You can get your coffee with soy, nut milk and even an artery-busting shock of butter if you like. But how about a house-made oat milk that sounds legitimately delicious?
That's on offer at Neighbourhood, which opened in Surry Hills on Monday. The cafe is run by Sean McManus, who has strong coffee-making cred: he was head barista at Single Origin Roasters and recently was at Artificer. So Neighbourhood was always going to get attention from the caffeine-deprived - but the signature oat milk also makes it stand out in suburb where a flat white is easier to get than a sandwich.
"I'm all for dairy alternatives," says McManus, but he didn't want to serve soy, because the milk "tastes like wet cardboard".
"What we tried to do is find something that worked a lot better and we found a lot of almond milks and macadamia milks just don't cut it, purely because almonds and macadamias are so expensive, that when you actually make it - to make it worthwhile - you actually have to make such a massive ratio of water to almond that the texture of it is quite thin and a bit watery."
His vegan-friendly solution happened by chance.
"One day, I spilt an espresso inside of my porridge and noticed how amazing the oats went with the espresso and I started experimenting a couple of months ago, trying to make my own oat milk." His resulting recipe is a warm blend of organic oats, medjool dates and vanilla pods - plus "Himalayan rock salt just to balance it out" and filtered water.
The starchy profile of the oats helps "develop a milk that has the same thickness and texture as cow's milk", he says.
"It actually goes a lot better with coffee and it doesn't overpower it."
Order it as a flat white ($4.40), and it tastes a little like you're drinking a coffee-spiked porridge (which, frankly, is not bad thing at all). It's like breakfast in a cup - so ditch the Up & Go and get this on the run instead, it's much more satisfying (and has a bonus buzz).
Interest in the oat milk is strong - McManus had to triple the amount he was originally making. You can also order it with a vegan hot chocolate ($5) made from single-origin Vietnamese chocolate. The barista plans to bring in vegan doughnuts ($5 each) from Woah Nelly! in the coming weeks.
Caffeine-wise, he's been working closely with Artificer - "I personally believe that they've got the best-tasting coffee in Australia" - and rotates his selection daily, with one single origin that works with milk-based orders and another single origin for espressos and filters.
McManus will also be expanding his business in the coming weeks.
Next door, he'll set up Rutland Street Sandwiches (expect vegetarian-style sandwiches, with protein options like smoked meats) and on the other side, a retailer called Clementine's Natural Wines. So with caffeine, food and booze, McManus has compelling reasons for you to stick to his stretch of Surry Hills.
Open Mon-Fri, 6.30am-3pm.
16B Buckingham Street, Surry Hills, instagram.com/neighbourhoodbsm