Georgia Waters

Sensory Lab in Bondi: Part of a flurry of specialty coffee bars with a tiny menu. Click for more photos

Sydney's hot new coffee spots

Sensory Lab in Bondi: Part of a flurry of specialty coffee bars with a tiny menu. Photo: Edwina Pickles

From 16-hour cold drip to cronuts, green smoothies and bacon-and-egg-free menus, this year has once again caused a rethink on the definition of a great cafe.

For the Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide 2014, our team of reviewers visited more than 300 cafes, including 86 new entries across the city, tracking down wonderful venues - some with views of the ocean, others in parks, laneways, shopping arcades and basements.

Coffee from Sensory Lab in Bondi.
Coffee from Sensory Lab in Bondi. Photo: Edwina Pickles

We've been excited to see more and more cafes offering their take on specialty coffee and an ever-increasing focus on single-origin and single-estate beans, which are now commonly offered alongside a cafe's house blend.

Great cafes are now easier to find than ever in the CBD. Some highlights this year include the opening of Gumption, the second outpost from our 2013 Best Coffee winner, Hazel Des Los Reyes of Coffee Alchemy; and specialty roasters Pablo and Rusty's first cafe in the city. We've also enjoyed the $1 espresso at the bar at Baker Bros on York St (see best CBD cafes on page 15).

But there have been outstanding openings all over Sydney. Melbourne's St Ali opened their first Sensory Lab, at Bondi Beach; we're thrilled to have a second - and bigger - Black Star Pastry at Rosebery, where it is a (little) easier to get a seat; Zetland became home to the lovely Nan's Place; Manly welcomed both Showbox Coffee Brewers and Fika Swedish Kitchen; and in the west we've been enjoying Henri Marc in Penrith and Glenhaven's the Tuckshop.

Cronuts, coffee and more at Brewtown Newtown, winner of best new cafe.
Cronuts, coffee and more at Brewtown Newtown, winner of best new cafe. Photo: Fiona Morris

Specialty coffee bars with just a tiny menu - or at which food isn't offered at all - are becoming more common. New this year are the aforementioned Gumption by Coffee Alchemy and Sensory Lab at Bondi, as well as the Reformatory Caffeine Lab in Surry Hills and Smith at Parramatta from the team behind Circa.

One chief trend we've observed in 2014 is a serious push towards health-focused menus. These, happily, aren't the egg-white-omelette-dominated offerings of the past, but are focused on wholefoods and beautiful produce, with dishes that might happen to be vegetarian or vegan. They sometimes expand into the paleo trend with alternative milks such as coconut and almond for our lattes and the butter-blended ''bulletproof coffee''.

At the other end of the spectrum lies that attention-seeking croissant-doughnut hybrid, the cronut, born at New York's Dominique Ansel Bakery in 2013. The cronut's made a slow but steady sugar-coated march across Sydney, notably thanks to our 2014 Best New Cafe, Brewtown Newtown, whose cronuts, from classic glazed and jam-filled to chocolate crumble, are now found at cafes across the city such as Ruby's Diner in Waverley (see the cover) and Ashfield's Excelsior Jones.

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide 2014.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide 2014.

And we'd like to give a gold star to a growing trend we've really enjoyed this year: a shot of sparkling water served with coffee. It's a beautiful palate refresher, particularly before an espresso. We've seen it at Surry Hills' Reformatory Caffeine Lab, Clovelly's Top Hat Coffee Merchants, Coffee Bros in Mona Vale, Swallow Coffee Traders in Rockdale and Camperdown's Bion Societe, among others.

Here is a north, south, east and west of the hottest cafes in Sydney, from some of the best new openings of the year to our established favourites.

NORTH

Anvil Coffee Co.
Kirribilli Commuter Wharf, Holbrook Avenue, Kirribilli, 02 9929 3338, anvilcc.com.au

That vista is really something, even for a city that's spoilt with views. Anvil's prime spot on Kirribilli Commuter Wharf makes us wish we caught the ferry to work. Try the double espresso over coconut water and ice, dark chocolate shake or the tea of the month with your buttered Arabian eggs or ''Smithie roll'' (Barossa Valley bacon, egg, smoky house barbecue sauce on brioche).

