Sorry … have been busy

Well, hello and welcome to 2017. My most sincere apologies for appearing to be absent for much of the past twelve months. I had an opportunity to undertake some work in another part of this fine country and took the chance to spend some weekends in Brisbane, Sydney and Adelaide. That meant that on the odd occasion I was back in the homeland, I was without transport and much spare time. This resulted in the occasional review but not that many.

But, I am pleased to say, I am back here in the Geelong region and ready to take up the challenge of identifying the best coffee places in the region.

A quick cheerio to Lisa who sent me a nice note which included this:

[blockquote]”While I completely understand that the focus of your reviews is the quality of the coffee, would you consider adding a couple of other comments? These may seem peripheral, but for someone who likes to settle down in a cafe for a couple of hours, for coffee, and maybe brekky at the weekend, over the weekly paper, (sometimes with a sore head from overindulgence the previous night) … two key elements for me are that the seats are comfy (subjective, I know) and that if there is music, it is not thumping techno stuff that is going to make me want to do a runner before the order even gets taken. Like I said, I know this is not the focus of your mission, but it would be great if you would consider adding comments on these points.”[/blockquote]

I am going to take that suggestion a little further and provide a rating about how newspaper-friendly and work-friendly the location appears to be – I’ll call this the Stick-Around Factor. It will NOT affect the coffee rating – because, after all, this is a coffee review site not a cafe review site – but, where appropriate, a comment will also be included about how comfortable I would feel whipping out the newspaper or opening the laptop and sticking around for a while.

Thanks for the suggestion, Lisa!

An absolute disgrace …

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to catch up for coffee with a couple of female friends. We went to a dog-friendly cafe, as one of my friends had brought her two small terriers with her. We enjoyed one round of coffees and had gone back to the counter and ordered another round. A beautiful day in Geelong, taking in the sunshine and enjoying each others company. Given the relative warmth of the day, the two dogs – on leashes – had crawled under the table and were laying quietly.

Of the four tables along the footpath, we were using one and the other three were vacant. Another group of four people came up and sat on the table immediately next to us. One of the men – a forty-something, overweight man – demanded (yes, demanded) that one of our party move her chair in so he could sit down. One of the inquisitive dogs stood up and walked towards him, as had been the case with everyone else that had walked past. The barrage of abuse that followed defies belief

Rather than saying “Would you mind keeping your dog away”, he let rip with “Control your f***ing dogs”. My friend asked whether he might like to rephrase his request at which point he let fly with a barrage of f-words, c-words and just about every other obscenity you could imagine. He told us that we should have our dogs put down if we weren’t able to keep them locked up in a cage at home like his dogs always were.

What an absolute pig – a completely unprovoked verbal attack. When his female partner asked him to cut it out, he told her to keep quiet, using other words that reflected his obvious intelligence.

I went to the counter and explained what was happening and they apologised and gave us our coffee for free. They then went out to this obnoxious, self-centred, self-important disgrace of a man and took his order for breakfast.

You can imagine how impressed we were that we were effectively pushed out of their cafe by someone lacking even a shred of social intelligence and THEN THEY REWARDED HIM by encouraging him to stay by taking his order.

You will never know how close I came to publishing the name of the cafe in this post – all I will tell you is that I did not review them yesterday but they have been reviewed in the past.

I recognise that his boorish, aggressive and totally unacceptable behaviour was not their fault BUT it is their cafe and they should have acted quickly and decisively to get rid of him – NOT US.

We will not be returning to the cafe ever again – in part, because he may well be there but more so because the cafe proprietors, through their inaction, took his side.

An absolute disgrace on all fronts …

100 Up. A review of our first 100 reviews

Well, it all seemed to be a bit of a lark in May 2015 when I thought I might start reviewing coffee shops around the region – little did expect that 208 days later we would have a collection of my thoughts of the coffee options in Geelong. And while I may have scratched the surface, there are still plenty more options to try, particularly out of town.

