02 November 2017

16 Great Speciality Coffee Spots in Sydney

After the speciality coffee free-for-all that was my trip to Melbourne, I had about a week to recover before arriving in Sydney. My coffee to-do list was shorter for Sydney than for Melbourne and I also had more time — five full days, as it turned out — but I was staying with friends who are as into their coffee as I am, which meant that my list ended up growing considerably. Another challenge was that of the two biggest neighbourhoods for speciality coffee — Surry Hills and the CBD — the latter's coffee shops tend to close at the weekends. And when planning, do also bear in mind that many Australian coffee shops close at 3 pm — sometimes even earlier.

In the end, I managed to visit 16 speciality coffee shops during my trip — coincidentally, the same number as in Melbourne — plus a couple of concessions at Sydney Airport, which I'm not counting separately but which will be mentioned below. I've organised everything by neighbourhood; some cafés have multiple locations, in which case I've noted this below. As usual, spots marked in purple in my map below are my particular favourites. I hope you find this guide useful if you are also planning a coffee-focused visit to Sydney.

A lovely sunny neighbourhood coffee shop serving espresso from The Little Marionette, Trafalgar Street Espresso is, as its name suggests, a particularly good spot for espresso-based drinks. You can also buy beans from The Little Marionette, which come in particularly cute packaging (the 'house blend' features a house, for instance). If you're in the market for a pie, this is also a good place to try one — they source them from Black Star Pastry, and they are delicious.

Trafalgar St Espresso is located at 18 Trafalgar Street, Annandale. Facebook.

After locating a large, architectural wooden pod at 200 George Street, I thought I had come to Dutch Smuggler (see below) but it turned out that they were in the pod's 'downstairs'. The upstairs used to be operated by Edition Coffee Roasters, but the barista told me that their name is BRC. I couldn't find any more information about them online — whether they are connected to Edition, for example — but the piccolo I had with espresso from Stitch Coffee was very well made. NB: it's cash only here.

BRC is located at 200 George Street, Sydney (upstairs from Dutch Smuggler).

Only a short walk from BRC and Dutch Smuggler, Cabrito Coffee Traders occupies a millennial pink building on bustling Bulletin Place. Inside, it's dark and busy but fret not: once you've placed your order, you can take your designated toy animal and pick a table outside in the sunshine.

There were two Ethiopian coffees available as a V60 pourover and, on the recommendation of the barista, I went for the Celinga Yirgacheffe, which was incredibly fruity, particularly as it cooled. I had to wait a while but it was very busy and the barista told me he'd had to make it again as he wasn't happy with the first one — always a good sign, in my view, and in this case, the second version was very good indeed.

Cabrito Coffee Traders is located at 10-14 Bulletin Place, Sydney. Website. Instagram.

Dutch Smuggler, located in the downstairs section of the pod at 200 George Street, does a roaring trade in coffees and toasties of a morning. I wasn't yet in the mood for a toastie, but I did spot a good bargain: banana bread and a coffee for $6.50. Initially, I thought they were doing take-out only but spotted the gorgeous ceramic cups on the coffee machine just in time and asked for my piccolo to drink in, 'in' being one of the tables in the busy courtyard next to the EY office.

The piccolo was very well made and I really liked the cup it came in. The banana bread was good too, so I'll now just have to find a way back to sample the toasties...

Dutch Smuggler is located at 200 George Sreett, Sydney. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

I didn't have time to visit Coffee Alchemy's Marrickville roastery but luckily, they also have a coffee bar called Gumption inside the historic Strand Arcade in the CBD. Better still, it's open unusually late — until 5:30 pm most days and until 7:15 pm on Thursdays — which meant I could stop by after spending the afternoon in Manly.

They had three single-origin filter coffees available as pourovers in the tiny, ever-busy shop and I went for one from Panama, which was so beautifully brewed, with super-juicy blueberry and cherry notes, that I wanted to buy a bag of the beans. But unfortunately, they had sold out. If you're in the CBD and looking for a hand-brewed filter coffee — particularly after 3 pm — Gumption is a really good place to try.

Gumption is located at Shop 11, The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George Street, Sydney. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

The Normcore team are coffee perfectionists and their minimalist coffee bar on Castlereagh Street is a great place to stop for both espresso-based and filter-coffee drinks. I went for a magic (when in Australia...) and it was immaculately brewed, tasting smooth and well-balanced. They also sell beans with their suitably normcore packaging.

Normcore Coffee Roasters is located at 209 Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Facebook. Instagram.

