5/78 Grafton Street
Cairns QLD 4870
+61 7 4051 5522
My Cairns trip didn’t exactly start off swimmingly.
A 6am flight out of Melbourne is painful enough on its own, but try adding a sore stomach thanks to an evening of eating sweets at the Immigration Museum with fellow bloggers the previous night in addition to having to sit next to a fidgety Belgian backpacker who not only stank up the entire front section of the plane, but also couldn’t sit farken still for 3 and a half hours. Then add in 80% humidity, throw in a bit of casual wet season rain and a hotel transfer shuttle bus that ran late and you have a very cranky Libby.
Thank goodness, though, that our holiday improved as soon as I stepped into the hip City Arcade on Grafton Street, once I had dumped my bags at the hotel, and into Caffiend, probably the coolest café I’ve been to. Yes, in Cairns out of all places. I still had about two hours to kill before Marty’s plane arrived and we still had to wait for our rooms at the hotel to be ready anyway. Thus, I figured a nice sit-down with a copy of the Courier Mail and some java would go down nicely. It was pissing down rain (don’t let the above pic deceive you) when I sat down on Caffiend’s lone communal table after ordering a cup of latte ($3.80). Well, it was either that table or sit outside in the pouring rain or squish my already-cramped legs into one of the cute little tables (below). No thanks.
Clay Air Force One. Nice.
Cairns isn’t traditionally renowned for its coffee culture but lately, there has been a bit of a stir in 4870 and locals have seen a slow but steady increase in the number of decent cafés in the area. This is all thanks to a bunch of baristas from Sydney and Melbourne wanting to showcase their craft to the good people of Cairns and an ever-growing support of good coffee by the general population. Such factors have made Caffiend a hit with both local and tourists, something that owner Oliver James and his team of friendly and dedicated baristas (including championship award-winning barista, Nigel Giacomi) must be proud of.
As I waited for my coffee, I eyed the Yama cold brew drip tower sitting on my right. My latte was served by Oliver himself who saw me taking photos of the drip tower. What they do is pour ice cold water into the fishbowl-like vessel on the very top and the water slowly trickles through the freshly ground coffee in the middle, and the filtered coffee is collected into an empty bowl at the bottom. Oliver reckons that it takes, on average, 18 hours for the process to be completed, sometimes 16 and sometimes 24. The longer it takes the more caffeine you get in one shot.
Oliver was kind enough to let me try a shot glass of cold brew coffee made with single origin Costa Rican beans. I’m not normally a fan of drinking black coffee, but Oliver encouraged me to try it anyway. It was fantastic. The coffee had a very sweet and mild (almost diluted) flavour which made it very easy to drink. In fact, it was akin to drinking cold tea – perfect if you’re living in tropical Far North Queensland. Now, one sip of espresso is usually enough for me to declare a fatwa on caffeine for the rest of the day but this? Well, I could drink it all day and according to Oliver, so can most of the crew at Caffiend (can’t be a good thing!). Although this was the first time I’ve seen a drip tower, Oliver told me that there are actually heaps of places in Melbourne (Auction Rooms in North Melbourne, Sensory Lab at David Jones in the city) that have them which goes to show how little I know about coffee these days (to be fair though, I have curbed my coffee intake). I am, however, willing to bet that none of the Melbourne cafes bottle their cold coffees up in stubby bottles and sell them to customers (at $8.90 a pop) like the guys at Caffiend do. Genius.
Oh, and my latte itself? It was brilliant. Smooth, velvety with a lot of attitude, it definitely hit all the right spots. Watch out, Melbourne, Cairns is comin’ at ya!
I wasn’t hungry that morning so I didn’t get to try any of the breakfast or lunch meals available at Caffiend. My chance, however, did arrive on our very last morning in Cairns. After packing our bags, I dragged Marty to Caffiend to kill time before our 11:05am flight to the Gold Coast. With our tummies hurting with hunger, we set about ordering coffees (a latte for me, and a glass of cold brew on ice for Marty ($3.80) and breakfast.
Marty ordered Caffiend’s version of the big breakfast, the Morning Glory ($17.90). It came with two poached eggs, a very generous serving of streaky bacon, slow-roasted pumpkin, oven-dried tomatoes, crumbly chat potatoes and rocket salad. Apart from the pumpkin (which I thought was a pretty random addition), Marty and I enjoyed this dish. Every element was perfect – the bacon was sinfully crispy, the tomatoes so naturally sweet, the potatoes so soft on the inside and the eggs, man, the eggs! Marty declared this the best breakfast he’s ever had at a café, and that it was better than anything he’s eaten for breakfast at a Melbourne café.
I ordered the chilli eggs ($14.90), two poached eggs on sourdough topped with home-made chilli jam and coriander salad. On its own, I thought the chilli jam was a tad sweet but it mellowed when mixed in with the gooey egg yolk and the bread, with the lime-tinged coriander and rocket salad balancing everything out with a touch of sourness. It was fantastic. If I was to be picky, I would have tossed in bit of fish sauce into the chilli jam for a bit of umami but eh, this was the best breakfast I’ve had in a long time so I happily ate my breakfast. And I did steal a few streaks of bacon from Marty’s plate for that bit of saltiness.
Ooh egg pr0n.
We were both extremely happy with our meals and our coffees – Marty loved his cold brew so much that he ended up taking home a bottle. Marty and I had been talking about Melbourne’s food and coffee culture all week prior to Cairns, with Marty arguing that Melbourne’s coffee culture CAN be replicated in any city in Australia (do you agree? disagree? I would like to hear your thoughts below) and nowhere was this more evident than at Caffiend. Graffitied walls, check. Somewhat obscure location for instant cred, check. Cute and very, very competent baristas, check. Amazing coffees, check. Delicious food made with ingredients sourced from local farms, check. The only thing missing was the Melbourne wankery that is prevalent in a lot of inner-city cafés, something which even I would admit to not missing. Give me warm FNQ hospitality injected with a bit of casual steez anytime, man.
And on that note, my Cairns trip ended brilliantly.