There is a new café in Hobart and it has a $20,000 coffee machine. I wasn't sure the rumours were true, so this morning I went down to see for myself.
As a photographer, I always believed that given the worst camera in the world, a great photographer would still take a great photograph. And given the best camera in the world, a bad photographer would still take a bad photograph. I also apply this theory to baristas (no matter how many awards they have won). I don't care how impressive their CV is, I care about the cup of coffee I have just ordered, and nothing else, regardless of how much the coffee machine cost.
The machine in question is The Slayer, which is a proper noun. With the "third wave" of coffee well and truly underway in other, more mainstream cities, Hobart is a bit behind the times when it comes to impressive coffee making machinery. Although thanks to relative newcomer Chado, we're right up there when it comes to tea.
The Slayer lives at spanking new venue The Cupping Room, another brainchild of impressive Hobart based coffee chain Oomph. Open for three weeks now it fills an old warehouse space on Murray Street, a section of town many would think too out of the way to get to, but in reality only a stones throw from Hobart's other home of decent coffee, Criterion Street.
At 11am on a Saturday The Cupping Room was full to the brim (pardon the pun) of curious locals keen to see the new kid in town (pardon the cliché). The table set up is curious, with 30 or so seats crammed into a relatively small area of an enormous space, and one sweet little sofa area in the front window that could do well to be expanded through half the venue for lazing around with a latte or two.
There are three single origin blends available at all times that change on a weekly basis. Next to my new Slayer friend are five or so Mazzer grinders, standard (and blissfully silent) fare for a café with any sense. Another, and obviously lesser quality, coffee machine stands almost as dejected as the ugly step sister before the ball. It's for take-away only, as apparently the potential merits of an expensive coffee machine are wasted on paper cups – I wholeheartedly agree.
First up I have a latte, the beans of which were selected as I randomly pointed to a name I couldn't pronounce on the blackboard. At this stage, I am more concerned about other elements of my coffee. It was above average, but that's all. Perhaps slightly too warm, the milk a little bubbly.
A second flat white was more impressive, and I do like the sexy black cups.
There was plenty of time on hand to ponder my surroundings, and read through the menu, as there wasn't a newspaper in sight (more newspapers, please).
The breakfast fare looked promising (although someone might want to run a spell check over tricky words like "Gruyere")*. Eggs are, of course, available ($8.50) with an arsenal of traditional sides ($2-3), and a brioche bun topped with Neufchatel and served with a side of jam ($6.5) caught my eye. A promise of "Cupping Room hollandaise" brings hope that it is made from scratch, on-site, but I shall have to wait until my next visit to find out.
The lunch menu on the other hand did not appeal to me. Safe options like Caesar or Greek salad sit with some very dull sounding wrap sandwiches and pizzas, backed up by a few hopelessly basic main meals.
I would hope that, even in a small town like Hobart, we have moved on from chicken, cheese and sweet chilli mayonnaise wraps (McDonalds made them so uncool). In the very least, many Tasmanian cheese options are far superior to King Island brie.
I watched the next table's mains come out. Like me, they had been puzzled by the lack of table service, and consequently spent their entire meal debating who should go to the counter to order this or that. His meal was a glorified lamb salad ($16.50), hers, a mammoth plate of fettuccini in a cream sauce with chicken and mushrooms ($17, and may I say…it's not 1982 anymore). A Cape Grim beef burger with chips ($18) would do well if it could stand up to the quality of the Alley Cat's $10 burger, or even Café Vue's $12 burger and fries (although this requires a trip to Melbourne). And so, we shall see.
I did not eat these meals, and so pass no judgement on how good they may (or may not) have been. Although I would like to see a more adventurous menu on offer, something to rival Melbourne's St Ali, or Proud Mary, who mix the best coffee in Melbourne with an inventive, excellent and yet affordable menu. I will, for the sake of a fair and accurate reviewing process, return shortly to sample the lunch fare, although under ordinary circumstances I wouldn’t eat there based on the menu being similar to every other café in town. I will report back at a later date.
So, it was the coffee I came for, and the coffee I had was good. There are monthly cupping classes on offer, although I would like to see fun latte art demonstrations and the like, and I hear on the grapevine that there is a three group Synesso and a syphon brewing set on the way.
The Cupping Room is new, and consequently will require a period of adjustment to truly find its groove. There is promise in the air here, and it is the promise of Hobart catching up to the hospitality standards of the mainland. Baby steps perhaps, but The Cupping Room may just be the beginning of a new era in coffee for Hobart. Maybe.
*Obviously, I did proof read this document, but Murphy's Law for food writers dictates that any mention of spelling errors on a menu will ensure that the review in question will be riddled with them.