With its sleek, spacious, high-ceilinged cafe on Castlereagh Street, Pablo & Rusty's is a beautiful place for coffee, breakfast or lunch. Having had too many piccolos (I can't drink too much milk), I was in the mood for a filter coffee but ended up mis-ordering. I'd thought a 'slow drip' meant a pourover but, of course, it refers to coffee made in a Japanese slow-drip cold coffee brewer. I don't usually like to have cold brew as the first coffee I try in a new-to-me coffee shop, but Pablo & Rusty's was very well made and it had lovely mandarin notes. Moreover, it was 32C outside and the prospect of cold coffee was rather appealing. They don't, as it turns out, serve pourover coffee, although there was a batch-brew filter coffee available.

I also ordered a spot of brunch. Note: you won't find a classic avocado toast or eggs Benedict on the breakfast or lunch menus at Pablo & Rusty's. Instead, they offer creative dishes with unexpected twists. Still grumpy about my cancelled Qantas flight, I was actually in the mood for something classic and went for the most classic item on the menu: a bacon and egg-salad roll, which was really good. You can also buy bags of coffee beans here, and there's an attached-but-separate espresso bar for takeaway orders.

Pablo & Rusty's is located at 161 Castlereagh Street, Sydney (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Single O has long been a stalwart of the Sydney speciality coffee scene — they developed their signature Reservoir blend, named for the street where their Surry Hills espresso bar is located, in 2003. I first came across Single O at The New Black in London last year and was keen to visit one of their coffee bars. I didn't make it to Reservoir Street but I did stop by their CBD espresso bar for a piccolo and an almond croissant after my run one morning. The coffee was very nice, which was particularly impressive given the constant stream of customers, some placing rather large orders, at this busy York Street location during the morning peak.

Single O is located at 89 York Street, Sydney (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

If Single O was a roaster I discovered in London, I first sampled Toby's Estate coffee at their Flatiron location in Manhattan in 2014, following up the year after with a visit to their Williamsburg roastery. Although lots of cafés throughout Australia serve Toby's coffee, there are only four 'signature cafés, including two in Sydney. We went to the Chippendale branch in search of air conditioning and hand-brewed filter coffee. When we asked what they had on the brew bar, we both stopped listening after the server told us that they had a coffee from Myanmar as part of their 'underdogs' series, which celebrates coffee from less well-known origins.

The coffee was really good! My friend put it best describing the smooth mandarin notes as being like an Old Fashioned. If you get the chance to try one of Toby's underdogs, I'd highly recommend it. We had other brunch plans, but you can also get a top-notch brunch here.

There are also several Toby's coffee bars at Sydney Airport, in the Domestic and International Terminals (both before and after security at the International Terminal). They serve espresso-based drinks and batch-brew filter coffee only, and I had a rather good piccolo at the International Terminal.

Toby's Estate is located at 32-36 City Road, Chippendale (and other locations — including Sydney Airport). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Somehow Campos Coffee had escaped my notice so I was very glad when my friend suggested that we pay a visit to their Newtown coffee bar. Colourful bags of coffee beans — each country of origin gets its own colour — line the counter, along with various yummy sweet treats. The coffee menu was similarly impressive: three espressos (two single origin and a blend), four single-origin filter coffees, and a cold drip. My friend and I both spotted the speciality auction lot Esmeralda Geisha from Panama on the list and although at $12, it was more than twice the price of a typical pourover in Sydney, I could smell the delicious apricot and orange notes even before the server but the tray down on my table. It tasted even better.

There is a Campos espresso bar inside Sydney Airport's International Terminal, after security. I had a pretty decent piccolo there, which could make Sydney the only airport in the world (that I know of) that has two good speciality coffee options.

Campos Coffee is located at 193 Missenden Road, Newtown (and other locations — including Sydney Airport). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

St Peters
Sample's original coffee bar is in Surry Hills but as we were in St Peters anyway to visit Precinct 75, we decided to pay a visit to the zen, minimalist Sample Pro Shop and roastery. I had a piccolo made expertly with the chocolatey Pacemaker blend, which I really enjoyed. My friend had the single-origin espresso of the day. I forget what it was but she really liked it.

Sample Coffee Pro Shop is located at 75 Mary St, St Peters (and other locations). Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Surry Hills
Speaking of minimalist coffee bars, Artificer's airy Surry Hills space is light, airy and with the focus given solely to the preparation of excellent coffee drinks: espresso-based, hand-brewed filter, cold brew and cascara. I'd already had two pourovers in the previous hour so switched things up, opting for a piccolo. The resulting drink was one of the best piccolos I had in Sydney, and my friends' espressos went down just as well.

