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Urban Social Cafe – North Balwyn, VIC

6/321 Balwyn Road, North Balwyn, VIC, 3104

John “Hannibal” Smith was noted as often saying in the A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together,” however it is often just as good when the plan goes totally and utterly pear shaped!” as I discovered in relation to Urban Social.  I had attended the Manningham Prayer Breakfast at the Manningham Club in Bulleen and being a complete nube when it comes to Melbourne – when leaving I did the Adelaidean thing and avoided the line up of traffic, that was obviously not going where I wanted to go and went around them, only to discover that they were lining up to get on the Eastern Freeway, which is where I needed to be.  Next thing I knew I was over the Eastern and into a leaving green hilly suburb that was completely unfamiliar. So I turned down the nearest street, grabbed my phone to find my bearings.  Once satisfied that I hadn’t fallen through the looking glass and could quite easily make it back to the office by another route, I grabbed Beanhunter to find the best coffee along my way – and that is how I found Urban Social in the back streets of leafy North Balwyn, but 10 minutes from my desk.

This is a very trendy place to hang out – perhaps skewed toward the upwardly mobile soccer Mums – with good parking and plenty of space between tables for pushers – its comfortable, clean, stylish – and I am sure, a mecca for the two wheeled lycra set on the weekends.  I liked this place!

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Coffee Hit – Doncaster, VIC

G217, Westfield Doncaster, 619 Doncaster Road, Doncaster 3108

As my first review in my new home town, I thought it best to start close to my new ‘patch’ and work outwards as time and opportunity allow. So that then raised the question about where do I go first?  So I did what any reasonable coffee snob would do and consulted the oracle that is “The Beanhunter” and searched for coffee near Doncaster.  After crunching the numbers, twiddling the dials and channelling the algorithms, it told me that Coffee Hit was the best place nearest me (location and highest average score of 7.4 in the area). So, on my first day on-site (two days before I actually started) I arrived an hour early and wandered down (about 2 minutes walk) to Shopping Town to secure a coffee hit.

Coffee Hit is located on the ground floor of the Westfield in a Kiosk type arrangement in the centre of a produce themed area (Fruit, Vegetables, Butcher, Fish Monger etc). When I arrived the place was comfortably busy for early on a Monday morning – with a few ‘coffee’ meetings taking place in the vicinity.  Coffee Hit also roast their own beans, having a ‘little red’ roaster (see left – the red thing) on hand, and sell beans to the public (and online).

So to the all important first coffee review in Melbourne….

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The Coffee Barun – new website

New Website

I may be coming very late to the party here – and if so – please ignore the fact, and just be glad that I showed up – but The Coffee Barun has a new website.  With clean crisp lines, this is a great improvement upon the old.  Highlights of the new site include the additional photographs featuring some of the awesome food that their cafe is producing (I can heartily recommend the Barun Burger – best burger I have ever had – hands down!); the bean locator – so you can find other locations  serving the Coffee Barun beans (this allows you the chance to compare how important the barista is in the the coffee making process); and an upgrade in the online shop.  Well worth checking out!

Buying Coffee Beans Online

Do you buy coffee beans online?

Fresh Roasted Beans - www.sxu.huI live in rural South Australia (about 90 minutes from Adelaide) and so due to the infrequency of my trips up to the ‘big smoke’ I have, for the last three years or so, purchased the vast majority of my coffee beans from online suppliers.  I have, at one time or another, purchased beans from all those listed on the left of this post – under the heading “NEED BEANS?”

On Saturday, I went to the website of my current favourite beans supplier [who, while having beans at the upper end of the price scale, had reasonable postage charges – and the quality was consistently excellent] only to discover that their online shop was closed for renovations, and if I wanted beans to come back Monday.  So I did, and then discovered that they had changed the log in – whereas before you had a username and password, now you needed an email address and password – and the combination that I used – the one that was registered to my username – failed so many times, that I had to create a new user account.  And then, after selecting their Superior product – I went to the checkout to discover that the postage on my order would be $14.65 – and I thought “Hold the Phone” – so digging out a previous order (from last month) I discovered that as of their new shopping system, they had increased the postage charges by 49.4%.  I nearly fell off my chair.  Had I been drinking a latte, I would very nearly have spat it all over the screen – I say very nearly, because their beans are that good – I wouldn’t want to waste them – particularly now I know that the 200g or so that I have left, will be the last I see of them. I thought to myself “there must be a reason for this” so I went to Australia Post – and low and behold – they have instituted a price increase across the board from April 2nd – that had to be the reason, right?  Wrong.  I did the maths, and their price increase is only a paltry 3.79% on packages over 500g going interstate….so what gives?

