It has been a year of icy-cold milkshakes, house-baked bread and handmade pickles, with spicy baked egg shakshouka overtaking the beloved egg-and-bacon roll for breakfast honours. The third annual edition of the The Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide charts an increasingly professional industry, and an increasingly competitive business. As one coffee roaster said: ''If you're not doing something better than everyone else, you're not in the race.''
Cafes themselves are being realised in more imaginative and personal ways. International coffee judge and green-bean importer Andres Latorre-Canon, of Latorre & Dutch Coffee Traders, suggests it's a sign of the industry growing up. ''We're slowly moving away from everyone following the same pattern - the grunge-look cafe, the granny chic - and into an area of more individual refinement,'' he says. ''It's not just about pulling shots of coffee but about the detail, the elegance of the experience.''
There's an increased focus on more sustainable methods of milk transport and storage, with the advent of the Juggler, a milk-dispensing system from Single Origin Roasters that cuts plastic use by 80 per cent by replacing plastic milk bottles with 10-litre bladders hooked up to a snazzy tap system. The syringe-style AeroPress plunger and the cold-drip method (steeping coffee grounds in cold water, allowing them to slowly drip through a filter) are winning the specialty new-brew race by providing different coffee experiences for different times of the day - you might need your high-powered espresso in the morning but prefer a more nuanced filter coffee from lighter-roasted beans in the afternoon. Most notably, it's been a year of the full bushranger barista beard.
Here's all the urban adventurer needs to know about the hottest trends and the best and newest coffee experiences in Sydney.
The cafe plus
Down a Little Marionette caffe latte while getting your beard trimmed at Cleveland's Salon & Cafe, spin some 12-inch vinyl and add to your record collection over a Dukes espresso at Suzie Q Coffee & Records in Surry Hills, or invest in some perky modern Japanese art with your hand-roasted house blend at Me & Art cafe and art gallery, also in Surry Hills. It's a sign of the times, as small-business operators decide it's more economical to pool resources and share rental, or just want to collaborate with friends. Now, when will some clever cafe entrepreneur move coffee and cake into local pubs and turn dying pokies palaces into buzzy, caffeinated community hubs?
Shake it up, baby
Milkshakes are shaking up the standard cafe drinking options, built with home-made syrups and artisanal ingredients - such as coffee. Check out the coffee milkshake at Bondi's Lox, Stock & Barrel, or the queue-worthy espresso and white-chocolate shake at Reuben Hills in Surry Hills. Peanut butter and salted caramel are popular alternatives at Milk Bar by Cafe Ish in Redfern and Cornersmith in Marrickville, while Ashfield's Excelsior Jones shakes up nostalgia with an old-fashioned cream soda spider.
Barista wanted. Must have beard
Yes, our darling baristas have been growing out their facial hair and parading big, bushy bushranger beards (offset with check shirts) that one blogger calls the ''I don't trim my beard because I've been too busy driving my Volvo into the jungles of Costa Rica'' beard. ''It's a symbiotic relationship, baristas and beards,'' says Patrick Casey, gentleman barber of Cleveland's Salon & Cafe. ''It's important to keep a beard washed and in shape, especially if you're working with coffee and food.'' On the shelves at Cleveland's is a range of Wild Man organic and vegan beard shampoos and conditioners bearing the slogan: ''Feel Rugged. Look Smooth.'' Check out the growth: Peter Avard at the House Specialty Coffee in Chippendale, Sean McManus at Single Origin Roasters and Russell Beard (no, really) at Reuben Hills in Surry Hills.
The owners of Rose Bay's buzzy Sailors Club have revamped the cafe on the lower level into the Swimmers Club, with a bright, fresh menu that's been welcomed by locals. The Bird & Bear Boathouse on the marina at Elizabeth Bay is party central all summer long, with opening hours becoming ''weather dependent'' in winter. And the new Boathouse on Balmoral Beach turns even the coldest day into a summer holiday with its fish and chips, fresh-fruit smoothies and jaunty anchors stencilled in chocolate powder on Single Origin Roasters cappuccinos. Water, we love you.
