The Hidden Caffeine Hit

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ever since I first visited Melbourne in high school for a Future Problem Solving (read: super-geeky extra-curricular activity) competition, I have loved everything about it - the fast and convenient public transport, the huge assortment of shops, the wide range of cultural events and, most of all, the fabulous food and consistently good coffee. Well, perhaps I don't love the weather...but the shopping always made me forget about that! For years I've wished that Brisbane was just a bit more Melbourne-like and have been sorely tempted to just move there. But Brisbane has really grown in the last few years and now has just as many great shops (if I still wore them, I wouldn't need to travel so far to get my mildly provocative FCUK tees!), high quality local coffee roasters, exciting events almost every weekend and I just can't keep up with the vast array of excellent eateries that keep opening. Public transport still has a way to go but hey, I have a bike and our weather is phenomenal!

One thing in particular that I always love about Melbourne is the hidden shops and cafes that you just happen to stumble upon when walking down a random laneway. Brisbane is following suit with the redevelopment of inner-city laneways such as Burnett Lane (home to Felix), Winn Lane in the Valley and Spencer Lane, behind the Euro, as part of the BCC's Vibrant Laneways project. The coffee scene in Brisbane has really taken off with a number of local roasterys starting up in the last few years and I find when walking down the Queen St Mall in the morning, the majority of people are holding a takeaway cup of coffee. But where do you get good coffee? Sure, the coffee from Starbucks or the Coffee Club will give you that much-needed caffeine hit but if you want good coffee, sometimes you just need to go hunting. Here are a few of my favourites:

The Gresham

Bar by night, fabulous coffee pit-stop by morning. The Gresham is in Gresham Lane in the old NAB building on the corner of Queen & Creek Streets. Walking in, you may feel like you've been transported to your grandpa's den and that a cigar would go nicely with a glass of whisky from one of the many options lining the shelves behind the bar. And then you realise it's 7am and perhaps a tad early for that type of stiff drink and that a dose of caffeine would hit the spot. The Gresham uses Toby's Estate Coffee beans and a cup will set you back $4 for a small or $5 for a large, with non-dairy milk options or single origin an extra $5. There's a good chance your coffee will be expertly made by Ryan Goody, winner of The Urban Lists' Best Barista award, and served with a smile. They also have pastries and muffins on offer as well as toast with a range of spreads. The Gresham offer coffee & breakfast snack specials so you can get a coffee and toast with Vegemite/peanut butter/Nutella/marmalade/jam for a measly $5.50! Amazing. Tip: If you bring your own KeepCup (or similar) you can get a large coffee for the price of a small. Yes, you can be rewarded for saving the environment with coffee. I've had an excellent long black (strong without any bitterness) there but I'm also a fan of the flat white on almond milk at The Gresham to go with my strawberry jam on toast. 

308-322 Queen St (corner of Queen St & Creek St)

The Gresham Bar on Urbanspoon

The Dark Chocolatier

OK, it's not exactly super hidden but you don't generally associate 'Best Chocolate Ever' with 'Delicious Coffee'. The Dark Chocolatier on Adelaide St is one of the locations for the Noosa Chocolate Factory and walking in to the tiny shop, you will be hit with the sweet scent of chocolate and faced with trays of chocolate covered goodness and bags of the best rocky road ever. Be strong, look straight ahead and slightly up to see their coffee, mocha and hot chocolate menu. Sure, you'd expect some decent hot chocolate to come out of a specialty chocolate store but the staff also create some deliciously, creamy coffee from Fonzie Abbott beans. The Maleny Dairies Guernsey milk helps but I swear that somehow the chocolate magically infuses itself into the coffee somehow. A small coffee (8oz) will cost you $3.50 and a large (16oz) is $4. And then once you've ordered your coffee, you may find yourself picking up a few dark chocolate covered blueberries or a piece of Amy's handmade brownies which sit so invitingly on the counter. Dark chocolate is good for you right? My standard long black with a bit of cold milk always comes hot and strong with a creamy flavour. 

156 Adelaide St
The Dark Chocolatier on Urbanspoon

John Mills Himself

It's actually a bit of a hike to get to this one and is really not easily visible from Elizabeth Street. Luckily a helpful sign with a wise quote directs you to the general area from street level. Once you find that, walk down the dark driveway and you will find a line of people queuing most mornings. Trust me and join that queue. John Mills Himself are related to Bunker Coffee at Milton and take their coffee seriously. They rotate the beans they use between local roasters and offer a range of options including espresso, filter, cold-press and Aeropress. A small (8oz) is $3.50 and a large (8oz) is $4. The coffee I've had there was fantastic but what really tempts me every time is their hot chocolates ($4.50) which are made on your choice of white, milk or dark chocolate and are infused with a range of unusual flavoured oils such as rose, lemongrass and lime. If you're looking for something a little different, ask for the 'Pad Thai'. Eat options are limited to a small range of pastries on the counter but those raspberry and pistachio friands look delightful. If you've got the time, I suggest that you take a seat at one of the few surrounding the tiny bar and enjoy the surroundings. The place has got a nice vibe and, if they're not completely swamped, the staff are rather friendly to chat to. Plus it's a bit of a hike back up that driveway...

55 Elizabeth St (also accessible from Archive Books off Charlotte St)

John Mills Himself on Urbanspoon

Strauss FD

Strauss FD is down an alleyway off Elizabeth St and can be even a bit trickier to find than John Mills Himself if the sign isn't out. My best instructions are to walk along Elizabeth St until you're directly across from the Hilton. Then turn around. If you find that there's an alley behind you, walk down it. Otherwise, look for said alley - it should be nearby. A lit up sign above the cafe should signal that you're in the right place. Strauss serve Cup coffee and with Cup founder Josh Russell being one of the Strauss co-owners, it's no surprise that Strauss have their own special Cup blend which you can purchase in-store. The milk used is from Maleny Dairies. A small takeaway is $4 and a large is $4.50 but the chalkboard on the wall indicated that the dining in prices are from $3.50 (black)/$4.00 (white). Strauss offer some simple breakfast options such as toast and porridge but also have a few more substantial items such as smoked salmon rillette and baked beans and chorizo with a poached egg. Bread is by Crust & Co. but note that they don't do gluten-free bread, however they do try to make substitutions. For the gluten-intolerant or super health-conscious, they also have some 'clean' sweet treats which are GF. My long black with a dash of cold milk was smooth although possibly a little weak tasting for my liking.

189 Elizabeth St (next to XILE)


Tattersalls Arcade is an L-shaped home to some fancy looking shops selling expensive, beautiful wares including Optiko, which is a playground for the glasses-wearer looking for some non-stock-standard frames. Owner of Optiko, Michael Makras, has opened a small Italian-style cafe unexpectedly smack-bang in the middle and serves up Italian pastries and panini alongside their strong espresso made on beans by Allpress Coffee. I'm yet to drop by for a takeaway, but I recall that when dining in my long black was around the $4 mark and I did enjoy the strong flavour.  

202 Edward St (Tattersall's Arcade)

Marchetti Cafe on Urbanspoon

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