Canberra is not generally considered to be one of Australia’s premier ‘coffee cities’ and I’ve been trying to figure out why? It’s got the right climate and a decent population size, yet the market penetration of specialty coffee is barely scratching the surface. In my (rather poor) understanding of economics, it’s usually safe to assume that competition within a market can cause an increase in the quality of a product, yet until recently Canberra’s serious coffee shops simply haven’t had much competition so there was little incentive to advance the cup. During my most recent visit to the capital it was inspiring to see a number of new spaces have opened, spaces that couldn’t give a damn about my sketchy economic theory and have decided to step up the quality of coffee to great response from the local drinkers. Tupelo Coffee Co is one of the best – and I’m not saying it’s ‘good by the local standards’ either, you could drop this coffee shop into any of the world’s best coffee cities and it would still hold it’s own.
Owner Nic Walker opened the doors only 8 months ago but already Tupelo has gained a loyal following from the community and for good reason – it’s basically awesome. This is not your big budget coffee shop, this is not flashy, this is not for posers. Tupelo is about doing the basics and doing them damn well.
The fit-out was built by Nic himself with a mere six week turnaround from signing the lease to braving the first customers. It’s fairly minimal with lots of ply and is a testament to just what you can do with the right attitude and lots of trips to the hardware store. The warm simplicity serves as an ideal canvas for the masterpiece that is the coffee.
Tupelo brings beans down from Melbourne’s Code Black Coffee for both their house espresso blend and their filter offerings. All their black coffee (espresso included) is ground through the Mahlkonig EK-43 whilst coffee going into milky destinations is put through the Mazzer Robur-E grinder. Espresso is pulled through a La Marzocco Linea Classic and filter comes by way of an individually brewed pourover on the Wilbur Curtis G4 Gold Cup. The latter is a neat little machine that allows the baristas to apply water to the brew in a completely programmable way through a uniform spray head. Temperature, pulses, time and water volume are all variables that can be set into a recipe as the beans are dialled in. I’ve never been a massive fan of automated brewers but this machine is rapidly swaying my opinion as the coffee it puts out is phenomenal. It would seem the locals agree, with filter comprising close to 20% of Tupelo’s coffee sales. To put this into perspective, most of the Australian coffee shops I chat with are doing about 10% filter on a good day, so to pump out the amount that Tupelo does in a city like Canberra is really quite amazing.
Their coffee is exceptional. In fact the best shorty I drank in the month-long coffee tour down the east coast came from Tupelo. I put a lot of it down to Nic’s attitude to coffee extraction; “we always remain open to changing the way we think about things and the way we approach our coffee” he states. This humble openness to adaptability can be hard to find these days with many coffee shops often proclaiming their own methods as gospel. Nic continues, “we approach our coffee from an analytical standpoint… a lot of the principles applied to coffee are untested so you need to be able to address the uncertainty and realize that what we’re doing now is going to be different to what we’re doing in 2-3 years time”. That’s not to say that Tupelo is lax in their extraction process, rather the opposite – it’s as evidence-based as it can be with the current information we know and there’s an obvious desire to remain at the forefront. Dosing control and TDS analysis are now considered fairly staple techniques for any specialty coffee space serious about their craft, Tupelo ticks all the right boxes here and the cup results speak for themselves.
Food at Tupelo is a deliciously simple affair. There’s baked pastries like croissants from Dream Cuisine and a carefully curated jaffle menu. My pick? Go for the ‘Blister in the Sun’ – a toasted envelope of oven roasted cherry tomatoes, oozing with mozzarella and citrus aioli.
Tupelo Coffee Co, you’re basically awesome.
Location: Google Maps Link
Tupelo Coffee Co
92-100 Alinga St
Monday – Friday 7:00am – 4:00pm
Saturday 10:00am – 2:00pm