immigrants who brought with them various styles of tasty bitter black brew.

So why can I find good coffee when I travel – nearly anywhere in the world (with the exception of most of S.E. Asia, where instead I mostly drink amazing tea, because why miss that opportunity?) – but at home, I end up stuck with coffee that kills the inside of my mouth?

I’ve found good coffee in Amsterdam, in Scotland (admittedly that wasn’t easy), in Norway (to be fair, I had a friend guide me), in America (Boston and Portland also kind of make it easy), in Indonesia. I’ve had quite passable coffee in Thailand and Malaysia (although, as stated above, I am inclined to take the opportunity to drink tea).

I should be able to find good coffee in the suburbs of freaking Melbourne, but off the top of my head, I can think of one café which usually gives me a good long mac (but about a third of the time will burn the crap out of it. Their food is excellent and the staff are amazing but hell, guys), and one which so far has always given me a good long mac (but it’s a fifteen minute drive away from my house and the food is quite expensive. It’s an indulgent trip, that one).

Don’t get me wrong. In the inner city, I have very little trouble.

But honestly, the suburbs need to lift their game.

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