Coffee v Durian

A few days ago we listened to a talk give by a young American called Lindsay Gasik. She calls herself a Durian Nerd and she travels around the world exploring the many different varieties of what is known in Asia as ‘The King of the Fruits.

Her love & passion for this prickly, smelly fruit that repulses most Westerners with its pungent fragrance, but excites those that learn to love it, has given her the chance to explore areas of the world she might never have visited.
Now I’m not quite sure if we love coffee more than Durian, it’s a fine line. When we’re eating a good Durian, maybe a Red Prawn or Masang King variety we would probably agree that it wins hands over, and yet…….a great coffee, well, there’s nothing that compares with that either!  Of course, the after effects of both are very similar.

Red Prawn Durian

If you love Durian as much as we do then eating too much in one sitting, which we often have, will heat up the body, make you feel a little spaced out, dehydrated and sleepy. Too much coffee will do the same thing after the initial high.
As an antidote for the after effects of Durian some say that drinking water directly out of the  shell solves the thirst and that dipping your hands in the water will take away the smell. But a tasty little fruit known as The Queen Of the Fruit will help to cool you down.  With a coffee overdose, plenty of water will help while you are drinking it.

Mangosteen, Queen of the Fruits, Cooling after Durian Beautiful Mangosteen, Queen of the Fruits

( for more Durian info from Lindsay click here)

Like Lindsay, our love of coffee has added something extra to travel and the chance to explore areas otherwise unknown.
Running tours has given us the chance to travel more but it’s often the time alone that we explore and discover.

Coffee in Penang

Kopi, Kopi C, Kopi Peng, Kopi Kosong, Kopi O …….no,not for me!!!

When I first came to Penang in 1998 there was no such thing as a Western coffee. The local Kopi, a strong, thick brew made with beans roasted until they were something that resembled a tar for the highway, with the addition of sugar, margarine and sometimes sesame oil was the only coffee available.  The roastery would be in the bottom room of an old shophouse with walls and ceilings entirely blackened by years of smoke from the furnace used to heat the huge roasting plate.

As a visitor I was unable to spend more than about 5 mins inside before my stinging eyes and choking lungs would have me racing outside gasping for air. So how did these roasters cope with it every day? What did it do to their long term health?

Coffee in Malaysia

Nowadays these roasteries still exist but many have upgraded to slightly better exhaust systems and for the sake of tourism they have become more user friendly. Now there’s a huge outlet for sales of flavoured and 3 or 2 in 1 local coffee for overseas markets and not just the local cafes.

I could never drink this thick concoction. The sediment at the bottom of the cup and the sickly sweetness of the condensed milk would leave my stomach wondering what on earth had hit it and that was during the years when I didn’t have a problem with fructose!! Though I must admit that on a few occasions I was rather partial to their  Kopi Ice and whether I like the taste of the coffee or not the smell of the beans roasting, often from several streets away, is still pure heaven!

Malaysian Iced Kopi

What does concern me is the effect on the health of those that sit in the  old coffee shops for hours on end drinking the local brew and more often than not with a cigarette hanging from their lips. In a country that has the highest rate of Diabetes in S.E.Asia then this amount of sugar in an otherwise harmless drink is a somewhat unnecessary addition.

Relaxasia Tour Group with coffee purchase

All said and done a lot of people I know are quite happy to drink this stuff ( one friend of ours used to drink up to 10 cups a day) but for me it will never do the trick. For a start most of these roasts are from the Liberica coffee varietal. Originally from Liberia and considered to be an inferior bean it is possibly  sweetened to mask the bitter notes.

Liberica makes up about 90% of the coffee plantations throughout Malaysia whilst the other 10% is Robusta, also a lower  grade bean and often blended with Arabica to impart more flavour at a lower  cost. Although I sometimes don’t mind this blend I’m not partial to  Robusta alone as it does boast a higher caffeine content, is more acidic and has a bitter taste.

making Kopi in Penang

In the last 5 or so years the Western coffee culture throughout Malaysia has taken off and there’s been a boom in cafes run by entrepreneurial young people. Many have experienced coffee in Melbourne, Sydney or the States whilst studying at Uni, have been lured by the bean and gone back home to try their luck  behind a beautiful Synesso Espresso machine.

