Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On the coffee trail ...

With the success of the Melbourne Age newspaper's "Coffee Army" campaign, a two-week half-price offer for some of the coffee houses rated as finalists was too good an opportunity to miss!

Therefore this undercover agent offers some humble opinions on the coffee sampled (both take-away and in-house), and a bean review for some new coffee beans that I have just bought..

The Espresso Room
410 High Street, Northcote
Tel: 9489 4000
Visited Saturday 7 April 2012 at around 2.30pm.
Take-Away Cappuccino $3.50
Rating: 9/10

Although the froth had collapsed by the time I was able to get the coffee home and drink it, it had a beautiful aroma, lovely smoky and nutty taste and a smooth flavour with a delicious slightly bitter aftertaste that lingers on the tongue. You can only conclude that you have had a quality coffee. I didn't feel the need (as with a lesser product) just to gulp it down in order to quench your thirst, but rather it was something to savour and enjoy. Very satisfying - one for the connoisseurs!

The service was great and the cafe itself has a very pleasant ambience, with tables inside and out and jazz playing in the background. It was quite possible to have a normal conversation over the top of the music. The menu offers a wide selection of freshly- made food at reasonable prices (breakfast/brunch/lunch). I would definitely come back to eat here. It is obviously popular with what I am told is "MAMILs" (middle aged men in lycra) enjoying a well-earned treat whilst out cycling.

Three Bags Full
Cnr Nicholson and Mollison Streets, Abbotsford
Tel: 9421 2732
Visited Sunday 8 April 2012 at around 1.30pm.
Take-Away Cappuccino $3.70
Rating: 6/10

I'm sorry to say that this was a disappointment. Obviously this converted warehouse is a hugely popular establishment, with a packed dining area and a queue of people waiting to get in and eat, and there was also quite a long wait for the take-away coffees. Loud repetitive rock music was playing in the background, and conversation was not possible without ramping your voice up several notches. The food on the tables from the breakfast/lunch menus appeared fresh and appetising and the diners seemed to be enjoying it.

The coffee itself had a dark bitter flavour but was bland compared to the silky complexity offered by The Expresso Room and lacked the same degree of aftertaste. I wouldn't go back, either for the coffee or the ambience.

IKEA Richmond
Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre,
Cnr Victoria and Burnley Streets, Richmond
Tel: 8416 5000
Visited Sunday 8 April 2012 around 3.30pm
Mug of Cappuccino $2.50 or free for IKEA Family members (bottomless in either case)
Rating: 6/10

Although this is not a recognised coffee house, it is a pleasant enough refuge for those after a quick caffeine fix in the midst of more stressful activities such as shopping!

IKEA uses UTZ Certified fair trade coffee and commercial coffee machines offering a limited selection e.g.: Cappuccino, Latte, Long Black. On the plus side, the coffee has a pleasant strong bitter flavour and a good aftertaste. However, there is probably a bit too much froth on top, and it tends to go cold quite quickly. Still an enjoyable cup of coffee and despite the barn-like ambiance it is quite possible to find a quiet corner and take advantage of the free Wi-Fi or alternatively the reasonably priced food offerings. The enormously popular breakfast special (bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, tomatoes and hash browns - side serving of baked beans $0.60 extra) remains amazing value ($2.95), particularly on Wednesdays when it is cheaper still ($1.95).

Bean Review Harris Reserve Colombian High Altitude Grown 100% Arabica Coffee Beans
Sustainable coffee - UTZ certified
Strong - 4 bean rating
Verdict: Recommended

When you first pick up the bag and smell the aroma, it has a certain 'wow' factor, so I couldn't wait to try it. The beans were finely ground in a 35 year old Moulinex coffee grinder and made up with freshly boiled filtered water in a Pyrex coffee plunger. I first tried it black, and was struck by a gorgeous aroma and the complex dark nutty flavour that also has a hint of smokiness about it and also lingers almost as a tingle on the tongue long after you have swallowed. It is strong and unapologetic but oh so good! The caffeine levels didn't take long to start helping my headache to reduce in intensity so it is also therapeutic!

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