Bondi Beach, located along Sydney’s stunning eastern coastline, is generally associated with either a chilled-out daytime beach culture or an all-out boozing nightlife. The former attracts Zen surfers seeking breaks and buffed beauties guarding the waters. The latter brings party types from around the world to wander the dark hours and sleep away days.

Bondi Beach

Image courtesy of flickr user bondiben

Neither would seem to lend itself to intellectual discussions in a cozy café as might be seen in Continental Europe, nor to the busy bustling of caffeine-cravers in San Francisco or New York, nor even to the mid-day post-siesta sippings so appreciated in Latin America. Wouldn’t the shot of buzz get in the way of activities like chilling, or sleeping in?

Which is why many people are left scratching their heads when they learn that Bondi Beach is also home to a committed coffee culture, replete with its own set of charming local conventions.

These conventions go beyond the distinctive types of coffee drinks available, such as the flat white (like a latté but with more milk), long black (a strong take on the double-shot Americano, often topped with a bit of crema), short black (just an espresso) and ristretto (also called a corto, meaning a strong espresso). The city has developed a single-origin espresso tradition, and roasters seek coffee bean sources from far-flung locales like Timor-Leste to ensure distinctiveness of flavors.

Street credibility comes with commitment to remaining independent from anything smelling of branding, commercialization or globalization. Coffees should be served in as unique a way as possible, with special touches that might include latté art or new roasting techniques. Coffee shops create their own home-grown traditions, like serving hand-made biscotti alongside coffee cups or inviting patrons to gather egg-crate seats round miniature tables. The more imaginative, the better.

Coffee-shop owners and baristas become celebrities; their espresso machines and roasters like guitars, on which skill and talent is executed. And like a Telecaster or a Les Paul, the older these machines, the greater the bragging rights.

Here are five coffee shops in Bondi Beach that have established a loyal following and are worth passing through for a quick brew. Of course, each has its unique modus operandi, so when you walk in, take heed of local customs. In some ways, they’ve gone above and beyond what one might find in Italy’s renowned espresso bars. So much so that perhaps the expression should be amended: “When in Sydney, do as the Romans do.”

Le Paris-Go
38 Hall St., (02) 9130 6753
Trendy, always packed, rude service, but huge cappuccinos and entrées.

Gusto
16 Hall St., (02) 9130 4565
Great to-go espressos and panini with a Mediterranean twist.

Gertrude & Alice Cafe Bookstore
46 Hall St, (02) 9130 5155
An amazing used book collection lends a feel of intellectual legitimacy; sit in a nook to read and sip away the afternoon.

Wet Espresso Bar
128 Ramsgate Ave., (02) 9300 8778
Located just below the North Bondi RSL Club, the beach views are unparalleled and the cappuccinos are creatively designed with cinnamon.

Katipo Coffee House
101 Bondi Road, (02) 9387 7399
Arty locals gather in this quirky, motley-colored coffee shop for the flat whites and Bondi Benny breakfasts.

Originally published on October 12, 2010 in TabletTalk.

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