But it is worth pausing and reflecting on the 100 reviews (plus the three “On Tour” reviews) and to draw some conclusions.

Things that are good

For starters, there are a number of really different coffee options around our city and our region from coffee specialists to restaurants who serve coffee with meals, from sandwich bars to take-away / drive-through outlets, from really bad to, thankfully, really good – each and every one contributing something to the coffee culture that is developing in our region. As I have said on numerous occasions, there is a city about 70km NE of Geelong that much the world seems to think is one of the best coffee destinations in the world. And it probably is. That said, we have a coffee culture that is DIFFERENT to Melbourne’s and we should be celebrating that – not always comparing ourselves to their coffee venues. This whole “like stepping into a little piece of Melbourne right here in Geelong” that the media and some of the so-called “coffee sophisticates” keep telling us is bollocks. Absolute bollocks. If I want a little piece of Melbourne as part of my coffee experience, I’ll jump on the train and go and get the real thing. In time, I’ll stick around and support the people who are working hard to establish our own coffee identity.

We have a number of coffee venues in the area that actually know how to make coffee and that number seems to be increasing. To me, it doesn’t matter what you are making, there is an element that is science and an element that is art. That implies that there is knowledge that you require to make great coffee and their is a need to practise and practise and practise the art. If you run a coffee venue in Geelong, please invest the extra dollars in making sure that each and every person who works for you has both the knowledge and the opportunity to practice. Your customers will be happy and you know what happy customers do

Things that are not so good

Buy the right flipping cups – please. After 100 reviews, I have only received my coffee in the right cup on 32 occasions. On 49 occasions, my long black was served in a cup that was designed to serve cappuccino. On the other 19 occasions, I got all sorts of cups from mugs (urghhh), a takeaway cup with a straw (no seriously) and the occasional “close but no cigar” cups.

There are still too many people making coffees that simply grab what they think is about the right amount of ground coffee and throw it into the machine and press the magic button and assume that everything else will be OK. I have an automatic coffee machine for home use and that’s how that machine works. I expect to get a better made coffee than that when I make the effort to go out. Please take the time to learn how to make coffee properly.

I cannot believe that I am still being asked what sized long black I want – including the one a couple of days ago where I was asked whether I wanted that in a mug. No – mugs are used to serve Milo and cocoa around the campfire not long black coffees in cafes and coffee shops

The Stats

The overall average for the coffees I have tried is 3.43 stars (out of a possible 5). I was hoping that the number would be closer to 4 but there it is – around about 68% in exam terms. Would you be happy with a 68% on your final exams? I guess it beats 48% but to me it says “good” rather than “very good”.

Of the suburbs and towns that I visited more than once, Newtown scores the highest with an average score of 3.88, followed by Highton with 3.67, then Geelong West with 3.44. The CBD, in which I tried 32 different venues, averaged 3.33 to fall slightly under the regional average. We had 9 venues that scored 4.5 out 5 – to see which ones they are, scroll to the footer and select the link to 4.5 star under the “By Rating” heading.

The Best Ofs

To finish off, I thought it would be fun to have some “awards” that showcase a few of my favourites in different categories

Best “servery window” style coffee This is a toss-up for me between Mister Miller on Pakington Street in Geelong West and 10 sq M in the CBD. Both make exceptional coffee and really know their stuff. Both offer very limited seating but 10 sq M has the advantage of being totally under cover whereas a wet, cold day at Mister Miller can be a bit miserable. 10 sq M but the narrowest of margins.
Best coffee in a bakery Born and Bread Bakehouse in Newtown by the length of the straight.
Biggest surprise Espresso Blu in Lara – I was completely amazed to find coffee of this standard in a shop that really didn’t shout out “brilliant coffee here”. Maybe it will now!
Best place to go to work and have coffee Sticks and Stones in Torquay seems to be the best place I’ve found for a mobile office environment. The owners probably won’t be happy when hundreds of people turn up with laptops under their arms but it’s the price you pay for having such a good venue.
Best drive through coffee Bean Squeeze and, to be specific, the one in Shannon Avenue in Manifold Heights. Does what it has to do – it’s never going to match it with the best cafes but it makes very satisfactory take away coffee.
Best food court coffee Alfie’s Cafe at Waurn Ponds, with apologies to Launch Espresso and Kitchen at Westfield. There is something very wrong with the phrase “food court coffee” but both of these establishments provide very enjoyable coffee despite their location.
Biggest disappointment (with apologies to Sailors Rest) Our waterfront area – with the exception of Sailors Rest – I am very, very underwhelmed by the standard of coffee that we serve in what is supposed to be our most iconic area in town.