Some cafes have what it takes and survive. Others that haven’t quite done their homework and don’t realise just how many coffees they need to sell each day to cover costs sadly close within months of the grand opening.

Competition is fierce just as it is in the West, but if everything gels, great  food, a passion for serving amazing coffees, a knowledge of the Industry and superb customer service then it seems you can’t go wrong.
And in my experience location doesn’t matter because if all the above are just right then your cafe will be found even if it’s in a field in the middle of nowhere.

Coffee in MalaysiaPenang Coffee in a Bag


For the Love of Coffee

I love a great coffee. A real coffee. A knock you for six coffee. A coffee that has you believing you have found God in your cup.
There is nothing better than the first taste of that heavenly aroma that awakens the senses and prepares you to breathe life into another day.

Yes, I love it. But not just for that smooth silky latte or double shot espresso but for everything that loving a great coffee has added to my life.

Years ago I was about to give it up. Ordinary coffee from a very ordinary coffee chain was my lot where I worked and I was over it. Then one day after visiting Serge Videl, my hairdresser in Hawthorn I noticed a new cafe around the corner. That one coffee at Axil in Burwood Rd changed my life.

The next day I purchased an espresso machine. A lovely shiny stainless steel monster now took pride of place on my kitchen bench, squeezed in between a motley array of appliances aimed at making my culinary experiments a whole heap easier.
The following months saw our milk purchases skyrocket as I diligently practised the intricacies of latte art. Unsuspecting friends & family who even half crossed our threshold had a coffee thrust into their hands with another Rosetta design etched into their crema.

Latte Art

Melbourne has some of the best cafes in the world. The coffee is amazing and the cafe owners and baristas are more than happy to share their passion with the general public. Over the years I have had no end of conversations with cafe staff who were genuinely eager to pass on their knowledge to me however busy they might be.   On our various travels my Patient Partner and I have drunk many coffees at many cafes but none yet have the amazing customer service that we find in Melbourne.

Perhaps this is due to the competition here. With the ever increasing number of cafes customers can pick and choose, but I rather think its because the top cafes have just got the formula right with smart, passionate staff, good food, a comfortable trendy venue and brilliant coffee.  The fact is that on the weekend in these great cafes it is nothing to have to queue for 30 or 40 minutes to get a table, and so, for the love of a great coffee we do!

Waiting for a great coffeeQueuing for a great coffee at THREE BAGS FULL in Collingwood

It’s impossible to list them all as Melbourne’s city and inner suburbs are becoming saturated with great cafes offering  1st class food and coffee, but here’s a few of our favourites, all tried and tested many times.

Axil – Burwood Rd, Hawthorn,

Three Bags Full– Cnr Nicholson St & Mollinson St Abbotsford

Proud Mary– 172 Oxford St Collingwood

Auction Room103 Errol St North Melbourne

Di Bella- 19-21 Leveson  St North Melbourne

St Ali 12-18 Yarra Place South Melbourne

Barry85 High St Northcote

All of the above have brilliant food and  consistently  awesome coffee

Padre – Several locations but our regular one is at South Melbourne Market where they have great coffee, pastries, and muffins that are to die for, especially the ones with fresh raspberries and dark chocolate. They do not serve meals here. Open Wed, Fri, Sat & Sun 8am – 4pm.

Market Lane Coffee – Prahran Market ( open Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun and Mon for sale of equipment & beans) They are also at various other locations including the Queen Victoria Market.  No meals but wonderful coffee and pastries

My list could go on forever so I’ll leave it here with just a handful of those we always enjoy, where the coffee and food is consistently good and the service is impeccable.

And if you’re love of a great coffee has you searching for the best then a must visit is to the International Coffee Expo which takes place in Melbourne each year. Here you can find out everything you need to know as well as sampling some magnificent beans. It’s also fun to sit and watch the competitions that are going on during the Expo. It’s a real eye opener to see what it takes to become a great Barista, and to understand everything that goes into making what is the end result of a long journey from Crop to Cup.

Click on the above “Crop to Cup” to see an interview with Sasa Sestic, World Barista Champion 2015, and a short of the movie that was made documenting his journey to become  ‘The Coffee Man’