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One great brand after the next

Coffee in Canberra

asp 19 September 2007 45

While Canberra doesn’t have as significant a coffee culture as Sydney and Melbourne, there is certainly no shortage of great places to get a good coffee. Conversely, there’s also a few shockers out there too. As an avid coffee drinker since an early age, I know what I like in a cup of coffee. So here is the first in a series of reviews of coffee in Canberra.

Part One: Major Chains in Canberra – Is the hype worth it?

1. Gloria Jeans

Coffee sampled multiple times at Tuggeranong, Woden and Civic stores since June.

Gloria Jeans offers a range of hot and cold drinks ranging from the staples like flat whites and lattes to unique flavored coffees such as the Irish Nut Creme. GJs also offers a range of non coffee drinks such as hot and iced chocolates, fruit chillers and chai tea. As a franchise operation, the quality of the drink is dependent on the store and how good the staff are, so one store can be good and another not so good as my testing revealed. The Tuggeranong store is consistent is quality and service while the Woden store often has poor service and the coffee is variable. Also, they have a perfume despenser on the wall, intended for public toilets. This lets off a fruity smell that can (and has) affected the taste and aroma of the coffee. The Civic store is good but food service is spotty with orders being forgotten. Interestingly, the food offered at these stores pales in comparison to that offered by three interstate stores I have dined at in Hobart (Tas), Warrnambool (Vic) and Bateman’s Bay (NSW). They must think Canberrans have simpler tastes?

Caramel Latte: Smooth espresso with a little bit of bite and great flavorful caramel taste. Pleasent brew ideal for a morning cuppa.

Irish Nut Creme: Very similar in flavour to the Caramel latte with a pleasant Irish cream liqueur flavour, nutty tones and a hint of caramel.

Triple Hot Chocolate: Smooth, velvety drink with rich chocolate flavours and featuring pleasant complexity. Though it is a wonderful drink, some may find it too creamy and sweet. Interestingly, the taste and texture could be compared to a melted Macdonalds choc sundae.

Gloria Jeans offers solid coffee. Nothing spectacular and perhaps not gourmet, but enjoyable and better than what one can do at home. The roast is medium strength and finished product is smooth and well executed.

2. Starbucks

Coffee sampled multiple times at Starbucks Manuka and Civic (Garema Place)

Starbucks is an iconic brand with prominence in every facet of modern culture from historic sites to television and cinema. Whether its Aspen, the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin or James Bond, Starbucks is everywhere. But it is over rated. Except for the Manuka store, service ate every other store (interstate too) is mediocre. The Civic stores are slow and hygiene a problem. In Summer, flies are allow over your coffee while its being made and are in the food displays. Food selection is limited and flavours usually basic. The Espresso and chocolate brownies are a surprising highlight with great texture and flavour, worthy of a fine French patisserie.

Caramel Macchiato: Yet it’s not a macchiato. It looks like a latte and tastes like a White Vienna. Despite the confusing name, this is Starbuck’s signature brew and is the best coffee drink they can do. It’s mellow with a bold caramel flavour and slight nutty characterstics. The hot varient, the more common type, is always nice after a lunch in Manuka. The iced variant (pictured) however is one to be avoided. Bitter, over powering espresso and a disgusting lump of caramel syrup makes for an unpleasant beverage, amateurish.

Signature Hot Chocolate: Smooth yet mild. It’s nice, but nothing special. The caramel variant (ask for it specially) is good, served with whipped cream, it is quite nice. Mellow, with a crisp chocolate flavour and refreshing finish on the palette. The Hazelnut variant tastes like urinal cakes unique and is to be avoided. The complaint about these is they are too milky and lack texture.

Vanilla Latte: When made correctly, the subtle vanilla tones blended with sharp espresso make for a bittersweet brew that compliments an espresso brownie perfectly. However, if too much vanilla is used, it is off balanced and synthetic in taste.

You may like the Caramel Macchiato, though it can be insipid to some. Many may enjoy the wonderful Signature Hot Chocolate. Most damaging for Starbucks is that there basic brews are awful. The lattes I tried were tasteless, luke warm, insipid and too milky. When the worlds most famous coffee shop chain can’t make a simple latte, it’s shocking. Finally, Starbucks coffees tend to be overly milky and simplistic in character. They lack the complex characters and tastes of Gloria Jeans coffees and that of local coffee shops such as Jindebah. Asside from a few exceptions, their coffees are glorified “cups of joe” with steamed milk. The saving grace is the staff at the Manuka store are about the best of any of the contenders here.