I am on a fairly tight fixed income and a 49.4% hike on postage, prices these beans out of my market – which really sucks, because I really like  them.  And with prices going up on fuel, it makes the regular trips over the hill less likely – so it returns me to my original question.  Do you buy coffee beans online?  If so, where do you recommend – and are their prices and quality reasonable?

Espresso Royale – Magill, SA

357 Magill Road, St Morris, ‎ SA,  5068

I have been wanting to visit Espresso Royale (don’t you just love the way they spell Espresso…??) since my very first ristretto at The Pantry – I know! – Not what you thought I’d write – but [wait for it] Espresso Royale is the home of speciality coffee roaster Trevor De Groot – whose company, along with Bernadette Stack, supplies the beans to The Pantry on Egmont – hence the connection.  On Tuesday, with my hospital visit over and my horrible experience of another coffee still littering my pallette – I thought “before my wife calls to come collect her – I’ll just duck out to St Morris for a quality coffee” 10 mins later – I was kind of there.

The first problem I had was finding the place – as there is literally nothing from the road that says “Espresso Royale” – there is the greenish blue a-frame sign which you see in the picture, but it gives little away.  The second problem which I had to solve before the first was parking our ‘recently returned from the crash repairers’ car – NEVER LEAVE YOUR CAR ON MAGILL ROAD – unless you are pro amateur car remodelling at 50km/hr. Car parked in a side street, and using my iPhone’s GPS – I eventually discovered that the place with the red verandah and greenish-blue sign was in fact the legendary place itself.

The inside is tiny, yet comfortable – succeeding to be funky and eclectic, yet still 1960s kitchenish (I wonder how many words I have invented in the life of this blog?) – in a way that the original Bar 9 completely missed.  You can purchase recently roasted De Groot coffee on the shelf – if you like what you tasted – and have brought cash – no plastic here my friend – except for the table tops – see below!

Now to the coffee itself….

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Barossa Coffee Roasters

While I have been reviewing café lattes, ristrettos and coffee shops now for a little over two years  – what follows is my first ever coffee bean and roaster review – and I am not sure how to do it justice.  Like with most things in the blogosphere, and in particular the review based blogosphere, what follows (and what precedes) is purely subjective.  On a purely existential level – we can not even be sure that what I perceive to be reality, is the same as what you perceive it to be – so what I say is blue, you may also say is blue – but because we do not share the same optic nerve, we can never be sure that we are experiencing the same blue.  We could, very reluctantly say the same about coffee beans, and lattes and ristrettos –  tragedy that it is – that what I think is wonderful, you may think otherwise.  We have all experienced going to a highly recommended café, or espresso bar only to be served by rude, baris-divas (that is – a barista who acts like a diva) a substance that is not completely unlike the very  best that International Rust has to offer – but trust me when I tell you – YOU WILL enjoy the beans by Barossa Coffee Roasters.

Now, with all that mind numbing mid-saturday afternoon after two coffees and a trip to a Farmer’s Market stuff aside – on to the review.  Read the rest of this entry

Domestic Espresso Machines

This is not a phrase you hear that often among friends (unless you are a tradie, or a golfer, or a …) but let’s talk about your equipment.  What do you use to maintain the caffeine component to your blood stream when all the good coffee shops and cafes have closed (or you just can’t be bothered going out)?

My first coffee machine was purchased with a voucher that my wife and I received at our wedding.  After purchasing copious amounts of tupperware and knives, she graciously allowed me to get a ‘cheap’ machine from Target (I know, I know – I look back in shame) and so I came to have a semi-automatic DéLonghi with an inbuilt milk frother tub on top.  It served me very well for a few years while I learnt more about the wonders of coffee, but I knew that as I wondered from kitchen to kitchen, that my little old DéLonghi (a precursor to the current ECO310W) was only holding my coffee appreciation back.  So, when the milk frother packed it in – in the words of the Lion King’s Rafiki the monkey “It is time!” [As an aside, I sold my old espresso machine for $1 on the weekend at our Moving In Sale]

When not in a cafe, here I can be found

I consulted with Choice Magazine, and joined the forum over at Coffeesnobs.com and even consulted my  coffee guru for his sage advice and for the money that I had available (which wasn’t much) they all agreed that I couldn’t go past the Sunbeam Café Series® EM6910.  I did my research, and found the unit I wanted at nearly $100 less that the RRP that also came with a free  Café Series® Conical Burr Coffee Grinder EM0480. That was two years ago this month, and we couldn’t be happier.  What I like about my machine is that with the trademarked “TPTT™ System of twin pumps and twin thermoblocks” which ensures stable water temperature, it allows me to texture of milk and pour an espresso shot simultaneously – my only criticism of the machine is the lengthy amount of time it takes to texture the milk from fridge temperature into the lows 60s.  Read the rest of this entry

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