Introducing the “Revisit” category

As you will know if you have read the About Geelong Coffee page, one of the features of this web site and app is that the review is based on a single, unannounced visit to the cafe in question. It might be a bad day, it might be a good day – that, quite simply, is the luck of the draw.

That said, I have been asked by a few readers whether there is any opportunity for cafes to be revisited and re-reviewed. It has been suggested that my review of some cafes does not reflect the experience of others at the same venue and that maybe I had visited on a particularly bad day.

Well, I’d much rather get out and try different coffee shops and cafes rather than back-tracking but I have relented to some extent. There will be occasions when other people organise a venue that I have already been to. There’ll be times when I happen to be in the neighbourhood of a previously reviewed cafe with spare time. There will be other times when I think my original review was harsh for circumstances beyond the control of the cafe and its staff.

These are the reasons that will cause me to re-review a cafe – they will be very much the exception to the rule. The reviews will be contained in a new category called Revisits and will also be included in the appropriate geographic and rating categories. The heading will include the word “revisit” so that you will know immediately that this is a second-chance review.

I hope that you find these reviews equally interesting!

Everyone is entitled to THEIR opinion

It seems that, in maybe one in three, one in four, cafes or coffee shops I visit, he or she is there …

Usually, they are older and, presumably, they are daily visitors to the venue. They always seem to be sitting in position 1A in the cafe – the seat that looks at the front door or the one where they can see what’s going on on each and every table. Sometimes, they are by themselves and talk to anyone who looks in their direction (or doesn’t look in their direction, for that matter). More often, they are with a brow-beaten, apparently mute companion, who nods and grunts in agreement – in much the same way as the character Elizabeth, in the BBC comedy “Keeping Up Appearances”, when dragged in for coffee by the very annoying and opinionated Hyacinth.

The dreaded self-appointed cafe oracle

They feel the need to pontificate on every last issue in the morning’s newspaper and then some. They talk in a voice that is louder than anybody or anything in the cafe. They speak with an authority that implies that they know what’s going on when more often than not they have no idea. The one that actually inspired me to finally write this post spoke at great volume about about ten different local issues – two of which involved information that I know was factually wrong – and then to top it off, about the current personal issues being faced by two people who were obviously known to whoever he was talking to (we all know their names and hello to John and Graham if you are reading this). John is or was having relationship problems and poor old Graham was presumably unable to do anything except lay down flat on the ground because, according to the oracle, he has a “prostrate” problem. No, not a PROSTATE problem apparently – a PROSTRATE problem. This poor fellow hadn’t been seen around the neighbourhood since his prostrate problem had been identified – hardly a surprise if he is continually laying face-down on the floor.

I have some advice for people like this opinionated clown – SHUT UP! That’s it. Shut up. Maybe your coffee companion wants to hear your opinion on EVERYTHING but here’s a tip – no one else does. You make people want to get up and leave the cafe. They don’t want their morning ruined by having to listen to you bang on about everything and anything, particularly things you clearly have no idea about. If you are really that keen to express yourself, give one of the shock jock radio announcers a call – they’d love you. That way, you don’t have to go out to the cafe, you get a bigger audience than you could ever imagine and finally, we have the opportunity to turn you off when we’ve heard enough.

Or, if you are really that opinionated, set up your own blog – it works for me …