IT comes as no surprise that the newest, most stylish public space in the city of Newcastle has the Mr Sister team at the centre of its stage.
Even in the noisy, scaffolded midst of endless construction work, simply walking into the centre of the East End Village feels a bit theatrical. It's like you're entering a forum where the best in the business collect to perform for their thirsty, devoted masses.
It's as though, through our decades of devotion to great coffee, we now have our own courtyarded amphitheatre to show for it. Or maybe Mr Sister is just an excellent cafe. I'm probably imagining the rest.
But now that I think about it, imagination is certainly one of the things that separates Garth Buchanan and Bec Thomson from any other local cafe owners. The other and more important thing is their coffee knowledge. I don't mean that Buchanan knows how to pour a pretty latte, although his team of baristas are obviously masters at that.
I mean the sort of knowledge drawn from curiosity - a thirst to know and to appreciate the process, the where and the why of every coffee he serves. This is why his team at Mr Sister doesn't really talk about the country of origin anymore. These days it's more about whether an Ethiopian grower is getting fairly paid to farm the best coffee beans in the world.
Because that's just about the heights that Buchanan's coffee knowledge has taken us. We've reached the best level there is. In this amphitheatre of espresso we can all look down from our royal boxes and marvel at how far we have come.
Forget dark roasts and house blends. Now we are drinking Honduran Santa Barbara roasted by a maestro named Wendelboe in Oslo. Sound exotic? Try tasting it. At $8 for a single shot it's worth every cent.
From a fairly paid family living 2000 metres above Ethiopia, Buchanan has sourced us, at $12 a shot, the famous Kurume varietal from a coffee farmer named Gare Ware Jilo. You can't get these coffee beans anywhere. They're completely sold out because they are completely superior.
But thanks to Buchanan and his coffee smarts you can slip into the amphitheatre and sip one this afternoon. It shouldn't be this easy, but it is. It's typical Newcastle in 2021. It's heaven in a mask, costumed by scaffolding.
It's also brave and entirely unprecedented. Buchanan is the first to admit that offering coffees at these prices hasn't been tried here before. While we are all accustomed to regularly indulging in pricey booze by the glass, the same mindset is yet to attend to our coffee habits. But if anybody is going to urge us to evolve in this direction, it's probably the experts at Mr Sister.
"The idea behind the East End project was to shift into a bar-style espresso offering," Buchanan says.
"What we have is much the same as you would see in a wine bar. You walk in and you choose from a list. I wanted to offer the same wide selection but for coffee instead of wine.
"Depending on the varietal and the yield from the harvest, coffee beans, like wine, can vary so much in value. This is why we offer an espresso at $12 a cup.
"The Ethiopian Gare Ware Jilo has been so highly praised around the world that it's hard for us to get. Because of that scarcity it's very expensive to buy by the kilogram."
Yet despite the novelty and the expense of this offering, of this new coffee order, you get the feeling when you're talking to Buchanan that there are larger things at play. After years of doing so well at his Kotara outlet, and more recently at the smart new bar at Speers Point, he has come to appreciate how coffee is more about process than outcome.
It's one thing to focus on your profits by selling coffees at $4 a cup. But it's another thing to respect those whose fragile livelihoods depend on buyers respecting their talent and efforts.
"There is a huge difference between cheap commodity coffee and what we serve," Buchanan says. "Specialty coffee that customers pay a bit more for makes sure that the farmer gets paid a decent wage to grow it. These farmers are at the beginning of the chain of coffee production. They are the ones that have to be looked after properly."