Mr. Sister Coffee, Shop 2150, Westfield Shopping Centre, Kotara, Mon-Wed-Fri 8-5:30; Thurs 8-9; Sat 8-5; Sun 9-4.
An owner of several popular Newcastle cafes recently told me that he preferred not to talk about the flavour notes or specific origins of his espresso. Despite selling hundreds of kilograms of the most exceptional beans to discerning regulars each week, he thought that coffee just tasted like coffee. Espresso couldn’t and shouldn’t be described and scrutinised like wine. Baristas and roasters - and perhaps Herald contributors - who attempted to do so were the most pretentious of charlatans. Coffee could be taken with or without milk. Beans should be classified as arabica or robusta with no hip or happening varietals in between.
It was these thoughts of his that returned to me when I was having my most recent espresso at Kotara cafe Mr. Sister. The coffee here tasted nothing like the one I had in Adamstown yesterday or the one in Mayfield the day before that. To use anything but the most fashionable terminology or technical jargon, those short blacks tasted as weak as water.
The espressos that they pour at Mister Sister are in a different league entirely. This is because coffee professionals like owner Garth Buchanan source not only quality beans but are – season to season - engaged and interested in the specific regions that have become famous for them. Take the Ethiopian Hachebe or the Colombian Valenzuela as examples. These are beans that not just born out of ordinary, blood and bone soils. The coffee crops in regions like these lie deep in volcanic ravines or against the hillsides in tropical highlands. The soil here is as important to the character of the coffee fruit as it is to a famous Bordeaux or Champagne. Put quite simply, it is and always be, exceptional and distinctive. It’s hardly a surprise that unique flavours then come bursting out of it every season.
At this café Garth will grind you up a coffee that doesn’t only taste like coffee. Depending on the rotation – an often intricate process in itself – there are single origin espressos that might make your mouth feel a little unusual. Fancy a dark cherry, vanilla tasting short black that is instantly reminiscent of a tiny sample of Turkish Delight? That would be the Hachebe. What about a Rwandan Mahembe single origin filter coffee with a green grape, toffee and strawberry thing going on?
Whilst some in the industry may still oppose the notion that different regions grow different tasting beans, it is impossible to ignore how distinctive these flavours are from your everyday darker and sweeter tasting coffees. Forget the basic and outdated distinctions between arabica and robusta - thinking about your coffee in those terms would be no different from classifying wine as simply red or white. If you a little more advanced than seeing your world in two-tone, try Mr. Sister for the myriad of flavours that live in between.
If you love coffee: