The Emperor’s New Coffee

“… Sourcing only specialty coffee and running a multi roaster program using modern extraction processes to highlight origin and processing in the cup … every day we run a dedicated white and black single origin. Feel free to ask our wait staff what is available …”

Look, I’ve tried to go along with it. I really have.

But, try as I might, I still reckon they’re having us on. And we’re still letting them get away with it.

I’m talking about the nouvelle vague hipster baristas: the filtrati, the French pressers, the cold-drippers, the pour-overs and the single-estate siphoneers.

They hand you a printed ‘menu’ like the one I quote above from Hobart’s Pilgrim Café – thumbed limp by the worshipful cognoscenti – that tells you in breathless prose that today’s special is coaxed drop by exquisite drop from beans ethically grown on a single estate on the greenly fecund slopes of some mountain range in the farthest reaches of PNG or Columbia or Côte d’Ivoire and that the mouth feel is velvety-crisp, leaving a fruity after-buzz reminiscent of raspberry, cinnamon and, if you’re especially discerning, the merest ectoplasmic suggestion of freshly sharpened HB pencil.

But the truth is, odds on, if there’s a bun’n’bearded buttoned-up bloke or an eyebrow-blinged licorice-lipped Lillith behind the machine, especially here in Melbourne’s haute hipster inner north, you’re about to receive yet another bloody awful coffee.

But, misgivings notwithstanding, you order your usual double-shot espresso.

As soon as it hits the table, you know it’s wrong. You can see it in the crema: a crusty smear of rusty beach spume slouching brownly, stalely, exhaustedly, on the surface of a sullen black puddle that even looks tepid.

However, dumbly ignoring the cautionary chorus of naysayers in your head, you take a sip. And it lives all the way down to all your expectations, and beyond: bloody tepid, bloody bitter, bloody sour, bloody awful!

You call the waiter over and tell him the coffee is unpleasantly, acridly, almost undrinkably, sour, and he loftily informs you that, yes, single-estate coffees often are rather more ‘fruity’ than the traditional Italian-style ones made in the traditional Italian-style way by traditional Italian-style Italians. To which you feel obliged to respond, tartly: “And what fruit might that be? Lemon? Lime? Umeboshi?”

He smirks and hands you your bill.


You pay. Because you’re weak. And unhip. But it leaves you with a sour taste for the rest of the day.

John Box lives, works (and prefers to make his own coffee) in Carlton, Melbourne’s most caffeinated community.


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