The story begins in Toby Smith’s mum’s garage in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, back in 1998. There, Toby roasted hand-selected beans in a tiny five-kilogram roaster and offered tastings and training to the public in the garden. Three years later he opened a stall at the Pyrmont Markets and – later that year – the first Toby’s Estate café, also in Woolloomooloo. Eleven years on, Toby's Estate cafés can be found up and down the east coast. Brisbane’s very own outpost opened last November, about three blocks from the Queen Street Mall, just down from the Botanic Gardens, and has been providing Brisbane's coffee fanatics with refreshing variations on standard espresso options.
The atmosphere is a pleasant mixture of tasteful and cosy. White-collar types occupy the footpath tables and there are couches inside for those looking to settle in. Inside, low-hanging lights evoke steampunk, and the concrete walls decorated with coffee-themed friezes and photographs of coffee farmers and plantations indicate an establishment determined to stay on-message.
Toby’s roast their own beans, sourced from around the world, and the baristas are passionate about what they’re doing. Catch them during a quiet period they'll happily submit to questioning, enthusing on the pros and cons of the single origins on offer, and which preparation method shows them off to their best advantage.
If you have a bit of time on your hands, try the ‘coffee degustation’. For $12 you get three light roast single origins and a glass of sparkling mineral water to cleanse your palate. These are prepared using the V60 method: a conical apparatus, containing a filter, placed over the coffee cup or glass. Hot – not boiling – water is then poured over the grounds in the filter, producing a light liquor that allows you to savour the different tasting notes in your coffee blend.
If three coffees sounds like too many, you can try the syphon or Chemex methods. Both involve the scientific assembly of flasks and filters, and half the fun is watching the crazy equipment do its work. You can also purchase these different pieces of equipment for home use.
For the less fanatical there's always an impeccably made cappuccino or flat white, plus a range of Parker’s Organics juices and soft drinks. Look to the cabinet for sweet and savoury snacks: generously filled Turkish bread sandwiches, croissants, cake-of-the-day, biscuits and slices.