THE DEMAND FOR GOOD-QUALITY COFFEE IS WELL AND TRULY BEING MET IN CAIRNS, AS A GROWING NUMBER OF LOCAL CAFES POUR A WHOLE LOT OF LOVE INTO THEIR BREWS
Once a nation of tea drinkers, Australians have been wooed and won over by a dark, brooding beverage that is said to boost memory, mood and life itself.
Known around the globe for our coffee obsession, Australia’s caffeine culture has percolated all the way to the nation’s tip with our boutique cafes booming and baristas brewing from the world’s finest beans.
“I would say we are dramatically more sophisticated than most cities our size around Australia,” says Cairns barista judge and coffee aficionado Nicky Jurd.
“A really good example to compare us to is our neighbour, Townsville. It’s exceedingly difficult to get a good cup of coffee there. I’ve tried hard. It’s just not in the same league. The next good cup of coffee when you drive south is Noosa. It’s very slim pickings down the east coast of Australia until you get to Brisbane.”
Nicky says the Cairns coffee scene has evolved, expanded and matured in the past decade.
“Per capita, we tend to have a really large range of specialty coffee shops. Specialty coffee tends to be ethically grown, higher quality and tastes better. There’s a lot of concentration on the farm and its practices and processes. It’s a bit like the boutique wine industry.
“Coffee has moved into that space where we’re interested in the vintage, the aroma and what it tastes like on the palate.”
Cold drip coffee, made slowly overnight when cafes are closed, is now common on blackboard menus, says Nicky.
“Once upon a time it was rare, but it is very well suited to our climate.”
Also making a splash is filter or pour-over coffee.
“It’s harking back to the days when we had percolators, but tends to use the highest quality beans. It can cost $10 for a good coffee. Often the beans are $200-$400kg.”
The trainee baristas of a decade ago have opened their own cafes. Some have two. Many have their own roasteries, sell to other cafes or turn up in unlikely places, such as Bungalow.
“That’s another cool trend,” says Nicky. “Once, we had to go into the city to get a good cup of coffee.”
Bars have got in on the act too, offering espresso martinis from locally roasted coffees.
But Nicky says we have some yawning gaps in the market. Hot chocolate is now an art form in Melbourne and chocolate cafes are big business.
“We haven’t seen any here yet.” Hotels in Cairns also have much to learn, she says.
“Across the board, the coffee is woeful. To go to a conference and have sh---y coffee is not a good look. It reflects on the conference organiser, but it’s probably the hotel’s fault.”
Risa was thinking small when he opened Cruze Coffee in Oceana Arcade seven-and-a-half years ago.
He was done with busy. A fourth generation ice-cream maker, he wanted his life back.
“I just wanted a part-time job where I made a living. I wasn’t looking to expand or grow.
“When I started, people used to say: ‘Are you for real? You’ll go broke in a few weeks’.”
Gil kept it simple. He sold beans only. The coffee machine came later.
“We had a couple of dozen coffees to start with. Now we have over 30 and sell to other cafes.”
Three-and-a-half years ago, he moved to bigger premises in Grafton St. “It’s twice the size. We doubled everything. We’ve got two coffee machines and there are six staff.”
A second store will open later this year. But one thing that hasn’t changed is Gil’s steadfast resistance to food.
“I didn’t want to deal with food, kitchens, chefs, heat and grease. The staff concentrates on making a good coffee and giving great service.
“The more you complicate things, the harder it is to achieve the main thing, which in our case, is making a good cup of coffee. We roast inhouse, so everything is fresh.”
He says the Cairns coffee scene has come of age. “Cairns used to be second to the rest of the country. Now it’s on a par with Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, but I think every barista, every coffee owner in this town has a feeling we’re actually a little bit better.” He says Cairns has embraced change. “That’s what keeps this industry fresh and exciting. Once upon a time it used to be boring. You only had the one choice and made it the same way. Now, there’s a myriad of choices. You can have cold brews and drip filters.”
Gil says the secret to his success is two-fold, his beans and his staff. He sources beans from the Atherton Tableland and major importers in Sydney and Melbourne. But staff are harvested from his loyal following.
“All of them were customers first. If a person has the right attitude and smile, I say ‘if you’re ever looking for a job, come and see me’. And you know what? They eventually do.”
Greenardi has made an art of sharing the coffee experience with her customers. She and husband Jason Greenardi opened The Chamber Room in Village Lane nearly two years ago in a bid to lure others over to the “dark” side. Black coffee lovers, they are determined to educate us about coffee in its purest form – cold drip and filtered.
Their specialty coffees and brew bar have a growing customer base with many prepared to sit and savour the experience as Kristy talks them through the lengthy pour-over process.
“We’ll talk about what coffees we’ve got in the brew bar, the processing methods and how I’m going to get the best out of that coffee. I don’t just