If someone asked you to describe an essential aspect of your life, what would it be?
You know that absolutely necessary thing that you must have. That you need. That’s so intrinsic to the essence of making or breaking your day.
Sure the average person would say health, family, love or perhaps food. And most days I’d say that too. But you see, some days I’m just not the ‘average’ person.
Some days, my response would unquestionably be coffee. Yep, coffee.
How could it not be.
On those days it’s the first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning.
The taste. The smell. The feeling. My coffee lover friends would understand that pleasure of the first sip as it rolls over your tongue and gives your insides a big, warm hug.
Today was one of those days. I finally got all kids back at school after days of sneezing and coughing all over the place. Naturally, I can feel it’s now my turn. A heavy head is coming on, there’s that tickle in the back of my throat and I haven’t had a good nights sleep in about a week.
I needed a great caffeine boost so bad.
As I sat that morning at a table at Don Campos, where the coffee is consistently superb (and my current fave cafe) I wonder how I became so obsessed?
Fixed in my mind, I can vividly recall the perfume of coffee parading around my childhood home all day long. But not just any coffee, I’m talking about the heavy-duty Lebanese type. Over the years I watched my Mother make it for every person who popped by, which was A LOT of people! We had a very social home and I’m pretty sure everyone from family, to friends, to neighbours assumed our (unofficial) motto was ‘the door’s open, please come in!’ Anyway, I remember being in a whirl of excitement when my Mother first trusted me to make a pot of Lebanese coffee! I felt like such a grown up! You see it’s not as simple as ‘just add boiling water,’ there’s an art to it. It’s about the time you let it brew over an open flame, the way you stir it, bringing it to the boil multiple times, without letting the froth evaporate or allowing it to overflow and then there’s the time you must let it rest. So many variables that seemed to be well worth it for those who waited. I have many memories of sitting and watching the pleasure it brought to the faces of those drinking it and in turn the joy it brought to my Mother (who truly believed it was insulting not to offer your guest a good cup of coffee).
Despite all that, the taste of Lebanese coffee never really grew on me. It’s dark, very strong (more so than espresso) and can be quite bitter. But I loved that distinctive smell and it’s what drew me in on my quest to find the one that was perfect for me.
I’ve lost count of the hours and days (and dollars) I’ve spent searching for the best coffee. And I have to admit (off the record) not any coffee will do. That instant stuff won’t cut it. I don’t do the fast food franchise type or any of the big chains with their overly sweetened concoctions and definitely not the budget stuff you get from the servo.
My search has taken me to many places all over Sydney, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago, when I was studying at a college in The Rocks, that I found a hidden caffeinated gem. In an alley parallel to Hickson Road (just opposite the Old Sydney Holiday Inn) you will find a cozily eclectic little cafe, The Fine Food Store. Without a doubt, they do the best coffee. So good I’d have one before class and most days I’d sneak in another by morning tea.
I loved studying down that way. Every morning, with my coffee in hand, I would find a spot to sit and watch as people from all walks of life go by. The business men and women that ferried or trained in, the school students and the tourists who stopped every couple of steps to take a photo. Then there were the, mostly eccentric, buskers and the local travellers who excitedly headed towards a gigantic cruise ship waiting for them at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Sydney Harbour really is such a beautiful place and the great coffee made getting up and out so early in the morning all that much better.
I’m no longer studying there (bummer!), but I still try and go down any chance I get. A couple of weekends ago was a perfect opportunity because The Rocks was hosting it’s yearly caffeine driven festival of mega proportions (and my favourite festival of the year), The Aroma Festival. There were rows of stalls and barristers roasting and frothing everywhere. The crowds were getting high on that ultimate coffee fix and I had do my bit, of course. I spent the day testing one cup of coffee after another. Besides, I was at a COFFEE festival and it would be insulting to the hosts if I left without having one (or seven!).
With Sydney Harbour as a backdrop and the smell of caffeine in the air, it was easy to turn a blind eye to the long queues and big crowds.
Ultimately, “what better place could you be?” I thought as I took a whiff of that last drop of my Campos cappuccino. It was a coffee lovers dream.