Locomotive, 160 Maitland Rd, Mayfield, Mon-Thu: 6-2:30, Sat-Sun: 6:30-12.30, and 461 Hunter St, Newcastle, Mon-Fri: 7-2, Sat: 7:30-12:30
Hamish Brown and his collaborator Alex Marzol have made a name for themselves on the Newcastle coffee scene by doing something that almost no other baristas do – educate their customers about their coffee by genuinely taking the time to speak to them. If it is your first time in attendance at one of their impromptu coffee tutorials it can be a momentarily confronting experience. One minute you are gazing absently out the window and the next you have a scholarly connoisseur dissecting the flavour notes of an exotic single origin varietal.
But if there could be only one local barista in whom the responsibility of familiarising the coffee drinkers of the intricacies of their morning espressos, then Hamish would have to be the man. This is not only because he has worked for several years at some of the most respected cafes in Newcastle. It perhaps has more to do with how enthusiastic he is when sharing his knowledge and then, with each and every cup, watching his regulars become experts of their own.
Even more impressive is how Hamish and Alex have achieved all this without taking their eyes off the essential simplicities of quality and consistency. In such a refined atmosphere as theirs it may seem strange to hear talk of things as basic and pedestrian as cheese and toast. Yet even this is able to transcend your expectations. A four-cheese toastie jammed with pecorino, gorgonzola, mozzarella and cheddar ($10) is a sweet and zesty delight that spills generously everywhere. It may be the simplest menu item, but at Locomotive it tastes as though it may have taken as long to prepare as a batch of cold brew.
To transcend all of your other expectations, Hamish and Alex have coffee. Like their Melbourne roasters Small Batch are fond of saying, it sounds simple because it is simple. Even the menu at Locomotive sets a standard for clarity and minimalism. Written at the top of the page is the word coffee. Towards the bottom, there are beverages that are not coffee.
If you start from the top like I did then you can expect to be served with some meticulously presented beverages. Their piccolos ($3.50) are patterned delicately and their flat whites ($4) appear with a near perfect tulip on an amber canvas. Both the espresso and the filter brewed coffee at Locomotive are sourced from single origins which, in Newcastle, is extremely difficult to find.
Of course all of this expertise, passion and quality of coffee was going to be too much for a small store in Mayfield. Late last year Locomotive established an inner city outlet in a slick and spacious warehouse-like space on Hunter Street. Needless to say, Hamish has set consistency to be his first priority. The new venue might be as bright and shiny as any other in Newcastle, but the espresso will be exactly the same.