Coffee talker: Kenn Blackman, owner of Xtraction Espresso, on Bolton Street in Newcastle. Picture: Simone De PeakXtraction Espresso, 2/36 Bolton St, Newcastle, Mon-Fri. 6am-3pm, Sat 7-12noon. Closed Sunday.
There are plenty of Newcastle cafes that can make a quality cup of coffee. A smaller number house baristas that are excellent every single day. Other cafes serve an average coffee but compensate for it by serving excellent food that is unique or imaginative. Some places charm with their atmosphere simply because of the warmth and attentiveness of their service. One or two still have a great atmosphere with almost no service at all. A couple of businesses I can think of manage to be busy every day with little or none of the above. If you are lucky and your coffee machine stands somewhere that is convenient or in a room with a view, then hundreds of customers, regardless of your weaknesses, will sit at your tables just to be seen there.
Rarely in Newcastle does a café appear to have no weaknesses: outstanding coffee, acreative menu featuring delicious food, attentive service that is warm as well as informative, and awelcoming atmosphere.
Xtraction Espresso on Bolton Streetin Newcastle isn’t just ticking all the boxes, it’s setting up a whole new cafe criteria. Apparently you no longer have to give up on good service so that you can enjoy your favourite coffee. You can even be looked after, drink a great cup and be nourished by savoury goodness without once having to leave your table. Xtraction is doing all the important things extremely well.
For those of you who assumed Xtraction focused solely on their coffee then you should order one of their breakfast offerings as soon as possible. Although it is the coffee that I most crave when I arrive there on a Saturday morning it is something else entirely that I encounter when I first step inside. Behind the counter the chef must have been slow cooking his tomato braise, or smoking some brisket to serve with aspero pickles or stirring up a sweet and hearty bolognaise that I make no attempt whatsoever to resist when placing my breakfast order. By the time it has arrived at my table under two perfectly poached eggs, a number of customers have commented on the mouth-watering aromas that have met them at theentrance.
The most interesting parts of the breakfast and lunch choices take their inspiration from Mexican street food and all the smoky spiciness that it has brought to the everyday café menu. With black-eyed beans, chillies and queso quesadillas being wrapped up and served all day there is often a small crowd assembled outside of this kitchen. The Amigo and Jak’d Up burritos are a fearsome pair of meaty, slow-cooked marvels that can also be compacted into toasties. As a Mediterranean alternative, the Sicilian option features a bolognaise much like the one from my breakfast – resting on fresh bread and sweetened with handfuls of fresh herbs and vine-ripened tomatoes.
I am still only halfway through the breakfast when the barista and owner Kenn Blackman joins me at my table. By now he has poured me three coffees and what could have been 50 or so others for the rest of his customers. Working at the machine and the grinders by himself, it takes only a moment to realise that Kenn is as efficient as he is knowledgeable. You could even say that he has mastered the art of combining these strengths. While he pours, steams, doses, gives change and takes orders, Kenn is in an ongoing conversation about all things coffee with any number of his dedicated regulars. It is not unusual to hear a barista flaunt their latest coffee lingo but in here the customers are up to it as well.
The enthusiasm and passion of all this caffeinated banter says as much about the coffee as it does about Kenn. For their milk-based coffees Xtraction currently uses the Maverick and Cargo blends roasted by Delano in Wollongong. Customers can choose one blend or the other and on this Saturday morning could savour a teeth-tingling single origin from Colombia. For espresso enthusiasts, the single origin is hard to pass up for the sheer zinginess and brightness of acidity. At the other end of the coffee strength spectrum, if you prefer a gentler, milk-based coffee, then the Cargo is noticeably milder than the Maverick.
Regardless of the origin or the roast I chose, each coffee Kenn serves me is difficult to fault. It comes as no surprise that Xtraction is becoming synonymous with superior coffee in a Newcastle scene that is brimming with quality beans and talented, passionate baristas. With a new outlet in Maitland and bigger plans around the corner, Kenn Blackman is proof that when it comes to keeping the customers satisfied, consistency will always win the day.