3. Muffin Break

Coffee sampled multiple times from Tuggeranong and Civic stores.

It’s this simple. Civic good. Tuggeranong poor. It wasn’t always the case, but sadly it is now. Three months ago, the coffee that I regularly consumed from the Tuggeranong store began to consistantly taste insipid and tart. The aftertaste was earthy in flavour and the brew way to acidic. The Civic store still makes great coffee. Given that they both use Muffin Breaks own coffee beans, this difference in quality is strange and I can not explain it. Food too. The civic store seams to have good food. The Tuggeranong store’s quality has been variable with the muffins burnt on occasion, cakes dry and obviously old and lattes served in mugs instead of traditional glasses. Given that the Tuggeranong Store has been for sale for three months or so ( http://allhomes.com.au/c/ah?a=sp&p=290493 ), things may not be going well despite claims of high turnover.

Latte (from Civic Store): Mild roast, mellow flavour and served piping hot. The taste is crisp, smooth and refeshing. It is similar to the fine brew from Jindebah Hills coffees though more subtle and smooth.

So, with claims of heartfelt coffee making (GJ) and best coffee or get one free (MB), is the hype surrounding these three chains true?. They’re some of the biggest in the country, do they deserve their market leading positions. No.

Gloria Jeans comes closest. The coffee is pleasant and I drink it often. It does however lack the gourmet qualities of Jindebah Hills for example. Of these three tested, only Gloria Jeans makes coffee that is any better than what I can do on my own espresso machine and therefore, worth the extra cost. Overall though, bigger isn’t better.


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45 Responses to Coffee in Canberra
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miss bliss miss bliss 9:39 am 05 Mar 10

Oops I missed McCafe. I so disagree. I think it is dirty tasting coffee that tastes like it’s come out of a percolator. Not acceptable to me for an espresso style.

I have heard about Tonic too. It has a very good rep for good coffee but haven’t tried it myself. Perhaps next week…

And Cafe Injoy in Gold Creek International (at the Hall end of O’Hanlon Place) has won best cafe somewhere along the lines and I honestly don’t know how. The service is poor, you have to line up for ages to order and the coffee was one of the worst coffee’s I have ever had in my life. I took once sip and pushed it to the furthest corner of my table that I could and didn’t touch it again. I honestly couldn’t be bothered asking for a replacement. I didn’t think it would be much better. The service is so bad that they didn’t even notice it sat there undrunk as far away from me as it could possibly be.

And on a non coffee note, if you’re sick of poor coffee and want to try tea Adore Tea are awesome. Over 300 teas, live jazz every sunday. Also in Gold Creek International.

miss bliss miss bliss 9:09 am 05 Mar 10

Having worked in many cafes I think I am now officially a coffee snob. It can’t stand it even remotely burnt or bitter. Being a decaf drinker for medical reasons this predicament becomes worse as you need to handle decaf slightly different and it’s often not as fresh as the beans don’t get as good a turnover.

I’ve only been in Canberra for 12 months having come from the Eastern Suburbs in Sydney and really miss the coffee culture. But we have a great machine at home now so don’t have coffee out very much at all.

However, I have tried and boycotted some places such as GJs-the coffee there, I’m really sorry if you think it’s drinkable, but it’s just so average. Consistently burnt and bitter no matter which store you get it from.

If you want a mild roast and like it weak, as much I hate to admit it, Coffee Club do a good latte.

Michels do seem to be reasonable, which I must admit I am quite surprised by since their cakes are consistently dry.

In Belconnen Markets Knead Patisserie is pretty good, and have beautiful food.

Cook & Grocer in Gungahlin do a good coffee too. It’s on the strong side, and being an organic store, they use a particular brand of organic milk that does have a different flavour than the standard flavour. If you can get used to the change in the milk the coffee is quite good.

Coffee Guru in Gungahlin seem to be ok. There’s one guy there that appears to own/manage it and lords over the machine, not letting anyone else touch it. The coffee is very strong, and they are constantly busy. Don’t be fooled thinking it’s table service though. The plastic bench seats aren’t good though.

