YEARS before the word boutique became as commonplace to cafes as a smashed avocado, The Little Marionette Coffee roastery was using it with sincerity and just a tiny bit of sass.
While their beans were roasted and their blends designed out the back and out of sight, their baristas would stand at the front in only the most carefully-torn denims, assembling with their threads of milk an entire range of caffeinated masterpieces.
The service had something of the boutique about it too.
One of their cafes used to get so busy that the waiter gave back the change with a picnic blanket and invited customers to wait for their coffee over the road in the park.
The customers’ bemusement would then turn to delight when minutes later a coffee was hand-delivered with a glossy magazine and a straw hat to prevent any fake tans being usurped by real ones.
It was an unusual spectacle. Others call it the inner west of Sydney.
Though High Street in Maitland may seem a world away from the grungy chic of Balmain and St Peters, Alina Mackee at The Cunning Culinarian has clearly dedicated herself to honoring their boutique reinventions.
Although this coffee establishment is only six months old, Alina assembles her masterpieces behind a stained-glass window that must be over a hundred years old.
When I sit down for a double shot flat white ($5) it is beside an open fire place with candles and a handmade cook book resting on its mantle.
An antique cake tray displays local delicacies that are softly illuminated under industrial lamplights.
On a rustic, country kitchen benchtop, two ladies treat themselves to sweets in a dining area that is as bright and roomy as it is warm, intimate and cosy.
In such an elegant atmosphere it will come as no surprise that the sophistication of the interior has found its way into the contents of the cup.
When they’re not hosting art exhibitions, playing providore or hosting cookery classes, The Cunning Culinarian is committing itself to serving coffee that the roasters back in inner-west Sydney would be proud to call their own.
The blend chosen by Alina is instantly reminiscent of the classically darker roasts that first made The Little Marionette the aficionado’s favourite.
A lingering maltiness coupled with peppery spices and honey might ordinarily be found in an extra ordinary, multimedal-winning roast.
Because The Little Marionette just call this coffee their house blend says everything about their superiority as a roasting house.
That Alina wasted no time in choosing it, says similar things about her establishment.
There really is no substitute for good taste. Cafes like this confirms it. Refined. Artisanal. Exquisite, but understated.
A brand new coffee destination in an old-fashioned atmosphere.
Whilst they may not hand out glossy magazines with their coffees, The Cunning Culinarian is more likely than most to be photographed in one.