Let me tell you a story about serendipity and good coffee.
As I quickly learned in Australia, while in the thriving metropolises of Melbourne and Sydney you can hardly throw a rock without hitting a good coffee shop, more rural places are a bit different. But far-flung, special cafes do exist, and that’s what makes the trek for good coffee exciting: you never know what you are going to find.
Our last weekend in Australia we had committed to a day-long hiking excursion in the Blue Mountains, the UNESCO world heritage area of over 1 million hectares of glorious wildlands. We were almost ready—trail-running shoes laced up and with so much sunscreen on I looked moderately ghost-like—but first, coffee.
While my morning cup of coffee at home is one thing, a morning cup of coffee before an outdoor excursion is even better. Whether you’re headed out on a multi-day trip, or just an early morning brisk walk, there’s something about getting that first cup of coffee in you. And it’s even better when you find a hole-in-the-wall joint wherever your adventure begins from.
That cup of coffee, be it at a diner or roadside java drive through, indicates the start of something, the kickoff. Which is why things are even better when that coffee tastes good.
We had taken the train to Katoomba, and as it’s a tourist town that’s essentially the jumping off point for anyone doing any exploring in the Blue Mountains, we were banking on there being a cute cafe to kick off our hike. In fact, I hadn’t even bothered to do the usual “specialty coffee” web search that tends to guide my explorations in new places. Sometimes you just want to leave things up to chance; espresso tastes better with a side of serendipity. And while normally I insist on making coffee and home and bringing the Thermos—because the Swede in me will always need a 10am fika break no matter where I find myself—for some reason, on this day, I had skipped my normal routine.
Off the train and down the main drag, Katoomba Street, we searched in vain for a cafe that looked welcoming. I couldn’t find one. It was a mix of dodgy breakfast joints selling sausage rolls and yet-to-open outdoor shops.
Eventually we succumbed to a coffee in an old restored church that was now home to a makeshift life-size gingerbread house (think Hansel and Gretel) that sold tea, coffee and sweets. The setting was quaint in that “I’m in a small town in the mountains” kind of way, and the coffee was locally roasted, but it was missing the oomph that I was after. Alas, you can’t have beautiful serendipity every time you travel.
We paid and continued on our way, heading towards Echo Park and the trailhead for our hike as I reconciled the fact that contrary to what I had been led to believe, amazing coffee actually isn’t available in every single town in Australia.
And that was of course when the Australian coffee gods got upset at my negative thinking. They would not have me leave the country with such a negative impression left in my head.
“Is that what I think it is?”
In between a row of houses, a cafe was nestled in, quiet and unassuming. Had my cafe radar not been on high alert, I might have missed it, but the telltale signs were all there. White-painted metal stools out front, a tiny chalkboard sign hung to the right of the window, where if you looked close enough you would see that it boasted the single origin of the day.
As it turns out, I had stumbled accidentally upon Cassiopeia, which had I done a little internet research before leaving, I probably would have stumbled across it on purpose.
It’s a humble joint, with cafe in the front, a Diedrich roaster in the back. Having already drank a coffee, I went for a bag of beans to take for later, but the barista on hand insisted I try a shot of the Guatemalan La Liberdad (I am certain this was the Australian god’s version of sending me an angel to guide me along to better life choices). A bright and citrusy espresso, just like I like them.
And it turned out that I was wrong about serendipity. The cafe’s selection of baked goods were all sourced from the same bakery I had been to earlier. They too must be suckers for natural sourdough.
“Ah, you discovered Hominy,” the barista said to me, nodding in approval when I showed him my bag of treats to be consumed somewhere mid-hike.
For me, this relaxed space, where you were encouraged to sit and stay awhile, preferably with a newspaper or a good book, is exactly what I would want from a small town, cozy cafe. Good coffee, good food, friendly service. Nothing pretentious, just people doing what they love and doing it well. Exactly what a corner cafe should be.
And a reminder that serendipity will happen anywhere—sometimes it just needs some coaxing.