Canberra might not be top of the list of the best coffee destinations in Australia, but we definitely give our sister cities a run for their money! With a booming café landscape, more and more venues roasting their own beans in-house, plus a huge population of public servants and uni students who need coffee like they need water, Canberra sure knows a thing or two about a good cup of coffee.
Whether you’re looking to kickstart your day or catch up with friends, a café brewing fresh and delicious coffee is the way to go. But living in a city that’s absolutely bursting with top-notch cafes – how do you choose the right one?
In this article, we’ll tell you a little bit about how to tell an average café apart from a great one, and give you a helpful guide to some of Canberra’s favourite spots.
What makes a great coffee shop
Choosing the right coffee shop guarantees a great experience, whether you’re sitting down or on the go.
It can be helpful to keep the following in mind when choosing a coffee shop.
- Quality beans. A cup of coffee is only as good as the beans it’s made from. A great coffee shop prioritises the quality of their ingredients, and only source the best, locally produced, freshly roasted and properly ground beans for their coffee.
- Trained barista. A great coffee shop takes pride in properly training its employees to make excellent coffee. Anyone can learn how to steam milk and pour a shot of espresso, but a trained barista knows how to execute it perfectly, every time.
- Consistency. The appeal of having a local coffee shop is being able to expect consistently delicious coffee every time you visit. A great coffee shop knows that to keep customers happy, the coffee should be on point every day.
- Great service. Great coffee shops have great service and are conscious of your time. Look for a café that doesn’t sacrifice time for quality, or vice versa, and helps you start your day out right with efficient, friendly service.
- Tasty menu. Excellent coffee shops do much more than serve delicious coffee – they also serve food, from a simple pastry selection to a full breakfast and lunch menu.
The best coffee shops in Canberra
RiotACT’s editorial team has combed through 20 years of on-site comments to compile a list of the most recommended businesses according to you.
To be listed in our Best of Canberra series, each business needs to have consistently received positive feedback on RiotACT and Facebook as well as maintaining a minimum average of 4/5 stars on Google.
Since the ONA brand was established way back in 2008 by world champion barista Saša Šestić, ONA has taken its philosophy of making great coffee and sharing it with the world to great heights, with venues across Australia and wholesale partners around the world – rest assured, ONA coffee is top quality. The ONA Coffee House here in Canberra, attached to the ONA Coffee roastery, offers ONA’s entire range of signature blends and single origin coffees, plus a delicious breakfast and lunch menu.
Steve Schaefer wrote on Google, “The coffee alone is the reason to stop here … but the breakfast was phenomenal.”
Situated on Lonsdale Street in Braddon, Rye is a local hotspot that’s open daily for breakfast and lunch. Serving up specialist coffee and fresh, simple, delicious food, the passionate team is ready and willing to go above and beyond to make your café experience as enjoyable as possible.
As Facebook user Danielle Gurr writes, "Amazing food, great coffee, friendly staff and just a generally wonderful vibe. The breakfast board was so yummy, would recommend."
Highroad is another recent project by the nationally-renowned Canberra business ONA Coffee, and focuses on specialty coffee, locally sourced ingredients and innovative menu items. The gorgeous interior of Highroad pays homage to the Canberra landscape, with high glass windows, a few eucalyptus sprigs and art-deco finishes on the wooden panelling, Highroad's bright and welcoming interior is matched by its top-notch coffee and delicious food.
On Google, Shannen Kelly wrote, “Amazing food and atmosphere and all the staff are so polite, friendly and attentive. Great place”
Two Before Ten now has four cafes across Canberra—Aranda, Hobart Place, Greenway and Brindabella Business Park. It also operates its own roastery, to maintain quality control, and creates its very own blends with their own unique flavour profiles. Customers enjoy each cup with fabulous food, rounding out their coffee experience.
Natalia Abbasi wrote on Google, “We started with coffee but liked it so much we stayed for lunch … Will definitely come back.”
Waterfront views, great coffee and delicious eats are on the menu at 38 Espresso, a character-filled cafe perfectly located along the Kingston Foreshore. This is a charming coffee bar and a perfect place for people watching along the water. Enjoy a professionally made coffee and dine on breakfast or lunch.
On Google, Jason Atherton wrote, “Popular place, and I can see why. My piccolo is one of the best I’ve had in Canberra.”
Bringing jazzy vibes and good times to Canberrans since 1984, Tilley’s is named after Matilda ‘Tilly’ Devine—a Sydney-based gangster and madam. Although the café started as a women’s space, both genders are now welcome to indulge in this icon’s creamy coffees and mouth-watering cakes.
Russell Gentle wrote on Google, “A great place to have a coffee and chill out with jazz music in the background.”
Designed by the team from award-winning Ona Coffee, The Cupping Room is dedicated to making quality coffee to feel passionately about, with their very own coffee sourcing company and a philosophy dedicated to expanding your knowledge and appreciation for coffee. With an exciting menu of inventive food and a rustic, welcoming interior, The Cupping Room is the perfect destination for coffee enthusiasts.
Zoe Askew wrote on Google, “One of the best cafes I’ve been to globally. Amazing coffee, amazing food, amazing staff.”
If you’re looking for more information on eating and drinking in Canberra, you might like our articles on the best restaurants in Canberra, the best restaurants and bars in Kingston, the best vegetarian cafes and restaurants as well as the best bakeries Canberra has to offer.
Your experience with the best coffee shops in Canberra
Thanks to our commenters who have provided insightful feedback, if you believe we have got it wrong, please let us know.
Have you had experience with any of the coffee places listed above? If so, share your feedback in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
What makes a great coffee?
A great coffee involves many elements. First, the quality of the beans. Second, the way they’re roasted. Third, the quality of the coffee machine. Fourth, the expertise of the barista making the coffee.
What makes a great coffee shop?
First, and foremost, the coffee. That’s the quality of the beans and an expert barista. And because so many customers want more than just a coffee, the food is important. The atmosphere also plays a role. So does the quality of staff and the service. Location can also be key. You’ll want a coffee shop that’s conveniently located.
Do all coffee shops roast their own coffee?
Not all coffee shops roast their own coffee. More and more quality coffee shops do. If they don’t, they make sure they buy coffee from a company that roasts quality beans locally. This way they can be confident of the quality.
Do all coffee shops run cafes as well?
Not all coffee shops run full cafes, but most offer some food. Some might have a small menu of baked goods and light lunches. Others provide more substantial menus. Some are open during the day only and some also at night.
Why does it take so long to get my coffee?
Making a quality coffee takes a bit of time. Great coffee shops don’t like to rush the process. Quality coffee shops have long lists of loyal customers and are super busy at peak times. This can add to your wait time, but a quality coffee is so worth it.