Artificer is located at 547 Bourke Street, Surry Hills. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

Possibly the best-named café in Sydney, Haven: Tailoring Coffee Joyously is also a beautiful spot serving excellent coffee and creative brunch dishes. When you order an espresso or a filter coffee, you can opt for a fruity, nutty or chocolatey flavour profile. Your coffee will then be served with a small dish containing a sample of the relevant accompaniment — currants, almonds and (I assume) chocolate.

I was going to go fruity with my pourover but then switched at the last minute to the coffee of the day, a Colombian Geisha La Pradera. I can't say that I agreed with the 'nutty' characterisation (I was getting more citrusy notes) but I did enjoy the almonds. If you like waffles and unusual flavour combinations, I would also recommend the Amazing Kimcheese egg waffles with kimchi, parmesan, sesame and vanilla bean ice cream from the all-day menu. It was very weird but strangely compelling.

Haven is located at 30-34 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

We had planned our whole Saturday of caffeination around a late breakfast at Paramount...only to discover, on consulting their Instagram, that they had been closed for a couple of weeks for renovations and would only reopen on the morning I left for Auckland. As they are located quite close to Central Station, through which I would be transiting, I did actually consider going on the way to the airport but decided against it in the end. Qantas had other plans, though, and although when they cancelled by 10:15 am flight, putting me on a 7:25 pm one instead, I was pretty hacked off, it did mean that I got the chance to visit Paramount.

A collaboration between Paramount House and the owners of Seven Seeds and Reuben Hills, the Paramount Coffee Project is a beautifully designed and spacious café in the heart of Surry Hills. The design extends to the menus as well as to the interiors: everything looks gorgeous. The all-day menu sounded great too — the fried chicken waffle, in particular, and I had serious food envy when another customer ordered it — but my disrupted travel plans had affected my appetite. Instead, I 'just' had the espresso and peanut banana bread, which came toasted with chocolate butter. It was as delicious as it sounds.

As for the coffee, I went for the filter of the day, a chocolatey Honduran Choacapa from Reuben Hills, which went perfectly with the banana bread. All of the espresso-based drinks I saw coming from the counter looked really good too. If you happen to be in LA, they now have a café there too.

Paramount Coffee Project is located at 80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

After discovering that Paramount was closed last Saturday, we went for our late breakfast/early brunch at its sister company Reuben Hills instead. Although the cool, industrial-chic café was busy, we got there early enough that we only had to queue briefly for a table.

There were two espressos on offer — the house blend and the single origin du jour (the same Honduran variety I tried as a filter at Paramount) — as well as an Ethiopian Gelana Abaya served through the JET 6, and a Guatemalan Geisha La Reforma, served as a pourover. I went for the latter and really enjoyed the fruity apricot and strawberry notes that came through nicely...

...until my super-spicy broken omelette brunch dish arrived. In the interests of not ruining my coffee, I drank it as quickly as I could before getting started on my food. Note to self: don't order spicy food until you have finished caffeinating for the day! Both the food and the coffee were very good, though.

Reuben Hills is located at 61 Albion Street, Surry Hills. WebsiteTwitterInstagram.

Last but by no means least — and undoubtedly the coolest venue on my list — the Reformatory Caffeine Lab takes coffee geekery to a new level. With its mad scientist/graphic-novel-inspired décor, the sleek, slim espresso bar should be on every coffee lover's Sydney list. You also need to be really careful when you are ordering because some of the particularly special coffees can be quite expensive: I had a $15 honey-processed 90+ Panama Gesha Juliette, for example. It was very well brewed and had lovely floral notes and on this occasion, I do think it was worth the price. If this coffee isn't to your taste, they have 11 other single-origin filter coffees on offer, from seven different countries; only two others are 90+, while the others are a bit cheaper.

My friends tried the 'legendary' Colombian Gesha as an espresso ($20), which they said was superb. None of the flavour notes are given on the extensive coffee menu but if you chat to the friendly, knowledgeable baristas, they will help you find something that's right for you.

The Reformatory Caffeine Lab also sells an extensive range of coffee beans with their signature mad-coffee-scientist packaging. I bought a bag of $18 Kenyan beans to brew up in my Aeropress on the New Zealand section of my holiday, but again, caution is needed because one of the bags at the other end of the counter sells for $100. I'm sure such a coffee would be excellent in the right hands, but I'm not sure I'd trust myself to brew it well enough — particularly when on the road and with so many variables to manage.

The Reformatory Caffeine Lab is located at 17-51 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills. Website. Instagram.

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  1. Wow! You were busy. Looks like I'll need to allow myself a week if I ever get around to visiting Sydney!

    Hope you're having fun in New Zealand.


  2. Thanks, Brian. The bonus day helped, although there were lots of non-coffee things to do distracting me too.

    You should definitely consider making a trip to the other Surr(e)y Hills!