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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Coffee at The Cupping Room, Hobart

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.


Mary Estcourt said...

Have almost been colliding into the rear of driver in front trying to check out this NEW spot. Thanks for the review and inside observations delivered safely to me in my lounge room. No typos detected : ))

Anonymous said...

looks nice. did you have a look at what is going in next door? is it part of oomph? i can wait to see the slayer!


Bree said...

Couldn't agree more. I like the decor & could get rather comfy there; the coffee was good - not great; the food sounded rather uninspiring, 'safe' & predicable. Why not have an inspired menu to compliment a serious coffee focus? I was so disappointed to have a 'ho hum' moment when I looked at that lunch menu.

Lucy said...

I couldn't agree more. You can have a $20,000 coffee machine and (as the disappointing Cupping Machine coffee demonstrated) still come out with a fairly ordinary coffee. The Hobart coffee institutions - Criterion, Tricycle, Pigeon Hole etc - still manage to make a better coffee than the coffee that I had at Cupping Machine, despite having less financially impressive machines.

Anonymous said...

Lucy do you actualy know coffee?? It would appear not. The coffeee at the cuuping room is amazing, a standout in Hobart and Tasmania without a doubt. To even put them in the same leauge as Tricycle, Pigeon Hole and Criterion instantly deprives you of any credibility. I have been to most specialty coffee houses in Vic and alot of the Sydney/QLD ones also. Cupping room is right up there. Maybe educate yourself towards coffee before leaving these sorts of comments. Anyone reading this probably should go and try it for yourselves, thats what i did and i found it an amazing coffee experiance, i'm sure you will also.

Anonymous said...

I'd also have to disagree with you Lucy and wonder about your knowledge in the industry. Although you are entitled to your opinion, i think its way off. I had and amazing ristretto at this place. Alot of flavour and acidity(which is generally in high altitude/quality coffee). Looking forward to another weekend off so i can get there again. Well done whoever put this toggether, mainlander by any chance

Maggie said...

Dear Anon 12.18 and 12.15.

Thank you for your comments. I was hoping this article would create some debate about what kind of coffee experience Hobartians are really after, and you have both set the ball rolling.

Please refer to Lucy's reference to the coffee at other cafes being better than the one she had at Cupping Room. She doesn't seem to be referring to every cup they've ever made there, just the one she had on this particular occasion. I can attest that her knowledge of coffee is very good, and I am sure she intends to return soon for another cup as do I (I hope so, she's my coffee drinking buddy.)

The last coffee I had at Pigeon Hole was in fact better than either cup I had at Cupping on this occasion. However, I am still intending to return there at the first available opportunity, and I am looking forward to watching this business grow.

Please, everyone, do go and try The Cupping Room for yourselves. There is no point having a venue like this open up, only to close again due to lack of patronage before they have found their feet.

Also, Anon 12.50, I am not sure to what you refer. If you are referring to my review, yes, I am a mainlander but i have lived here for two-and-a-half-years. If you are referring to the proprietors of The Cupping Room, it has been established by the team behind Oomph.

Lucy said...

Well, technically Anon 12.50, I was a mainlander until 6 years ago, but I'm not sure what that has to do with my knowledge of coffee (although it did make me laugh - it's such a Tassie 'insult'). My first job at the age of 16 was with one of the top coffee places in Sydney, so I've grown up with what I'd judge is a pretty good knowledge of coffee. Plus, I've drunk enough coffee to probably pay off a Hobart mortgage and travelled widely around Italy (although Australian coffee is distinctly different to Italian in our obsession with milk).

Maggie's right - I am talking about ONE coffee that I had at the Cupping Room, and I just didn't think it was good enough to live up all the hype. Maybe they make better ones, but the one I had was pretty ordinary.

Tassiegal said...

The plunger coffee I had at the cupping room was "interesting". Definately a different taste, but seeing I am generally a short black girl with 3 sugars I suspect my palette is not necessarily the right one to ask.
The lunch menu is ok - have had one of the pizzas and shared with a friend. It was more than enough, definately could not eat a whole one myself.
The comments by Anon sound very similar to the comments made by someone on a facebook discussion about the best coffee in Hobart. They defend oomph and the cupping room vehemently - but a bit of digging shows that they are actually associated with both venues in a financial sense. I dont have a problem with that - but believe full disclosure about affiliations is a good thing.
(I apologise in advance for any slanging match which these comments may warrant Maggie - will buy you a coffee sometime to apologise!)

Anonymous said...

Tassiegal, i am anon 12:18, and if you are refering to me and think you know who i am do you?? Well you are way off the mark. I have no financial affiliation to the cupping room whatsoever. No slanging match here but i do hope we are clear!!

Anonymous said...

sorry to say but for someone who says they're a photographer your photos dont seem to convey this?

Maggie said...

Anon 10.42: past tense mate. I was never particularily talented. I worked professionally in Melbourne for a number of years but it was a mostly soul destroying experience. I generally treat photography (with my trusty pocket camera) as a hobby for illustration purposes only.

I still believe my point was valid. Although, imagine the best barista in Hobart on that Slayer... Heaven. I'll have to try and get a coffee when Nikki is working, I hear she is excellent.

Lucy said...

"sorry to say but for someone who says they're a photographer your photos dont seem to convey this?" [Anon 10.42am]

Anon, what do you mean by "this?" For someone who is critical of another's craft, you don't really communicate very well yourself.

My understanding of Maggie's photography is that she was recently a finalist (with multiple entries) in the Aust food blogging photography competition. And as a professional art critic, I believe they're excellent photos which enhance the written content of the blog very well.

Maggie said...

Thank you Lucy.

