No skim, no soy: filter coffee back on cafe menu

Esther Han
''It's more pure'': Reuben Mardan encourages appreciation of the finer things by coffee lovers at his Surry Hills business.
''It's more pure'': Reuben Mardan encourages appreciation of the finer things by coffee lovers at his Surry Hills business. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

Lattes are louche, and soy is so yesterday. Now some baristas are banning milk altogether, in an effort to educate their customers on the finer points of espresso.

Reuben Mardan, owner of Sample Coffee in Surry Hills, has ruled out milk for one day each month. He calls it Black Saturday.

''On Black Saturdays, we only make filter coffee and espresso. Just black, no milk,'' the self-confessed coffee purist said. ''It's more pure and you can pick up notes of fruits and spices.''

Since introducing Black Saturdays, orders for pure filter coffee during the week have risen from two cups to 30 a day. Mr Marden anticipates the figure will rise.

''When we explain countries of origin and different varietals people are intrigued,'' he said. ''There are flavours like berries in Kenyan beans, rhubarb, green apple acidity, some are nutty and chocolatey. You don't want to miss out by adding milk.''

The editor of the latest Good Cafe Guide, Jill Dupleix, believes the popularity of black coffee is being fuelled by a trend towards lighter roasted beans.

''It means that even a double espresso isn't the wham-bag that it used to be in the old-school Italian way,'' she said.

Melbourne cafe owner Mark Free has propagated an even more radical approach in Sydney and Brisbane through his ''no milk, no sugar, no espresso'' pop-up shop called Black Coffee. He is considering a second trip to Sydney after the successful tour last year.

The zealous barista believes espresso is a ''crude'' and highly concentrated drink that limits the taster's ability to discern flavours, and labels flat whites and cappuccinos ''flavoured milk''.


But his sharpest barbs are reserved for sugar and other sweetening accoutrements: ''Good quality coffee should be inherently sweet as coffee is a fruit product. If it needs sugar it's not good.''

Paul Geshos, the man behind Mecca cafes and co-owner of Brickfields in Chippendale, attributes the resurgence of black coffee to the improvement in the quality of raw beans.

''What we're buying today is light years ahead of what we purchased eight or nine years ago,'' he said. ''Baristas are also taking pride in what they do and encouraging people to try black or have less milk.''

Mr Geshos said Brickfields' ''no tea, no skim, no decaf'' rule was created to address storage issues rather than to convey a grand coffee philosophy.

''It's being focused, clear about what we're doing with no distraction. We pared it back to the two essential ingredients: milk and coffee.''

Another example of coffee purism is Bar Italia in Leichhardt, which has rejected every request for skim, soy and light milk coffee because of ''tradition'' for 20 years.

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide 2013 is available from bookshops and online at for $9.99.