The youth tea movement
What used to be granny's tipple of choice is now the preferred beverage of the socially aware twentysomething. ''Our customers are mostly in their early 20s and want the same quality and integrity from their tea as they get from their coffee,'' says Amara Jarratt of the Rabbit Hole Organic Tea Bar. That means they want a good variety of single-origin, full-leaf, loose-leaf teas; filtered water; a clean, unstained pot; and care taken with the appropriate water temperature and steeping time - the result preferably served in a pretty bone china cup with saucer. Check out the tea programs at Don Campos and Bread & Circus in Alexandria, Twig and Cowbell 808 in Surry Hills, Circa Specialty Coffee in Parramatta, Three Blue Ducks in Bronte and Flour and Stone in Woolloomooloo. It also means ''fun'' teas for different times of the day, such as Rabbit Hole's After Dinner Mint blend of organic peppermint leaves and cocoa nibs. ''It's a great alternative to a high-calorie dessert,'' Jarratt says.
The bakery cafe
As if the smell of freshly ground coffee wasn't enough of a drawcard, now it's the smell of freshly baked bread as well. We already love it at Bourke Street Bakery, Central Baking Depot, Sonoma Bakery and Brasserie Bread, but the small bakery cafe is on the rise, re-imagining itself as it goes. At Brickfields in Chippendale it's simple and artisanal, as befits a partnership between a baker (Simon Cancio of Luxe), a coffee roaster (Paul Geshos of Mecca) and a cook (Ben Abiad). Chef Mike McEnearney bakes some of Sydney's best bread at Rosebery's Kitchen by Mike, teamed on the menu with Pepe Saya cultured butter. Pierre Labancz mixes Double Roasters coffee with crusty baguettes at Labancz in Rozelle, and the new Youeni Foodstore is rocking Castle Hill with its sourdough and Turkish simit rolls. Youeni's Chris Starke integrated his organic bakery, greengrocer and cafe as part of an overall philosophy of doing as much as possible in-house. ''I'm not into feeding people rubbish; we don't do hot dogs and hipster food,'' he says. ''There's a lot of principle and passion in baking, and a little bit of soul in every loaf.''
The seasonal lamington
When Kirin (Kiki) Tipping's then eight-year-old niece, Lucy, tired of cupcakes she approached her aunt with a business plan based on reinventing the humble Australian lamington. LusciousKiki's fresh, seasonal lammos are now much in demand, from the salted caramel with white chocolate to the ''chocolate coma'' of double-chocolate cake, chocolate dip and chocolate coconut. ''I asked Lucy if she'd like to run the business when she grows up and she said no, she'd be too busy working on a submarine,'' Tipping says. See them at Cabrito Coffee Traders at Circular Quay and the Fine Food Store in The Rocks. And keep an eye out for the sugary, jammy, freshly baked doughnuts that are rocking Melbourne cafes - and the US's latest darling, the cronut (half croissant, half doughnut).
Most alternative specialty brews, such as filter, pour-over and siphon, are very hands on, taking the barista away from pulling espresso shots for 10 minutes at a time. Enter the Moccamaster, an automated pour-over machine scarily reminiscent of the ''cawfee'' jugs seen in American diners since the 1950s. Toby Wilson of the Wedge Espresso in Glebe is a fan. ''It produces a very consistent coffee that's ready to go,'' he says. Wilson uses a light filter roast and does a new batch every hour to maintain freshness. Try the Wedge Double - a single espresso and a small batch-brewed filter coffee for $5.
Winterise your gelato
Surry Hills' Single Origin Roasters has been collaborating with Sydney's top gelato makers on the Affogato Project, for which special single-origin brews are teamed with freshly churned gelato. ''Each month we sit down with the Cow & the Moon in Enmore and test out some brews,'' says Emma Cohen of Single O. ''Then they buy our beans for their affogato of the month and we buy their gelato for ours.'' Recent affogati have paired coconut gelato with Ethiopian Kundi Gagi, elderberry gelato with Sumatran single origin, and dulce de leche gelato topped with espresso made with beans from El Salvador.
The concept began in Naples and is fast spreading around the world. When you buy your own coffee at a registered cafe, you can pay for a second cup, which is ''suspended'' until it is redeemed by someone less fortunate. Those who can't afford a coffee can ask if a suspended coffee is available where they see the ''Suspended'' sign. It works best when a bunch of cafes in a single community do it, as happened in Nowra, the Blue Mountains and Marrickville. ''I've had five suspended coffees redeemed in the last two weeks,'' says Steven Fischer of Nowra's Hit N Run cafe. ''It'll take a little while for people to feel comfortable with the idea of coming in and asking for a free coffee but it's certainly growing, and we're happy to do it.'' See suspendedcoffee.com.au.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide 2013 will be available from Tuesday in bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au for $9.99. It will be sold this Saturday for $5 with The Sydney Morning Herald.