Anon 10.42, if you would like to view some of my professional work, please take yourself to the SBS Food website where some of my photographs (along with the work of many talented food bloggers) are currently on display. Here is a link if you have trouble finding it:

I am struggling to see how a debate about my merits as a photographer, or my qualifications to make a judgment on this venue or any other, shed any light on the quality of the coffee at The Cupping Room.

Tassiegal said...

Anon @ 12:18 - my apologies. I think I may have been refering more to the Anon @ 12:50 - I was going by the tone of the posts as compared to another poster on another board. Having more than one Anon gets confusing....maybe it should be Anon with pink fluffy bunny, anon with agenda etc etc? (Sorry had a bit too much chocolate)

Maggie said...

Hey Tassiegal,

I'd be interested to hear more of this other forum. Do you have a link/way I could find out more?

Oh, and you can buy me coffee any time you like! :)

sir grumpy said...

It's only coffee. Be like the French and shun all those frothies. Just have your coffee black or white and shut up.
Let us tea sippers enjoy our earl grey in peace.
By the way, what is this term ``main meal'' that crops up all the time?
It's main course. Main course.
PS, sorry, I must be drinking too much Assam, I got a bit touchy there.

Anonymous said...

Goodness-excuse moi for having a differing opinion, I didn't mean to offend, just pointing out my observations-didn't realise you & lucy would be so defensive.

Mary said...

Hi Maggie,

I think the discussion Tassiegal is referring to is this:

There is also a vehemently defensive review on Eating Tassie

In all these posts, there seems to be a particular 'style' in common....

Anonymous said...

wow there is a bit of accusing going on here. If what i am told is correct and these people own the 3 oomph stores and this cupping room place,i doubt they are jumping on here to bat for themselves. Already seem pretty succesful by the looks of things.

Tassiegal said...

Maggie - the link Mary gave is the right one. Its in the discussions on Secret Hobart on Facebook. Have not seen the eating Tassie one.
As for coffee - name a place and I'll be there!

R said...

Managed a first visit to Cupping Room this week. The Oomph people who own it are coffee fanatics, importing roasting and blending. The only other place comparable, as far as I know, is Villino (though they've only recently embarked on the manufacturing aspect).

I think these places are not really cafes, with the expectation of relaxing atmosphere, place to hang out, good food and such; they're all about the coffee. The food is basically an obligation, to give legitimacy to the cafe moniker. I would like to see somewhere that only does coffee, in the same passionate way, and simply not bother with food. At Baba Budan in Lt Bourke Street you might score a pastry, for example.

To me the essence of the drink is found in an espresso or ristretto (without sugar). The aroma, flavours, texture, all the nuances, are delivered in that 30ml. The people that make it tell me its the hardest coffee to do. A view possibly reinforced by the primary task in that rather esoteric endeavour, barista competitions, being that participants must make five espressos in fifteen minutes. Each one - process and result - scrutinised and scored.

Milk coffee is doubtless enjoyable for many (most) but not, to me, the standard by which to judge, or one that delivers the greatest satisfaction. I'm sure establishments mentioned earlier satisfy many customers but my experience of all of them with espresso is average, at best. Some make the effort to source Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance brands (not in itself a guarantee of good quality ingredients) but others use commercial made-to-a-style blend of beans. The espressos have been undistinguished: little texture with a limited flavour profile, very often served so hot that when its drinkable the crema has dissolved and the body just rotted away. Its also been my general experience, whether at Raincheck or Kara or Lansdowne or T42 (caffeine head spins) or Retro. These places are generalist cafes where coffee is part of the deal, as is the food, the decor the staff the attitude, the demographic with whom we are comfortable. Crucially different to me are Villino and The Cupping Room (I'd like to know of others) where I'm not interested in the food, the style, the coolness, and I don't think they are, either.

So I had both their unblended offerings, from the expensive machine. The descriptions on the printed sheet they supplied when I asked about the beans largely matched what I tasted. Suspicious of one of them being described as having a "neutral flavour" but I got the idea and couldn't have described it better. My coffee nose & palate doesn't seem to be sufficiently acute or trained to pick all the characters they listed for the other one but I perceived some. And yes I enjoyed them.

As for the expensive machine, the creaminess and consistency of texture - is liquid velvet overstating it? - and "weight" in mouthfeel was something I'd not ever experienced before (not at any of the other Oomph shops, or elsewhere). I think that Villino were using the same bean recently as one of their offerings (tasted similar with the same name) but an espresso from it didn't go near the experience of this one. I'll have to owe the difference to the machine.

So yeah, whatever third wave, nod or wink in coffee, or not, places like The Cupping Room are doing good stuff, probably far enough ahead that they're not entirely understood by everyone.

Finally I thought the photos in the article were fine. Illustrative and apt. Silly to criticise.

Oh and I think it was a bit naff for the Oomph persons to promote without disclosure on that facebook thing. "Dain" is one of the family and "Carl" might be the father of the clan. (don't have FB so unsure).

I've no affiliation with any of the places mentioned.

Maggie said...

Hey R,

Well said.



Joel said...

Meh, I buy raw (green) beans from the African shop (Memory Lane, Moonah), roast them, grind them by hand using the excellent Hario Skerton Hand Grinder, then make them all wet using the magnificent Presso manual machine.

Anything else is just pretentious.

the mama belly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bree said...

I noticed today that The Cupping Room have an entirely new menu.

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ut si said...

Hey Maggie, finally got to the Cupping Room last week, keen as after your post(4 times with Chef & Prof over 2 days...coffees all brill). Our coffees at CR were way better on the day than Melbourne's holy trinity...St Ali Brother Baba & Seven Seeds this week. And the baristi even gave us a play on the Slayer....(BTW, David Jones has a Slayer & a cold drip. Dead jealous!)
Jason, Luke Burgess is going on next door...Garagistes.