Axil coffee roasters in Hawthorn, run by Dave Makin and partner Zoe Delany. Picture: Aaron Francis
THE meal starts with greetings and a standard question. “Can I get you a coffee to begin with?”
But this isn’t breakfast.
In the genteel Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn, David Makin and Zoe Delaney’s Axil epitomises the new breed of cafe that takes Australia’s growing obsession with coffee to its logical next step: the source.
Right beside the commercial kitchen at Axil, at the back of a large and impressive warehouse diner and coffee mecca, is a roastery.
Not some tokenistic micro-roaster, either: it’s a gas-guzzling beast that adds the finishing touch to a weekly bean load of 500kg, and growing.
The coffee is filtered, perhaps, using water from an Uber Boiler, or made with a device called an AeroPress. More than likely, patrons will be sipping an espresso that’s been brewed in one of two impressive, three-group La Marzocco machines.
Like winery cellar doors, drinking coffee where the green beans are roasted and blended is the new black for a generation of drinkers for whom the distinction between arabica and robusta isn’t nearly enough information.
And if someone cares enough about coffee — the growing environment and its processing, the ethical considerations behind its production, harvest and distribution, and the roasting for subsequent blending — they quite probably care about good food, too.
“Food was always something I wanted to do,” says Makin, who has a degree in hospitality management but has spent most of his career in coffee, both as a roaster and an internationally ranked barista. “And the food side of things has been great.”
He says there is terrific kitchen talent available for businesses such as his and Delaney’s, which operate only during daylight hours. “Despite the skills shortage for restaurants, there are plenty of well-credentialled chefs around who, for whatever reason, don’t want a la carte night work any more,” he says.
The challenge, as a roaster running a cafe, is to know when to engage.
“Not everyone is here to discuss beans and brewing. A lot of people just want a latte, and that’s fine — [it’s] our job to understand that,” he says.
Across Australia, entrepreneurial coffee roasters such as Makin are exploiting the nexus between their craft and selling good food.
And the resulting cafes cum roasting houses are providing a great showcase for alternative brewing techniques that help express the terroir of the bean.
Monk Bodhi Dharma
Don’t let the name, or the vegan principles here, put you off. Monk is the caffeine equivalent of a garage band: rough-hewn but passionate. We love that the coffee is roasted at the centre of the dining room. We also love the food. Yucatan beans is just one of the pulse dishes here brimming with spice and bold Latin American flavours, or try the Mexican tortilla soup with diced avocado basmati and chilli jam. The specials board is definitely where the action’s at on the food front. More: monkbodhidharma.com.au
Nolan Hirte is a crack barista; he also runs a very fine cafe. Weekend table? You’ve got to be kidding. It’s the dedicated lunch menu that shines — braised ox cheek with house-made pappardelle, or confit tuna with tomato tapenade and salsa verde make it far from your average cafe. Despite the offerings on the food front, coffee is still the focus, and Hirte has the firepower (Australia’s only six-group Synesso espresso machine, for example). For the moment Hirte is sourcing beans from good wholesalers, but the plan is to eventually go 100 per cent direct. A star of the future. More: 172 Oxford St; (03) 9417 5930
A cupping/training room is at the centre of this fabulous warehouse, where customers can watch it all happen. Mark Dundon keeps a keen eye on the food and his kitchen makes simple ideas work, using fine ingredients. Sardines on pide bread with semi-dried tomato paste, pecorino and rocket is a current hit, while brioche French toast with banana, spiced mascarpone, maple syrup and toasted pecans is the kind of breakfast dish you’d willingly exercise for. More: sevenseeds.com.au
The Source is primarily an altar of coffee worship. It imports direct and roasts right there on the cafe floor. But the food is equally impressive. Roast pumpkin with haloumi and honeyed walnuts; Moroccan harira soup with chickpea and lentils; dukkah eggs on quinoa toast with avocado, green chilli and lime. Yes please. More: thesourceespresso.com
