My parents went on a holiday eight and a half years ago, came back to their home in Sydney, and within a few months decided to pack up and move from Sydney down to Hobart, Tasmania. In terms of distance, a move like this is similar to moving from London to Berlin, or New York to Chicago. But to many Australians, it’s like moving far away into the countryside—to a land that time has forgotten.
I felt that way, too, until I visited and realized that for foodies of any kind, Hobart—and Tasmania as a whole—is a little gem hiding at the bottom of Australia. With a more temperate climate than the mainland, you can drive 20 minutes outside the city and find yourself in the land of cheese, wine, and whisky. Stay in town and eat some of the best seafood. See seals and dolphins swim in the harbor. Or go and visit one of the best modern art museums I have ever seen, MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). Great coffee, on the other hand, wasn’t as easy to come by until recently, though now Hobart residents are seeing a great little scene developing.
Island Espresso is a staple cafe in Hobart, run by the Knezevic family. It’s been there for 16 years, which in coffee terms is ancient times. Located on Elizabeth Street, Island is like sitting around in someone’s living room: cozy and comfortable, where you feel like a regular when you come in, or feel like a hideaway as you enjoy your coffee quietly in its nooks or loft area.
The food is always tasty, offering the classic Aussie brunch and brekkie dishes, as well as lunches. The coffee comes from Zimmah Coffee, a separately owned operation from Dane Knezevic that originated in the cafe basement. The setup is a Linea espresso machine and Mazzer grinders with a couple of espresso choices always on offer. If the sisters are on the bar and aren’t too busy, you might even be able to sneak in a cheeky Chemex. A lot of the local coffee-scene folk, at one point or another, did time behind the bar here, before there was a booming coffee scene in Hobart.
Walk around two corners and you find yourself on Criterion Street where two spaces by the same company are located. First, there is Villino Espresso, opened a little over seven years ago. This Italian styled space has been serving great coffee since it started. However, as time passes, things need to adapt. Villino did just that when they started roasting five years ago, and are currently in the process of rebranding. The transition is taking a little longer than Villino expected, but look for the new sign on the store’s front any day now.
The cafe itself is cozy with an L-shaped bar displaying a Synesso Hydra and a couple of Mazzer grinders. On offer there is Villino’s Synergy espresso blend, along with different guest espressos. On my visit I had a Panama Geisha and a Indonesian Ming Solok, which was one of the best Indonesian coffees I have had in a while: full of acidity and sweetness.
Villino Espresso has been a local favorite since it opened, so much so that there used to be lines out onto the street blocking up the outside seating. So when the opportunity came to take a unit five doors down, the owners of Villino went for it and opened up Ecru Espresso as well. This little hole-in-the-wall serves the same offerings as its big sister up the street, but caters predominantly to take-away orders with a few curbside stools available for seats.
In the center of the Hobart business district on Collins Street you will find Yellow Bernard—a local success story, as it was opened by two coffee drinkers who, after drinking everyone else’s coffee, decided to open this gem four years ago. They never worked in hospitality or coffee before starting up the shop, and as the story so often goes, they learned all they could at home. Now they have their own seasonal blend, Project Yellow, along with a constant flow of single origin espresso which they roast themselves, pouring through the a customized Black Eagle espresso machine with Mazzer and Mythos grinders.
The space is small, black, yellow, and white in color, with a high espresso perch which surrounds the window where you can knock down a quick cup and macaroon combo, or stand right near the machine and have a chat with the barista.
Zimmah Coffee Roasters
Just outside the city centre, by that I mean a ten minute walk, is Zimmah Coffee Roasters, started by Dane Knezevic three years ago. This big industrial unit opened one year ago, and houses the roastery, office, and training room for Zimmah. The space is quirky, with stacks of magazines and books used as pillars breaking it up. There are several high tables scattered around the place and loads of papers and magazines to read. Being positioned off of the street you might miss it at first—but all you have to do is follow your nose.
A key focus for Knezevic has been to get customers to buy coffee for home, which has been improving to the point that Knezevic’s twice-weekly roasts quickly sell out. Zimmah’s work horse is a Garanti roaster. As the Tasmanian coffee industry keeps growing, be sure to watch Zimmah growing with it.
Though Hobart might be small, its food and hospitality industry is vibrant and ever-changing, much like the rest of Australia. I look forward to this list doubling in size by the time of my next visit.