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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 ( ), 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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Special G Special G 7:40 am 20 Sep 07

Straight to the pool room with that comment Woody.

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 6:33 pm 19 Sep 07

No article about statistics will change that.

Yeah, who needs facts when you have faith, and some crap coffee to wash it down with?

asp asp 6:17 pm 19 Sep 07


True. Though such things don’t ensure good coffee. Starbucks and Muffin Break both make claims about barristas going through intensive training. Starbucks makes the biggest show of sending people to special coffee making academies and how they have Ls for months before doing the real work. Well, the girl on the coffee machine at a certain Starbucks in a certain plaza made an espresso for the manager who was rushed of his feet. He gagged on it and said it was pretty bad. The person who made it had been there for five or so months and has stuff up two of my drinks. She must have surely earned a diploma at Starbucks Coffee Academy?

hingo_VRCalaisV6 hingo_VRCalaisV6 4:13 pm 19 Sep 07

One of the reason why Michels is usually pretty good is because they run Barrista competitions among their staff. I’m not to sure if these competitions involve other coffee shops or if it is just an internal competition, but it results in a great coffee for the everyday customer. Good to know its not all about making a quick buck with bland coffee and zombie-like service.

MrM MrM 3:27 pm 19 Sep 07

Agree with the comment about Michel’s at Lanyon – the coffee there is quite nice. Muffin Break not too bad, but you can keep the rest of your chain coffee shops.

jono1 jono1 2:29 pm 19 Sep 07

But of course you’re right – there’s nothing at all unethical about pushing a narrow, covert moral agenda under the guise of a balanced and objective term like ‘counselling’. The vague and contradictory wishes of your imaginary sky fairy are much more important than a real person’s physical and emotional well-being.

Good for you, you found an article.
I’ll admit I didn’t have the latest up-to-date scientific knowledge on the matter and I stand corrected on the numbers. But I know people who have gone through with abortions, and I know a guy who’s girlfriend aborted their kid without even asking him (for the record, he was willing to take responsibility and raise the kid himself), and I have seen the devastation it can cause in someone’s life, and those around them. No article about statistics will change that.

Now we’ve already gone off topic and, well, your best tactic is apparently to throw around childish insults so I’m really not willing to continue this discussion here.

asp asp 1:04 pm 19 Sep 07

“Call me a purist, but I don’t see how you can really rate a coffee once you’ve adulterated it with those sugary flavoured syrups.”

Indeed. That’s why at stores where I tried the flavour coffees, I also tried a plain latte or flat white.

astrojax astrojax 12:20 pm 19 Sep 07

Call me a purist, but I don’t see how you can really rate a coffee once you’ve adulterated it with those sugary flavoured syrups.

or milk…

nice article, though coffee chain stores are always likely to be of lesser quality than a good ‘real’ barista, like loui…

philbert83au philbert83au 11:55 am 19 Sep 07

Re hot chocolate: KokoBlack (at like $5.50 a cup) is pretty average in comparison to Chocolat in Cusacks at Kingston.

Starbucks, I agree, is woeful.

hingo hingo 11:38 am 19 Sep 07

I don’t want to name names, but said Muffin store is not in Tuggeranong 😉

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 11:34 am 19 Sep 07

And what exactly is wrong with encouraging people to avoid a choice that is statistically proven to lead to major depression in a majority of cases?


But of course you’re right – there’s nothing at all unethical about pushing a narrow, covert moral agenda under the guise of a balanced and objective term like ‘counselling’. The vague and contradictory wishes of your imaginary sky fairy are much more important than a real person’s physical and emotional well-being.

asp asp 11:16 am 19 Sep 07

“Michels Patisserie has the best coffee in my opinion”.
Agreed. I’ll review them along sid some of the smaller stores, because even though they’re a chain of franchises, I find that one store’s coffee tastes very different to the others. My local store (Lanyon) has an award winning Barrista.

Skidbladnir, eating at GJs is a risk. I recently purchased a ham+chees criossant and it was served to be almost all black on the outside. She asked if I wanted it replaced to which I replied… probably a good idea.
For the record. GJs (except for in the USA) is owned by two senior members of the Hillsong Church. I am not sure if the company i actually directly linked to Hillsong. Sanitarium on the other hand is 100% owned by Seventh Day Adventists. Eitherway, so long as the relgious affiliations don’t imact on staff and customers, there isn’t really a problem.

Hingo, given that south Canberra includes Woden and Tuggeranong. Could you say “hypotehticaly” which store of said muffin shop isn’t the one stuffing around their staff. I just want to make sure I boycott the right place.

Regarding Hot Chocolates. Planning try KoKo soon.
I would rank the hot chocolates in the following order so far (1 being higest):
1:Gloria Jeans
2: Michelles

caf caf 11:10 am 19 Sep 07

Call me a purist, but I don’t see how you can really rate a coffee once you’ve adulterated it with those sugary flavoured syrups.

Skidbladnir Skidbladnir 9:47 am 19 Sep 07

Having once been a GJ’s employee, I would hesitate to eat there.
But since management has changed at least once since I worked there, things should have almost certainly improved from the ‘significanly below par, bordering on the terrible’.
But unless they start to compete with the $2 happy hour place in food court for price & quality, I won’t be going back.

shiny flu shiny flu 9:45 am 19 Sep 07

Josh: go to koko black in the north quarter (canberra centre)- I think you may change your m ind and discover what a good hot chocolate really is.

josh josh 9:31 am 19 Sep 07

i maintain that starbucks make the best hot chocolates around, in their signature range. i mean, i don’t drink coffee, so i couldn’t give a toss about ‘omg they burn their beans!!’ or whatever. but just about every cafe i’ve been to in melbourne (bar only two) makes a pitiful hot chocolate. starbucks, while not being *amazing*, make a consistently good (and comparatively decent value for money, despite not being cheap) hot chocolate.

for extra win, add a ‘mint’ shot into it, and you have yourself a warm treat for the wintery months.

in other non-coffee/chocolate related drinks: gloria jeans consistently disappoints, milkshakes from anywhere are often horrible (hello cottee’s topping+milk), and starbucks makes average cold drinks, in general.

my opinion only. take it or leave it.

jono1 jono1 9:24 am 19 Sep 07

Yes, Gloria Jean’s is owned by Christians, but there’s nothing “fanatic” about them. And what exactly is wrong with encouraging people to avoid a choice that is statistically proven to lead to major depression in a majority of cases?

jono1 jono1 9:18 am 19 Sep 07

Great article.
Maybe a coffee aficionado from the north side could do some reviews of stores in Belconnen, Gungahlin etc to complement this?

Woody Mann-Caruso Woody Mann-Caruso 9:17 am 19 Sep 07

Is it true that Gloria Jean’s is owned by right-wing Christian fanatics who divert a proportion of their profits to “counselling” services that encourage pregnant teens to “just keep it, Jeebus will provide”?

hingo hingo 8:41 am 19 Sep 07

Rumor is that a certain Muffin store in a major shopping centre in South Canberra is not paying their staff superannuation. Needless to say, everyone I know who used to go there have boycotted the joint, myself included. Thier coffee was good though. Several complaints have been made and they are being investigated.

I have never really had a problem with any of the coffee chains above although, you can usually get a better coffee at most cafes. As far as chain stores go, Michels Patisserie has the best coffee in my opinion.

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