I can’t remember where else I’ve had coffee except for the French? place in the Canberra Centre outside David Jones and that was ok.

But there’s a little tiny hole in the wall cafe in Civic. It’s attached to the Canberra Centre building outside David Jones, accessible from City Walk. The decaf there is GOOD. Every time I go to Civic now I want to go there for a coffee just because it’s good, well it is from the one guy I’ve only ever been served by anyway.

As for differences between stores, coffee beans are very affected by their environment, so different handling between different stores can have a surprisingly large affect. As can different grind, different calibration of the machine, different packing of the basket. A big no no is leaving the basket in the machine after pouring a coffee-the beans in the basket can burn, sending the bitterness back into the lines. Another issue is not cleaning the machine properly.

Incidentally, I also agree that Koko Black’s hot chocolates are average. And don’t even bother with their iced chocolates. I had one yesterday and it reminded me of something I can buy off the Supermarket shelf. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not what I was expecting and certainly not worth the exorbitant price.

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 9:57 am 16 Jan 10

try a bit of salt in your coffee. cancels out the alkaline levels

You’d like this video.

Melanie Melanie 6:48 pm 15 Jan 10

Skidbladnir, sorry you had that experience at the Chocolate Olive. A friend of mine had paintings hung there so no they are not all the owners!

Danman Danman 1:31 pm 02 Jun 08

If you want beans – get teh caffe Grande Gusto beans from Wagonga Coffee, local producers from the Wamboin area. Can be found at EPIC farmers markets producers shed every saturday between 0800 and 1100. No I do no twork for them, I like you, just like quality coffee.

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 1:14 pm 02 Jun 08

el said :

Where’s the Chocolate Olive, Peterh? I need some beans.

The Chocolate Olive is in Colbee Court West (not the side with Pepe’s Art Store, the Medical Centre and House of Heroes, the other one).

Reasonable coffee, south-facing frontage, cranky owner, only hangs her own art on the walls, and refuses to let other people hang theirs. Rarely sells anything.

Next to the New Works Gallery owned by a Ms Victoria Phillips, she lets other people hang work on the walls, so long as it passes quality inspection. Sells enough art to keep the place running.

So drop in, buy a coffee, badmouth her art, and then tell her you’re going next door.

peterh peterh 12:41 pm 02 Jun 08

el said :

Where’s the Chocolate Olive, Peterh? I need some beans.

The chocolate olive is in colbee court, on the other side near the fitness shop.
they have bags of beans, but I haven’t bought from there.

el el 12:14 pm 02 Jun 08

Where’s the Chocolate Olive, Peterh? I need some beans.

peterh peterh 10:38 am 02 Jun 08

To those of you who are going to H+G’s in phillip – try the Chocolate Olive instead – great coffee, friendly staff and a very comfortable venue. They use the sacred grounds coffee – far superior to H+G’s offering. Jindebah Hills (not the name but cannot remember the real name) in mitchell is the best around for coffee – I go there at least once a month to entertain clients, and use Remi’s in town as well.

Oh, and as I work in phillip, the chocolate olive don’t roast at their premises, so I don’t get the big white cloud of foul smoke descending on me.

If you must have your coffee at H+G’s, try a bit of salt in your coffee. cancels out the alkaline levels and it tastes pretty good after that.

Demosthenes Demosthenes 10:14 am 02 Jun 08

I’ve started a website http://www.canberracafe.com/forum for this discussion – feel free to add reviews and provide feedback and suggestions

needlenose needlenose 2:08 pm 11 May 08

There are three reasons why I would never buy coffee or anything else at Gloria Jeans.

1. It is, without exception, the vilest tasting swill it has ever been my misfortune to sample. When they first opened at Belconnen I ordered a macchiato and found it burnt and bitter and frankly not fit for sale. I was so sure it was a mistake that I tried another a few weeks later and found it identical. Woden is slightly better, but still really unacceptable.

2. I had already sworn off this franchise when I found out about their partnership with, and promotion and funding of the so-called “Mercy Ministries”, a truly evil fundamentalist “Christian” organisation (the inverted commas are to indicate that I would not judge most people who identify as Christians with these values). Now I won’t even shop in stores that have a Gloria Jeans in them (sorry Borders – though not that sorry – I’d rather shop in bookstores with staff that read, anyway).

