Beautiful one day, decaffeinated the next
Queensland is many ways a much more reasonable facsimile of civilisation than it used to be.
However I recently discovered a glaring deficiency that rubbed away all veneer of cosmopolitan credit.
The coffee was bad. Sometimes it was bad multiplied by awful.
During a recent stay in the Far North Queensland city of Townsville my wife and I painstakingly searched for a decent kick-start-the-day cup.
We weren’t even looking for good, just palatable delivery of caffeine.
Unfortunately, going by flavour, the additive favoured by local coffee makers was extract of fruit bat droppings.
In fairness to the tropical climes it could have been that the milk had to be harvested from nursing cane toads.
In desperation we went to a place that styled itself as the city’s gourmet coffee academy, where it was claimed the local baristas trained to express their espresso and create their crema.
“Well that explains a lot,” my wife said, disdainfully dropping her three-quarters-full cup in the bin while walking out.
You have to understand - she’s not a coffee snob. She’s Italian.
Well, alright, Italio-Melbournian. For her instant coffee is a cultural insult on a par with refusing to dive for a World Cup winning penalty.
Later that week, when we checked into our Brisbane hotel, it was with hope renewed that we asked the desk clerk for a coffee recommendation.
Apologetically he said the nearest decent place was about 40 minutes walk away or, failing that, Starbucks.
I felt a little sorry for him because he knew this hadn’t played well.
It is legitimate source of nationalistic pride that Starbucks was forced to close most of its franchises outside the tourist strips.
Aussies, it seems, are reluctant to part with the roughly $15 needed to enjoy Candy Apple Cinnamon Bucketcinos or whatever it is they serve.
My last prolonged exposure to Starbucks was on an US airline. Could there be a more conspiring unholy trinity of anti-coffee terms than: US, airline and Starbucks?
Actually I am not sure the tepid fawn brown liquid doled out in the “We proudly serve Starbucks” paper cups was coffee. I suspect it was ash-rinsing water drained out of old fireplaces.
From Brisbane we decamped to the Gold Coast and accordingly the coffee situation looked even bleaker.
Then we noticed a cafe with definite promise.
It had a sign that claimed to “take coffee seriously”, which admittedly made little sense to my wife, who couldn’t understand the alternative.
Out of the Sunshine State’s thermo-nuclear glare the interior was pokey, the serving surfaces worn and grubby. There was a tips coffee glass with a sign linking generosity to sexual prowess. A greasy long-haired, black-garbed, lip-pierced Gothboy grudgingly began to operate the machine.
My wife and I exchanged ever more excited glances.
Queensland’s bad coffee had usually been served up with almost threatening cheerfulness. Here was some familiarly reassuring city surliness. Surely if urban attitude counted, coffee redemption was at hand.
It took only a couple of trepidatious sips to realise we had been cruelly duped. The concoction had the same sickly slightly sweet but charred taste of tortured beans we had become accustomed to.
If anything, it was even more bilious, with an aftertaste that lingered like the regret of a failed romance.
The one upside of all the below average beverage was that by mercilessly carping on about it, I was able to keep a Brisbane friend gratifyingly on the defensive.
Whereas once civic supremacy might have been judged by whose football team is best, for many contemporary Aussies it is more important to triumph in the league of latte.
Traditionally the Mecca of mocha and the capital of cappuccino has been Melbourne.
However The Age in a recent article, well more a treatise demonstrating the lengthy learned reverence of a Hindu holy man translating sacred Sanskrit, was agonisingly forced to report the following expert’s verdict: “More often you would go into a Sydney cafe and get a better cup of coffee than you would if you were walking around Melbourne.”
From a lay point of view, I am not so sure. Sydney offers some very acceptable coffee but also a sprinkling of shockers.
Melbourne rarely disappoints. What’s more occasionally you stumble upon brews so good that they are revelations of some higher, more tongue-tingling potion altogether.
Adelaide, in my limited samplings, also sets a pretty good standard. Of the other capitals and states, I can comment less.
In Queensland, however, you might as well stick to Starbucks.
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