Fika Swedish Kitchen NEW
5b Market Lane, Manly, 02 9976 5099
, fikaswedishkitchen.com.au
Three Swedes opened this breezy cafe to combine ''all the best things about Swedish culture with modern Aussie cafe culture''. Which is exactly what it does, with its Campos coffee and plates of meatballs with potato mash, gravy and lingonberry jam, and itsOboy chocolate - a Scandi version of Milo. ''Fika'' translates roughly as ''a break for coffee and a bite to eat'': does this mean there's a cafe somewhere in Sweden called ''Smoko''?

The Incinerator NEW
2 Small Street, Willoughby, 02 8188 2220, theincinerator.com.au

When Walter Burley Griffin designed the Willoughby Incinerator in the 1930s, could he have ever imagined it would one day give shelter to people breakfasting on tapioca and coconut yoghurt or green smoothies? The beautiful Art Deco bones of the building make for an elegant space, while the Grounds of Alexandria coffee and and fried egg and pork sausage breakfast burgers (not to mention the Tim Tam shake) keep crowds happy.

Showbox Coffee Brewers NEW
19 Whistler Street, Manly, 02 9976 5000, showboxcoffee.com.au

Another highlight this year was Manly's Showbox, with its bacon-and-egg-free menu and serious focus on coffee (owner Bo Hinzack's plan was to ''avoid normal''). That offering includes Mecca's Dark Horse blend for its white coffee, Reuben Hills' house blend for black, and varying smaller roasters for filters. We love the ''poke poke'' - Hawaiian salmon sashimi on wild rice with a soft egg - and the buckwheat crepe with snow crab and crunchy Vietnamese slaw.

SOUTH

At All and Sundry NEW
Shop 7, 383-387 Princes Highway, Woonona, 02 4284 6656, atallandsundry.com.au

This tiny, cosy community-focused new cafe proclaims it's all about coffee, food, art, vinyl and tea. Displaying work from local artists, spinning records, serving coffee from the Golden Cobra (our boutique roaster of the year award winner) and Tea Craft tea, and serving up a fuss-free and appealing menu (poached egg brekky roll with aioli, winter slaw and roast mushroom), we say it ticks all boxes - and then some.

Grind
Shop 4, 15 Surf Road, Cronulla, 0403 844 533

This Cronulla institution needs no introduction for its devoted locals, but it's an absolute must for anyone visiting who's serious about coffee. We love the antique coffee pots lining the walls, the spoilt-for-choice coffee menu picked out on an old train station rollover board, and the breezy, come-as-you-are atmosphere. Try the cold drip, served in a brandy balloon spiked with a sphere of ice with an orange peel in the middle.

EAST

22 Grams NEW
166-168 Belmore Road, Randwick, 02 9398 2277

The former High Street Cafe has been transformed into 22 Grams, a cafe-roastery that's become a solid favourite with Randwick locals since opening last year. The cafe's own blend of Costa Rican, Ethiopian, and Kenyan beans is roasted in-house, and baristas turn out creamy, caramelly lattes. The house-baked muffins and pastries are very good, as are the seasonal salads for lunch.

Devon Cafe NEW
76 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, 02 9211 8777, devoncafe.com.au

Get there early, or get in line: weekends see a mid-morning queue snaking down Devonshire Street. The fine-dining-influenced all-day menu shows off the kitchen's skills with inventive (and inventively named) dishes, such as the ''Breakfast with the Sakumas'' - miso-grilled salmon with a 63-degree egg and smoked eel croquette - and indulgent ''little lost bread'', otherwise known as French toast. A roster of top roasters means the coffee offering is ever-changing.