See, for example, the following:
http://richarddawkins.net/articleComments,2369,They-prayed-to-cast-Satan-from-my-body,SMH,page2#146216
and
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/04/16/2218825.htm

… there are a bunch of links on Google, including to a MM “Survivors” site. There was also an investigative piece in Crikey a few months ago but it’s subscribers only.

3. Their store upstairs in Woden has written on the wall “I measure my life in coffee spoons”. The gross ignorance of (a) the misquote and (b) the complete lack of understanding of the reference just makes me want to spit every time I walk past that place. They’ve referenced one of the saddest, most pathetic lines in literature, about the sheer waste and drudgery of a life defined by such a measure, and seem to be trying to suggest it somehow indicates how fabulous it is to be drinking coffee, when in fact it should drive every damn customer out of the joint in tears.

Wish it would.

For good coffee, I recommend Bookplates (if you can get in ), Remi on Moore Street, or Caffe Essen. There’s also a really great new place on the corner of Alinga and Mort St (just past the interchange) but I’ve forgotten its name – Tonic?

domsoph domsoph 11:22 am 11 May 08

Well i don’t know about the best coffee in canberra but i sure as hell know about the worst! I ordered a caffe’ latte from Lisboa in woden (near the cinemas) i cannot even begin to describe the revoltingness of it….simply pukesville! I took one sip and left….simply gross. And the problem is that this was not just a one off, bad coffee type thing, i went back a few weeks later and it was the same! They seriously need to sort out their baristas, cos they use Lavazza (i believe) which is a decent coffee….so please Lisboa get some staff that can actually MAKE coffee without poisoning your customers!

ant ant 10:24 pm 22 Sep 07

Starbucks in the US is great, because at least you can taste the coffee. Unlike everywhere else. But it’s still awful. however, they have this gorgeous crumb cake, just a dense slice cake, with crumble on top (coconut, butter, brown sugar). Bloody delicious. And I like the “local meeting place” thing they do there. Fake, but effective, people DO go there to computerise, and chat with their mates.
This winter, the canyon road was closed early one morning for avalanches. I was in the staff van, so we rang work, reported that we were sitting in the queue at the canyon mouth (we get paid from that moment on). Then I suggested to the driver that we could wait in the queue… down in Sandy at starbucks! So off we went. Spent the 2 hours at Starbucks, where they looked after us, driver had a late brekkie at Maccas, then sat in the van watching DVDs. Got the call that the canyon was opening, and we scuttled back, and got back in the queue as it began to move. VERY civilised. Other vans of staff who’d sat there for hours were very disgusted with us.
I must say, that Starbucks was really nice. We all bought coffees and things and sat around chatting, and they came out with little bikkies and petit fours on plates and handed them round to us. Damn decent.

el ......VNBerlinaV8 el ......VNBerlinaV8 7:08 pm 22 Sep 07

poor treatment of staff….

I-filed I-filed 5:52 pm 22 Sep 07

Thanks Hecaterin. I go one further – the few other times I’ve had coffee in Watson, Carlo’s was crap. Bad service, much attitude, high prices, poor breakfast.

Hecaterin Hecaterin 9:44 am 21 Sep 07

The Watson shops coffee place is “Satis”. It’s tiny, and you’ll find it on the other side on the supermarket from Carlo’s. (Carlo’s is merely average, despite its marketing efforts.)

hingo_VRCalaisV6 hingo_VRCalaisV6 9:12 am 21 Sep 07

Yeah McCafe is pretty good. The drive-thru coffee is just the generic crap made by a machine.

jemmy jemmy 8:07 pm 20 Sep 07

I agree about the McCafe too. Except I found out the other day the drive-through is not the same machine as in the cafe. The guy in the window said to use the cafe if you want ‘real’ coffee.

el ......VNBerlinaV8 el ......VNBerlinaV8 7:11 pm 20 Sep 07

The place on the corner of the Civic interchange and Bunda Street – maybe called KARI or something like that? Consistently the best coffee I’ve ever had in Canberra, I would’ve had 50 or so from there over the past month or so, always excellent.

I-filed I-filed 6:32 pm 20 Sep 07

Can only comment on the inner north … Little place at Watson Shops – Safi? – great coffee.
Tilleys – queue at counter for up to 25 minutes but coffee is good and booths are a haven if have laptop
Loui – great coffee

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