Matchbox Espresso, 14 Grainger St, Lambton, Mon-Fri: 6am-2pm, Sat-Sun: 6am-noon
If there weren't always customers out the front of this dapper little espresso bar, it could easily escape your attention. Uniformly fitted in black and timber, Matchbox Espresso is so neatly installed into the ground floor of an apartment block that it's almost camouflaged by its own stylishness.
The first thing you wonder when you do spot it, apart from how busy it is, is why every other brand new block around town doesn't feature one of these. Like all the best ideas seized upon by somebody else, it seems so obvious after the fact. But once you open this matchbox and step inside, there's a whole lot more going on than a little window overlooking a side street might first reveal.
To begin with there is the black stuff in the cup. Owner and head chef Adrian Coffey isn't from around here which means that when it comes to beans, he's done us all a favour by bringing the best from out of town.
For those who haven't yet heard of them, Allpress is a roastery whose name is industry code for a singular kind of homespun innovation. Without ever becoming gimmicky about it, they are famous for pioneering a method of roasting beans that removes some of the harsher flavours that drum-roasted beans sometimes exhibit. Despite these beans spilling into a thousand or so cafes across the globe, Allpress has never really sunk its teeth into Newcastle. That might be about to change.
Coffey has selected the signature blend that Allpress have been perfecting since first serving it some 30 years ago from New Zealand's first coffee cart. If it hasn't changed much since then, that's because it hasn't had to. Dark, bold, balanced and sweet, it is a house specialty for every good reason.
What has changed is what we now expect from the espresso experience. So much coffee in Newcastle is sipped on our feet these days and Matchbox neatly taps into that new sensation. As their name might suggest, there is not a lot of space to lounge about. Instead it's a quick fire in-and-out and wait on the footpath situation.
If you have even less time than that, Coffey has made sure you're catered for. Order anything on the menu from their app and you can spend even less time away from your workday.
As a chef with decades of experience, Coffey has also catered for just about every delicious, quick and colourful morsel you could expect from a swish little espresso spot. An egg and bacon wrap ($9) is not breaking any new ground but of course it never had to. An apricot tart ($5) is a perfect accompaniment to a richly textured double flat white ($4.50).
Of course you'll have to enjoy most of these treats on the hop. This is footpath coffee and food and proud of it. It's also exactly what this neighbourhood needs, a bit of an alley-way-inner-city energy off a sleepy Lambton main street.