As an American “mum” visiting two of my daughters in Australia and then traveling on to New Zealand, I was prepared to see lots of beauty. However, I couldn’t help but be awed by the cafe culture. What I expected was an abundance of places that served tea to middle aged ladies wearing hats. Those existed too, but what actually seemed to be more plentiful were establishments that not only served coffee (and tea) but also innovative food. I shouldn’t have been so surprised since my daughter Allison had written an article about Navigating Australian Coffee Culture as well as posted some fabulous photos featuring Melbourne cafe culture on her entertaining blog Naptime with Yasmine. There is no substitute for real experience though, and I came away with a few observations as well as a craving for a bliss (protein) balls. Those little morsels were seen nestled among the sweet offerings in several cafes. A recipe for Almond Butter Bliss Balls is given below; they are not too sweet but still delicious, and ingredient proportions can be played around with to suit individual tastes.
First of all, I was blown away but the sheer number of cafes.
Each of the smaller bergs we passed through in our rented car had a least one really cute cafe. In bigger cities, there seemed to be multiple coffee shops literally side by side. In contrast to the U.S., each tiny shop had its own unique individuality and style. Some major themes seemed to emerge – “shabby chic”. “retro ’50’s” or “Euro new age”. Turquoise seemed to be a favored color, but another prominent decor scheme was white paired with gleaming stainless steel adorned with potted succulents.
I LOVED the coffee cups. Probably the correct term for them is cappuccino cups. What ever they are called, I ordered a set of colorful ones from Amazon when I got home. Of course, I had to have one in turquoise.
They serve lattes in a glass. Does anyone know why?
At one point I just ordered a regular coffee. The waitress looked confused.
“Mom, you can’t do that here”, my daughter Jennifer explained.
What? It turns out that each coffee is built from espresso. An “American” cup of coffee would have to be made by adding a lot of hot water to an espresso shot. In addition to that, since each order is individually made, be prepared for a long wait in line if the cafe has only one barista working one machine.
So, what goes with a cup of coffee? If it was ten in the morning or mid afternoon, I’d go for a sweet. Bar cookies or sheet cakes are called “slices”. Often seen with fruit filling and crumble topping, they were absolutely over the top tasty! But so was everything else, even the “biscuits” (cookies to Americans).
If it was breakfast or lunchtime, the savory food served in the cafes was scrumptious. Even a small town cafe could be counted on to offer fresh, high quality dishes. No bagels or fried food were in sight. Always on hand were carafes of water and a supply of small glasses that patrons could help themselves to.
The following photos show just a few of the cafes we encountered.
Sonido! South American Cafe 69 Gertrude St, Fitzro, Melbourne
Very close to the Melbourne Museum. Make sure to get there before the kitchen closes at 3 pm.
Porcelain 149 Elgin St, Carlton, Melbourne
Alright, this is really a tea parlor – but it has a special place in Allison’s heart, so I wanted to include it!
Coco Cubano 191 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, Sydney
Wide glass doors open up to the street and patio seating. Inside, leather and wood provide a cozy atmosphere.
26 on Ross 26 Ross Place, Lawrence, New Zealand
Delicious, high quality food in a tiny small town.
Uncommon 60 Chapel St, Windsor, Melbourne
Very close to some interesting back alley street art. The bliss balls were out of this world and the inspiration for the recipe below.
Chop House Arrow Ln, Arrowtown 9302, New Zealand
Just a wee bit hard to find, but the locals will tell you where it is! The food was first rate.
Recipe for Almond Butter Bliss Balls
Ingredients for six bliss balls:
1/4 cup store bought almond butter
1/4 cup whole almonds
2 heaping tablespoons cacao powder
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Use a food processor to pulse the almonds until they are like coarse sand. Don’t allow the ground almonds to become a paste. Place in a small bowl and set aside.
Remove the seeds from the dates and roughly chop them. Place the chopped dates, almond butter, cacao powder, coconut oil, salt, cinnamon and 2 tablespoons of the ground almonds in the food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are combined. Form resulting mass into six walnut sized balls. Roll each ball in the remaining ground almonds. They can be eaten immediately but they are even better after being refrigerated for a couple of hours.
Enjoy with a good cup of coffee!