WELCOME TO THE NEW: Espresso Warriors at Westfield Kotara. Picture: Jonathan CarrollEspresso Warriors, Level Two, Westfield Kotara, Mon-Wed,Fri: 8:30am-5:30pm, Thu: 8:30am-9pm, Sat: 9am-5pm, Sun: 10am-4pm.
Only a small handful of roasteries in are on a similar footing to St Ali. When you step into their flagship, a hard-to-find cafe on a narrow South Melbourne backstreet, you are greeted by a host who can politely tell you the wait is half an hour. Not for a coffee but for a table.
Once you are seated and your coffee is served you soon realise that the StAli hype is right to be believed. The wait was worth it and the coffee makes your heart beat faster. There are four espresso machines, 12grinders and eight baristas just home from El Salvador. They don’t have a head barista, they have a Dean of Coffee.
You have entered the realm of the ridiculously hip. A handsome academy of espresso where even the graffiti gets photographed.
Until a few weeks ago, coffee roasted by StAli and served in Newcastle was an elusive treasure that only one wing of Islington knew about. Courtesy of the flash new concourse recently opened at Westfield Kotara, StAli beans are now on the shelves at Espresso Warriors – the first Newcastle outlet of a larger, previously Sydney-centric coffee franchise.
Even better than this news is that the blend being ground upstairs is the Orthodox, a powerhouse combination of seasonal Brazilian and Colombian beans that the StAli family now roast by the tonne.
I have spent many months pouring this coffee and there are some things you need to know. A shot of the Orthodox espresso is like a gifted, busy-minded child. It struts along the fine line between amazement and chaos. Waste 30seconds before giving her warm milk and your morning will unravel dramatically. Time it all right and your afternoon will fly.
I had a series of coffees at Espresso Warriors, each of them a few days apart and each of them slightly different in flavour.
A piccolo ($3.70) proved to be the best judge of a complex character of flavours. The fruitiness that normally attends to more fashionable, milder roasts leaped out from the glass unpredictably. A young waitress broke a coffee cup on the crowded floor. A DJ played under neon lights in front of babies in brand new prams. A modern day Saturday morning in a whole new, youthful Garden City.
A small flat white ($3.90) might take you somewhere else entirely. More warm milk on a blend this boisterous helps some of the bolder flavours to rest themselves a little. The fudgy chocolates take over and mellow out the excitement of the acidities. It is just like the StAli roasters intended and described it to be – best suited for those who like a kick without the bitterness.
Up on the wall behind me, under indoor plants framed in metallic sets, glows another neon sign. Eat. Drink. Be Social. Like a school motto for the new students at Espresso Warriors, our very own campus of the handsome coffee academy.