Baklava cheesecake puts Zaaki Expresso on the map

The road to fame: Zaaki Espresso's baklava cheesecake and Campos coffee. Picture: Marina Neil
The road to fame: Zaaki Espresso's baklava cheesecake and Campos coffee. Picture: Marina Neil

Zaaki Espresso, 402A Maitland Rd, Mayfield West, Mon-Fri: 6am-3:30pm, Sat: 7am-2pm.

Considering how many coffee enthusiasts swear by the quality of Campos coffee, it is still fairly difficult to find a café that grinds their beans here in Newcastle. The famous Sydney roastery is represented locally by two large cafes and only a couple of other smaller outlets around the entirety of our coffee-loving city.

This commitment to exclusive supply is not unusual in the coffee game. Established roasting houses like Campos always make sure that their clients – that is, the café  – can serve their customers – that is, you and me - a coffee blend that no other place on the block can get their hands on. In a larger coffee market like the Sydney CBD, this can often present impossible problems. In a single kilometre radius surrounding the Centrepoint tower, Campos roasters currently supplies their beans to 11 different espresso bars.

Magic happens: Zaaki Espresso barista Penny Saris. Picture: Marina Neil

Magic happens: Zaaki Espresso barista Penny Saris. Picture: Marina Neil

In Newcastle we don’t have anything like those sorts of issues. Over in Mayfield West, Zaaki Espresso owner Penny Saris does not just have the Campos Superior Blend all to herself, but she is pouring her coffees as skilfully as any inner Sydney barista. Her latte art is the obvious product of a good few years of experience behind a machine and is definitely impressive. The service is warm and professional. My double shot flat white ($4) arrives at a perfect temperature and has everything that a flagship blend from a famous coffee roaster should have.

If this was all that was on offer at this cafe, it would be more than worth a visit. But only some of the story of Zaaki Espresso actually revolves around the coffee and the warmth with which it is served. Some might say that an even better tale can be told by the blends being put together in the kitchen.

The baklava cheese is legendary.

It is in here that the Greek Penny and her Jordanian husband Aras  Ezmigna have united to create flavours that may not be on any other menu in Newcastle. Aras only uses spices imported directly from Jordan and when sprinkled over Shakshuka ($14) – a Middle Eastern dish of eggs baked in chilli and tomato - or tossed through his house made felafels, they bring a freshness and authenticity of flavour that is instantly recognisable.

Penny is equally guided by her heritage when creating her Greek-inspired sweets. Regular Zaaki customers will not hesitate to tell you about the house-made baklava ($3.50) Turkish delight and her sumptuous pistachio cheesecake (both $6).

Yet Penny can bake you something that has become more famous than all of these combined. It may be because it’s a cake that in itself is a combination - the nutty and crunchy sweetness of a classic baklava baked atop a smooth and creamy cheesecake base. If Penny has become famous for something apart from her coffee, then her baklava cheesecake ($6 slice/$45 whole) is undoubtedly the culprit. Unique, inventive and a very different type of exclusive blend.