Talk About The Passion
Words by Jerome Lebel-Jones
Pictures by Guy Lavoipierre
Sometimes when I visit a café, I find it hard to put my finger on exactly what it is that makes it special. Proud Mary is one of those places. From the moment I walked in, I knew there was something worthwhile going on here; but it took a couple of visits to work exactly what that something was.
What’s clear from the start is that these guys are serious about coffee. Really serious! There’s quite literally the longest coffee menu I’ve seen and hands down the most impressive collection of coffee toys going around. But being really serious about coffee weirds me out. No doubt you’ve had a similar experience, where the resident coffee dictator bores you to tears, looks down on you for ordering a latte and makes your whole experience about as much fun as drowning. Proud Mary, however, somehow manages to be serious without being a knob about it.
So how have they managed this feat? Having given it some thought, I think it was actually a case of misdiagnosis on my behalf. The staff at Proud Mary are not so much serious as passionate; a semantic but important difference. You see, serious is boring. Passion, well that’s a different beast. Perhaps passion is serious’s more interesting brother. The one dad took to Disneyland when his brother had to stay behind and spend the holidays with nana. Passion, well he’s just a little bit awesome.
It was after a couple of visits to Proud Mary that I realised it was the staff that made this place special. That’s right, the staff of an inner city, hipster cafe are good- no great. You’re probably thinking that I must be hot for the waitresses, but it’s almost entirely dudes. Well there is one cute waitress. The moment you show some interest, maybe ask a couple of questions, they become engaged. They want to share with you what they know and guide you through the process, but without the usual judging and attitude. And you say this cafe is in Collingwood? This is clearly a group of people who love what they do and it shows. These are not people working in a cafe while they’re at university; this is what they’re going to do when they grow up. And at the end of it all, I’d had some awesome coffees and I’d learnt something. That never happens.
OK, so even though the staff are awesome, I do need to tell you about the coffee toys because they are pretty impressive and shiny. There’s a 1kg tabletop roaster, a bank of grinders, a Clover machine and a purpose built siphon set-up that looks suspiciously like a meth lab. These, however, pail in significance to the six-group Synesso Hydra espresso machine. Yep, six groups. Each group has its own individual pump and brew tank, plus three steam wands including a centre wand that is activated with a foot pedal. It is the only six-group Synesso in the world and was custom made by Synesso in Seattle for Proud Mary.
The cafe’s owner Nolan had originally intended to buy two, three-group machines and cobble them together here, but when Synesso got wind of this, they offered to do it for him. The end result is an impressive beast of a machine that allows Proud Mary to dedicate two groups to the house blend and the other four to the three single origins and the daily blend. That way they can customise the temperature in each group for the individual coffees and really optimise the outcome. In Nolan’s own words, “it might be overkill, but it’s just the way I want to be able to do things here”. For the nerds amongst you, I’ve posted some photos of espresso machine being made on my blog.
Yes, all very impressive but not the entire reason for their existence. Like his Third Wave colleagues, Nolan wants to push our appreciation of coffee to the next level. Rather than only offering dark roasted blends that obscure varietal and regional differences, Nolan is producing his own lighter roasted, single origins that display individual characteristics and brewing them with equipment that help bring out these brighter, fruitier flavours, equipment like Clovers, siphons, cold water slow drippers and the humble french press.
So what else do you need to know? Well the food is also excellent, though that said I’ve had the same thing each time: Duck Ravioli with a little butter and sage sauce. Cured me of a life threatening hangover too. The parking is not nearly as diabolical as you’d expect, but then again I haven’t been on a weekend. What you really need to know is that this is a place worth your consideration. Who knows, you might try something new. You might even like it.
Pictures by Guy Lavoipierre
172 Oxford St
T. 9417 5930