Published in the Inner West Independent and City News.
A wise friend once updated that she loves her morning coffee from Sole Espresso because she knows that however bad her ensuing day might be, it’s only 24-hours until the next cup. Words to live by…
My own hunt for the perfect coffee has been fraught with peril. It’s taken me a while to work out which part is the brand, and which part is the barista, but now I think I have it nailed. Increasingly it’s all come down to three labels for me. I like my Allpress from Café Mint in Surry Hills; my The Little Marionette from the Balmain café by the same name; and I like my The Golden Cobra pretty much anywhere I can find it.
My descent into becoming one of ‘those coffee-fascists’ was aided by the purchase of a home coffee machine. Increasingly what I buy to use at home, is the same brand of coffee I drink at these excellent cafes. So as you can imagine, hunting down the elusive Golden Cobra in take-home packs was high on my list of priorities.
I met owner David Gilfillan at his Botany roastery. He came into coffee roasting after being a barista for over fifteen years. What started as a part time uni job has developed into a business back in 2005, and now clearly consumes a large part of his life. Though David’s quick to add: “You’ve got to work into your business model the way you want to do it.”
In fact, David has a very likable approach toward business. Rather than be purely profit driven, he incorporates some quirks, which he refers to (rather charmingly) as ‘Cobranesses’. One such Cobraness explains why you won’t find a recognisable logo on his coffee. Instead David supports local artists to produce the works featured on his stickers, which change every week. It was one of these very stickers in the window of The Eathouse Diner in Redfern that lead me to a rather excellent espresso martini.
Across the Sydney venues where I have found his products – from Tiger Mottle in Paddington to The Runcible Spoon in Camperdown – I’ve noticed that the baristas seem to do a uniformly good job with his coffee. So it didn’t surprise me to hear David discounts the café’s purchase if they attend training with him. He adds seriously: “You would make a lot of coffee in that three hours.” In fact his trainees make up six kilos of coffee apiece in those three precious hours, but from a consumer’s perspective, it makes one hell of a difference in the cup!
“No offense to your sommelier, but you can teach your barista to pour drinks,” offers David. Whilst I wouldn’t be dispensing with the sommelier just yet, I can see David’s point. Restaurants are often the worst offenders of the substandard cup. It’s partially why I tend to take my coffee in the morning, rather than at night.
While David might be a little scathing about sommeliers’ coffee making skills, he does make a good point about valuing your barista: “If I get a really good cup of coffee, I make a point of tipping the rest of my change from five bucks.” What excites David about someone else’s blend is the presence of “something deliberate”, something the roaster has done to the coffee; perhaps a particular note he has highlighted. He’s quite humble about his own skills though; explaining that: “I’m now five years in, and the more that you know about coffee, you really get reminded that you know jack-shit.”
So if all this coffee talk has made you salivate for a taste, David tells me: “The Golden Cobra does ten blends weekly that I really love, and none that I don’t.” He adds new products when he finds “something… a taste that I haven’t got before” and the blends all rotate weekly. Each week his customers receive an email telling them what blends are on, and you can order your favourite fix delivered right to your door.
So what’s next for The Golden Cobra? Well David Gilfillan “would kill to do a market.” He throws down the challenge: “I could mop the floor with anyone else doing a market.” Not bad for a business that “started with next to nothing - on a credit card” and now manages to employ six people, plus plays a role in supporting Sydney’s artists. I hope some farmers’ market gives him the chance to strut his wares soon.
Now there’s only seven hours and twenty-two minutes until my next perfect cup…
The Golden Cobra