Is there any limit to the thirst Sydney's city workers have for coffee? Walk any two blocks in the CBD and you'll pass half a dozen shiny espresso machines and busy baristas. There's never been more choice for latte lovers and flat-white fanatics. But now there's no need to even step outside the office: craft coffee operators are making their move on corporate lobbies.
Take Cross Eatery. It's located in the glam foyer of the Moderne building, previously home to the Red Cross, at 155 Clarence Street, and draws a daily crowd from blocks away with its impeccable coffee and quality food. Owner Marcelo Soto, veteran of specialty roaster and café, Mecca, offers a fresh and interesting brunch menu, which runs from a Middle Eastern-leaning sabih to beetroot-cured salmon and pickled eggplant salad with wild rice, crunchy spiced almonds and miso dressing.
One of the newer cafés to follow suit is Hills Bros at 5 Martin Place, from the team behind Reuben Hills and Paramount Coffee Project. The coffee is from Reuben Hills, but the food departs from the South American-leaning cuisine typical of the mothership, running instead to the likes of dehydrated Vegemite, chicken tacos and a standout breakfast congee with bacon jam and gingered carrot.
Co-owner Russell Beard says the decision to open in a corporate space wasn't made lightly. "It was a little scary because no one really wants to open in the lobby of a large sterile building," he says. "Even once we opened I was still concerned that it would echo and have no atmosphere." But the café, designed by architect Alana Cooke and fitted out by carpenters Porter & Maple, has carved an identity of its own in the building's foyer with cool concrete benches, timber stools and a striking copper sculpture on the wall, a contrast to the black marble covering the rest of the space. "We used a lot of concrete to stand up to all the marble," says Beard. "There's a nice bit of natural light and the café is always bustling."
Beard says that retailers being less able to afford the steadily increasing CBD rents have paved the way for hospitality operators. "Landlords want to change to hospitality as they know they'll be able to afford the rent." The increasingly exacting standards of Australian coffee drinkers are also playing a role in the change. "You're always going to get the punters that want two-dollar coffee and a loyalty card," says Beard, "but the other side is growing - people want coffee made with a certain level of care and attention to detail, and they're willing to pay for it."
Fossix, which shares a foyer with investment firms and marketing companies at 130 Pitt Street, has also followed the corporate path. Opened in August by the three-man team behind John Smith Café, Fossix roasts and sells its own coffee, and serves a changing menu of burgers, toasties (pulled pork and chutney) and house-baked goods. Fitted out by co-owner Levi Mostyn, who also happens to be a builder, alongside Sydney design studio Caroline Beresford, the café starts with a counter directly behind the building's glass doors and continues down to a more private space, tucked away behind stairs, offering an escape from the CBD's busy pace.
Pour-over coffee at South by Dukes.
Over in Barangaroo, which is growing its own collection of quality coffee shops, Melbourne's Dukes Coffee Roasters has just opened South by Dukes. Dukes's first Sydney location, and the first Sydney shopfront opened by a Melbourne roaster, is in the lobby of Tower One. It's spacious and light, with stunning oak furnishings, marble details and cement tiling. Brickfields' pastries and sandwiches looks after the food side of things and the coffee offering is extensive: there are four different filters and seasonal espresso blends, so depending on your mood, you can walk out with a Honduran macchiato, a Guatemalan Aeropress or both.
Darlinghurst favourite Edition Coffee Roasters is also brewing coffee city-side. It opened last month at 200 George Street, in a space attached to the foyer of one of the CBD's newest high-rises. It's serving its own brand of coffee and pastries from Textbook, the Alexandria pâtisserie-boulangerie celebrated for its truffle and blueberry croissants, and stunning cakes.
Edition's co-owner Daniel Jackson reckons companies have started to see the inclusion of a quality coffee store in their buildings as an important asset. "Big corporations and businesses are now seeking out specialty coffee shops from the suburbs to be part of their foyers," he says. "People want more variety and higher quality coffee in the CBD, and although we should be charging more for it, you can now get a coffee with more love from somewhere like Edition for the same price as an average one around the corner."