Sydney coffee pioneer Joaquin Hernandez dies aged 84

Joaquin Hernandez senior and junior at their Kings Cross cafe in 2007.
Joaquin Hernandez senior and junior at their Kings Cross cafe in 2007.  Photo: Jennifer Soo

Sydney has lost one of the central figures in its transformation from a tea-toting town to a coffee-obsessed metropolis.

Joaquin Hernandez, who has passed away aged 84, served a posse of international visitors – Frank Sinatra and Ginger Rogers included – desperate for a then hard-to-find espresso.

Hernandez's espresso bar in Potts Point and its ceiling-to-floor art has been a late-night rite of passage for generations of Australians, and a hard-to-miss backdrop in countless films and TV shows, including Rake. In 2005 he was inducted into the Sydney Food Hall of Fame.

Joaquin Hernandez in recent years with his son Quino at Cafe Hernandez.
Joaquin Hernandez in recent years with his son Quino at Cafe Hernandez. Photo: Supplied

When Hernandez, who was born in Spain in 1934, arrived in Sydney in the 1960s, he found a city that already had a caffeine fix – tea.

He was skilled in inspecting and grading coffee and ended up in the Nestle laboratory, working mainly on instant coffee and hot chocolate.

When he opened his first cafe with a roasting facility in Kings Cross in 1972, he was told he was mad. But word spread, and he was soon supplying some of the city's top restaurants.

Hernandez's daughter Francis says her father's final trip to hospital this week was a reminder of his legacy.

"Dad was heartened by the words of the specialist who greeted him saying that Cafe Hernandez was special for him as his parents used to go there and it was the place he went for coffee after dinner with his now wife on their first date," she says.