Reformatory Caffeine Lab NEW
Shop 7b, 17-51 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, 0422 011 565

One of this year's new breed of coffee bars (see also: Gumption, Sensory Lab), Reformatory is an ode to owner Simon Jaramillo's twin passions for coffee and comics. And we love the way it fits together: stand at one of the elbow-height benches (there are no chairs) and order the signature aged (16-hour) cold drip, presented in test tubes and brimming with cognac and cherry liqueur flavours while you admire the comic-book mural.

Ruby's Diner
173-179 Bronte Road, Waverley, 0404 379 585, rubysdiner.com.au

This Waverley cafe has always been a destination but we're loving its fresh expansion with extra seating and a new pale blue-on-white Steve Smith mural. The menu's got a strong health-and-wholefoods focus, from the raw breakfast salad to the no-bun ''primal burger'', but there's also brioche French toast and fantastic fries and aioli. Order a $2 piccolo latte, a pour-over on the bean of the day, or the paleo-ish beverage of 2014, the ''bulletproof'' coffee (it's blended with grass-fed butter and a medium-chain triglyceride oil, such as coconut oil).

Sensory Lab NEW
75-79 Hall Street, Bondi Beach, sensorylab.com.au

Bondi Beach is not always the first choice for specialty roasters looking to open a new coffee bar, and we applaud the St Ali team for choosing Hall St for their first Sensory Lab outside of Melbourne. The long, narrow lab-like space is far from beach-chic, with its concrete floors and tan leather and copper-clad bar; whether your brew of choice is espresso or filter, it pairs perfectly with a Penny Fours pastry or the Bagel Shop bagels schmeared with cream cheese.

Shuk NEW
2 Mitchell Street, North Bondi, 0423 199 859, shukbondi.com

The popularity of shakshuka doesn't look to be waning, and this new North Bondi outfit nails it, from their classic version to an unconventional green option with zucchini, kale and fennel (plus the whopping $59 ''la familia'' one). But there's plenty else besides at this Israeli and Mediterranean-themed cafe-bakery-deli, from the beghrir pancakes to the racks of home-baked challah, sourdough and rugelach to the green juices and Bay Roasters coffee.

WEST

Brewtown Newtown NEW
6-8 O'Connell Street, Newtown, 02 9519 2020, brewtownnewtown.com

Newtown locals may have mourned the closure of O'Connell Street's Berkelouw Books branch, but they were soon cheered when the cafe that replaced it turned out to be one of the most exciting of the year. There's cold brew on tap and a super-tech Steampunk filter coffee system, cronuts that may be one of the year's most Instagrammed items in Sydney, and a lovely cafe-meets-bistro menu.

Cornersmith
314 Illawarra Road, Marrickville
, 02 8065 0844, cornersmith.com.au
An established Good Cafe Guide star, Cornersmith scores our Cafe of the Year gong for continuing to set the standard for cafes for which ''community'' and ''sustainability'' are intrinsic goals, not buzzwords. The same exacting standards apply to the food - dig that smoky eggplant relish with poached eggs - and excellent Mecca coffee. Beloved by locals and worth crossing town for.

Henri Marc NEW
Shop 2, 438 High Street, Penrith, henrimarc.com.au
For first-timers, Henri Marc is hard to find (head down the laneway next to the pharmacy), but it's worth persisting. Henri Marc brought Reuben Hills coffee to Penrith, serving it up alongside a creative all-day menu (soft-boiled duck eggs and soldiers, black sticky rice with fresh coconut and mango, confit duck salad) in a stylish industrial space. Off caffeine? Get the Sour Cherry Henri Temple.

In the Annex NEW
35 Ross Street, Forest Lodge, 02 8041 6536

Next-door Glebe might get more attention, but this little gem is one very good reason to head to Forest Lodge for your next weekend breakfast, which might be a kale-and-egg roll with an addictive chilli relish or sticky braised eggplant with scrambled eggs. Owner Ed Santos turns out beautifully balanced umami espresso, and tea is from inner west label T Totaler.

The Sydney Morning Herald Good Cafe Guide 2014 will be available for $5 with The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday June 21 from participating newsagents, while stocks last. It will also be available in selected bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au for $9.99.