A self-described “rogue collective” of coffee-obsessed individuals, Newcastle’s Sprocket bristles with zeal and grassroots innovation. The main claim: a patented, custom-made roaster that runs on biofuel and cafe waste, such as spent coffee grinds. Caffeine without the carbon footprint. The fare is simple but well-executed; bagels, wraps, pastas and grain salads such as a Moroccan couscous or quinoa with eggplant, raisins, herbs and tomato kasoundi pickle. More: sprocketroasters.com.au
The Goldfish Bowl
This regional gem roasts small batches of carefully sourced beans and has a wood-burning oven at its heart for pizza and bread. Bread and pastries are all made with organic flour from Gunnedah, and the pizza — potato, gorgonzola, parmesan and rosemary, or Serrano ham with garlic mushrooms and mozzarella — is special. More: 3/160 Rusden St; (02) 6771 5533
Elixir is Perth’s only roastery with food. Fortunately, it’s a goodie. Elixir sources breads from WA’s New Norcia Bakeries and dairy products from Bannister Downs Farm to make exceptional sandwiches (steak with garlic cream, BLT with mustard seed aioli and avocado) and a chicken banh mi. Beans come mainly from South America and Africa. Alternative brew styles include pour-over and (great for a long, hot Perth summer) cold press. More: elixircoffeespecialists.com
Lonsdale Street Roasters
Braddon is emerging as Canberra’s hip precinct, and Lonsdale Street Roasters as the city’s go-to coffee joint, with the wafting smell of its gently cooling roaster and great cafe food. High on the favourites list is a panino named The Cuban, with slow-roasted pork, chipotle mayo, coriander and lime. The roasts focus on quality, A-grade single-origin coffees from Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, PNG and Guatemala. More: lonsdalestreetroasters.com
At the hipster end of Brissie’s roastery/cafe spectrum, roaster Josh Russell’s Cup runneth over. He uses great-quality beans and roasts them beautifully. Russell also has one of Brisbane’s two Slayer espresso machines, the caffeine equivalent of a totally manual SLR camera. Food runs the gamut of parmesan broad beans with cress on sourdough, poached pears with buffalo yoghurt and a very dude-ish version of French toasted croissant. More: cupcoffee.com.au
Dandelion and Driftwood
Dandelion and Driftwood is one of two players dominating Brisbane’s small-batch/alt-brew market. But it’s the first place foodies seek out for coffee, tea and a bite to eat. From ham hock baked beans to a tomato, saffron and verjuice soup, they really make an effort at this charming suburban cafe. And when you’re tired of espresso, they have every conceivable alternative covered. More: Shop 1, 45 Gerler Rd; (07) 3868 4559
The Coffee Barun
Sefton Park, SA
Where were the beans grown, and by whom? When were they imported, roasted, and how? These are the sorts of questions roaster Mark Barun thrives on. Indeed, his Coffee Barun pretty much has Adelaide’s specialist coffee market covered, with a Barun-designed and built roaster, the state’s first Synesso espresso machine and a selection of alt-brew techniques, such as cold-drip and siphon. Barun’s food is home-style and affordable: think pizza and hearty burgers. More: thecoffeebarun.com.au
The Cupping Room
Garagistes isn’t the only hot destination on Hobart’s Murray Street; next door is a substantial roastery and cafe you’d be pleased to find anywhere, let alone in sleepy Hobart. The Cupping Room has an industrial feel, but the cafe rips along to the rhythm of a kitchen doing everything from truffled poached eggs to quality burgers. And it boasts the state’s only Slayer espresso machine. More: 105 Murray St; (03) 6234 7339
David Makin and Zoe Delany’s Axil is a serious coffee outlet without some of the geekery often associated with the genre. And the food is worth a serious look. The lunch menu shows off Axil best — we love the salad of chilli-spiced squid with chorizo, peas, harissa and roasted peppers. Not subtle, but definitely tasty. The steak sandwich with mustard, mayo, Swiss cheese and caramelised onion is also one to look out for. More: axilcoffee.com.au