Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The great awakening - Elizabeth Street Espresso

Morning-itis. An illness no doubt familiar to many. There are many good cures for this, but putting two sufferers together definitely isn’t one. Many a time have I been greeted with a grunt or just plain bad attitude when trying to obtain my preferred morning-itis cure – a half-decent coffee. Hence the immense surprise as I entered Elizabeth Street Espresso where I was actually greeted warmly at 7.45am by a counterperson who was obviously much wider awake than I was.

It doesn’t take much to make one’s day – a warm smile, a “how are you?” like they genuinely want to know how I am after surviving the horrific morning carpark (I think they call it a freeway).

At this veritable hole-in-the-wall shop, the surprises just keep coming. The two lovely service people share their workspace, which seems no larger than a few square meters, with a commercial toaster and a huge fridge, among other things, and yet manage to keep service swift and warm. How they manage to serve excellent coffee and dish out their impressive variety of paninis at lunchtime and squeeze you orange juice to order is beyond me. Pure magic.

Ignoring the small number of seats at the front, this shop is really not much more than a counter. Most of the countertop is dominated by the all-important coffee machine and the cashier. What remains of the counter space is filled with sweet indulgences – flaky Greek baklavas, jam-filled donuts, Portuguese egg tarts (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only) – and baked goodies suitable for a light breakfast, such as bagels and muffins.

Service is absolutely top-class. My request for a bagel was responded promptly by a question – whether I wanted it toasted and buttered. At that hour, it didn’t even occur to me that bagels could be toasted. My takeaway bagel came in a paper bag with a sturdy serviette that would put some “restaurants” to shame. Talk about an eye for detail.

Another surprise was the Illy brand – a brand of quality coffee not commonly seen in Melbourne, but quite popular everywhere else, which is interesting, considering our city’s obsession with coffee. Like some other brands that we are accustomed to, Illy only uses 100% Arabica beans, but the end product here is much less strong, and there is a peculiar sweetness in the coffee – something that I have personally never tasted before. The barista at Elizabeth Street Espresso is no amateur. In the coffee world, I’d only be in kindergarten, but I do know that apart from the quality of the beans themselves, a good barista is vital to the coffee-making process, as it is s/he who controls the temperatures, times, pressures, and other factors that distinguish the good coffees from the not-so-good.

These people are serious about their coffees. They only offer one size, in order to ‘preserve quality’, as a sign clearly displays. Illy beans are also available for sale.

If you must, there are a small number of tables to sit down at in front of the counter. To put your mind off the fact that it feels like you’re sitting in the middle of a damp bank foyer, there are newspapers, including the Financial Times, for all those commercial world high-fliers.

With it’s impeccable service and more than acceptable coffees and food, the sleepyhead in me is most grateful to have awakened to one of the City’s little gems.

Elizabeth Street Espresso
28 Elizabeth Street
Melbourne 3000
Open Mon-Fri 7.15am-5pm

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