Ben Stephens declares from behind an array of coffee related contraptions on the counter of his Brew Tales cafe in Wickham: "There's more to it than just adding water and putting it in a cup. Coffee is an experience."
Stephens is a caffeine fiend who goes way beyond the immediate buzz instilled within this most miraculous of beneficial beans. He has an entire specialised coffee machine (which he helped design) dedicated only to boiling and steaming water!
He is a seeker. A searcher. A chaser of, what java obsessives refer to as, 'the God shot'; that perfect yet fleeting coffee experience, which, in an evanescent instant, reveals an ephemeral array of amazing aromas, fantastic flavours, and striking textures - whose sensations are more often understood in relation to wine, or whisky, but rarely, if ever, coffee.
"A good coffee will give you a good experience. A great coffee will give you a phenomenal experience ... It'll stop your life for a minute, and you won't think about anything else. For just a moment, you'll look at the coffee, and think, 'wow, what an amazing cup of coffee'," Stephens says.
Tucked away on Throsby Street, Wickham, almost every single day, Ben Stephens conducts early morning caffeine master classes for fellow caffeinated fanatics, and weary work-bound risers who just happen to be passing-by this specialist cafe.
Technically speaking, Stephens is there for himself - which he freely admits - pursuing the ever evasive "God shot" via a hard-core collection of exotic single origin coffee beans grown and processed from farms around the world, from Panama to Guatemala, Nicaragua to Ethiopia. Some are processed naturally, while others are washed.
Others still are fermented using a process familiar to winemakers; carbonic maceration - where the coffee cherries are placed in temperature and humidity-controlled tanks and pumped with carbon dioxide to remove oxygen.
"The result is a coffee that's usually quite floral in aroma and has these juicy berry flavours ... It's quite incredible," Stephens says. "I make coffees like this all the time, here in the mornings. Anyone is welcome to taste whatever I'm making, if they're interested and come early enough."
Some of these beans are so remarkable, they can cost upwards of $500 per kilo. So, a single cup of astonishing coffee could easily cost Ben around $25. Now, before you scoff, remember, some wines and whiskys and even beers command prices well in excess of thousands of dollars. Whatever you're into, right?
"People are used to paying a few bucks for coffee every day, which is fine, but that's because it's become a staple. But, we've got to remember, just because coffee seems abundant, doesn't mean it is, really. There's actually a shortage of coffee beans around the world, due to the effects of climate change ... We're so lucky to be able to access great coffee like this. I actually think it's a privilege to be able to drink coffee," Stephens says.
"And that's the difference I'm trying to achieve here. We don't serve any commodity coffee, whatsoever. Everything is from a specialty range, even our blends. They're all sourced from the top regions around the world, where the farmer has spent time and energy to make their coffee something special and unique."
Some of Stephens' best coffees don't even taste like a typical coffee. Roasted notes are rare. As are most chocolatey flavours. Instead, you may find citrus notes, like blood orange, or mandarin rind, or raspberry jelly, perhaps, mulberries, blueberries, blackberries, even tobacco leaf and popcorn. It really is quite remarkable. One taste and you think to yourself, am I really drinking coffee, right now?
"That's the thing, these coffees do taste better without milk ... Although, we do have a range of blends that are perfect for flat whites and lattes, for example. But, these specialist coffees are, almost always, best enjoyed black ... just coffee and water, served at the perfect temperature," Stephens says.
Temperature has a huge effect on the perception of flavour, and especially texture (the way the coffee feels in your mouth). But, that's another story for another time.
Brew Tales is a showcase place for caffeine fiends (like Stephens) in search of their very own "God shot", and anyone else who, with an open mind, wants to go beyond the simulated stimulations of a Double Espresso Dare, and truly experience real coffee in all its experiential glory.