one man’s coffee odyssey -or- what is this shit?

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Living in Melbourne, – the coffee and café capital of Australia –  we Melburnians get to feel superior to the rest of Australia. We have great coffee and a great culture to go along with it. Throw in tonnes (or tons for you Yanks) of great cafés and we’re in coffee Nirvana, right?

Oh, but what about the is-this-coffee-or-reconstituted-ash you get from that local cafe you avoid, or the is-there-coffee-in-my-milk ‘drinks’ you can pick up from Starjeans or Glory Bucks? Oh, shit, I neglected to mention those while I was heaping bile on the uncultured lot from Sydney. Well then, I guess if I’m going to participate in the culinary circle jerk that is food blogging, I better acknowledge Melbourne’s ‘dark side’. Or, to put it into movie parlance: ‘with a smug sense of superiority comes great responsibility’.

The other reason I thought I’d write about the good and the bad is because of personal experience – I have had a phenomenal amount of questionable coffee. Mostly on my journey to work in the morning. You know what it’s like: you roll out of bed and stumble out the door a walking zombie. You’re running late – again – and you don’t have time to go to the good coffee place, so you settle for that place.

My route to work takes me past a number of those places, dispensers of caffeinated calamities: Baguette and Coffee HQ.

While I’ve never had coffee from Coffee HQ – far too long a wait for average coffee, you see – others I know have. It also gets an emphatic thumbs down at Decaf Sucks. Case closed on that one.

Next up is Baguette, which I have been caffeinated at. The staff are always friendly, which always perks me up until I taste the coffee – which would swing wildly between too bitter and too milky. For the inconsistency the (roughly) $3.50 you pay for a small coffee is too much.

Between those two coffee failures in Flinders Street Station I was a dejected man; there are more cafés on Flinders Street proper and up Swanston Street, but both options seemed to be too long a detour from my route to work down St Kilda Road.

So with these failures I gave up trying to find a pre-work ‘hit’. This was until I found myself en face de (that’s French for ‘in front of’ and not French for  ‘petit miam‘ as you’re probably thinking) Centro coffee. I tasted the coffee. It was A-MAZIE-ING: the angels sang, the cherubs…err…chortled and I exhaled, knowing I’d found my coffee place.

Flash forward to the next day and I could again be found out the front of Centro, ready to repeat yesterday’s experience.
I was greeted (?) by a churlish staff member, parted with with my $4 (!) and received a foul tasting Bundle of Bleh (BoB). I had been mislead by one decent coffee, only to find it could not be repeated.

Apparently if I wanted bathe in coffee comfort I’d have to travel out at lunch to either St Ali, or Dead Man Espresso (both of which are excellent).

coffee maestros

I was destitute, until one day I decided to be SUPER spontaneous and leave Flinders St Station via the Degraves subway – you know, mix things up, keep things interesting. I zombie shuffled my way through the station barriers with the other sheeple, preparing to make my assent up the steps out of the subway until I saw some 5 Senses coffee out of the corner of my eye sitting in the window of the Cup of Truth. Warm. Copies of the painfully trendy Broadsheet Melbourne in a basket out the front. Warmer. Swarms of people waiting for coffee. Hot.

All the boxes were ticked; I was buying a coffee. Would my heart be torn asunder like so much crepe paper?

*cue inappropriately placed ad break*

No. It was a spectacular coffee! Over the next week or so I kept coming back; I didn’t want to be the guy that falls head-over-heels with a coffee place that I’ve just met. Let me tell you it wasn’t lust, it was love.

The other thing to love about Cup of Truth is the banter between the owners, Courtney and Verity – always friendly and often irreverent – it’s a great way to start the day. Despite the alluded-to trendiness of the blend and street press, this is no hipster-thronged venue; there are no too-tight jean-wearing hipsters delicately track standing their vintage ‘fixies’ while their personal baristas deliver the single origin pour-over in-situ. Thank Gawd. While I like going to the ‘cool’ coffee places with the great coffee on the weekends, I want something with a little less pretence on my way to work. Cup of Truth is it.

**Update** As mentioned by Ryan in the comments, I omitted the reason for the name ‘Cup of Truth’. To be honest, it hadn’t actually clicked until mentioned; on the counter at Cup of Truth sits a cup full of change, where customers are trusted to deposit their money, and fish out correct change – an honesty system, or indeed, a Cup of Truth 😉

Cup of Truth on Urbanspoon

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15 thoughts on “one man’s coffee odyssey -or- what is this shit?

  1. MarkVsMason

    If Cup of Truth is the place I’m thinking of, which I’m sure it is (being the only café in the subway), it is the worst coffee I’ve had in my life. Bitter metallic-tasting boiling crap. It actually ruined the rest of my day, because I couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth, I kid you not.

    I decided to give it a second chance about 6 months later, once the new owners took over (also mentioning my previous experience), but the coffee was only marginally better.

    Perhaps it has something to do with the 150-odd year old pipes, or maybe I’ve just been unlucky both times, but I definitely will never be going back there again.

    It amazes me how polar opposite our experiences have been…

    Reply
  2. tristan Post author

    Wow, a lot of coffee rage! I totally understand though (as the post hopefully shows) – bad coffee can put you in a bad mood for the day, especially given exorbitant prices often charged.

    As to Cup of Truth, I’ve never had a bad coffee there. It may or may not be the same place – I think there is a café proper in the subway, whereas Cup of Truth is a glorified hole in the wall. I think.

    Reply
  3. rick

    As a total coffee addict, with a commercial coffee machine at home and as someone who roasts my own beans, I am mystified by this sense of superiority that melb. has about its coffee and cafes.

    I just spent a month in melbourne and did not have one coffee that I consider of a quality that I would serve at home, I certainly find it much easier to find a cafe that has experienced and competent baristas in sydney. (No, I dont live in Sydney either!)

    The lack of knowledge of even what an espresso is astounded me.

    I spent 2 months living it Italy 2 years ago and the experience was the inverse – cant remember having a bad coffee, or getting something other than what I ordered.

    I am glad you found a cafe that does serve a good coffee, consistently!

    Reply
  4. tristan Post author

    @Maria It’s definitely the place to grab your coffee if you find yourself at Flinders Street Station of a morning!

    One word of warning: they only do coffee, so you’ll have to find morning noms elsewhere.

    Reply
  5. tristan Post author

    @rick I completely agree (about Melbourne’s superiority complex about coffee).

    While I can’t really comment on Sydney’s coffee scene (or on roasting my own coffee ;)), I will say that Melbourne has numerous excellent coffee houses (I can name a dozen without too much trouble), and exponentially more average to downright awful places.

    The problem – especially for an out-of-towner – is being able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Reply
  6. Ryan

    Quality coffee along Flinders St/Lane/Degraves is a hit-and-miss affair, so places like the CoT is (coffee)heaven sent. Saying that, I agree with Mark that at times their brew seems suspect. Still, better than the other muck being served around the place.

    It’s a little out of your way, but THE best coffee I’ve had since being a denizen of Collins St is at an unassuming cafe located in the 1st floor of the Emirates House building. Their brew is wonderful, with a pleasant hint of caramel, perfect temperature and no yucky aftertaste.

    Yes, I’m a latte-sipping wanker.

    PS – You forgot to share with your readers the reason behind the curious name of ‘Cup of Truth’.

    Reply
    1. tristan Post author

      Pffft! I have no need to venture any farther into the CBD – I have Dead Man, St Ali, Padre and (about to open) Freestyle Espresso (to name a few) on my doorstep in South Melbourne :p

      But seriously, the closest thing to CoT dissent for me is that the large latte can be a little weak compared to its smaller cousin, the regular, but being a sucker for the ‘upsize’ I can’t help myself. Maybe I should just get two regulars next time?

      P.S. I must say I hadn’t made the connection until you just mentioned it. Post is updated 🙂

      Reply
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  9. Cho

    I detoured to Baguette today. Asked for a sausage roll, got it from a friendly staff and charged $4! Ok, I know it’s overpriced but I’m hungry. I reached to get the roll and dropped it right off my hand. Apparently he didn’t bother to put it into the paper bag, just between the bag and serviette.
    So still hungry, I asked for another one. This time another guy, properly wrapped and got charged $4.20!
    I didn’t have the guts to say another thing…

    Reply
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