Dark side of Nirvana


YOU'VE got to admire someone who says he's created perfection, especially when it comes to something as subjective as coffee.

The owner of Atomica Caffe in Fitzroy, Tolly Avgerinos, has spent the past 10 years studying the notes and formulas left by Atomica's founding roaster, Ted Davidson. Davidson was Robert Timms' master roaster. He set up the cafe in partnership in the mid 1990s, but passed away before Avgerinos took over the struggling business in 1998.

"We had 50 or 60 years of history thrust upon us," says Avgerinos.

"He left us his recipes and notes that contained his knowledge of roasting and, to some extent, we are still unravelling it all today."

Avgerinos reached his goal about six years ago and today he is a satisfied man, his cafe has a loyal following and an enviable reputation. He's not arrogant, or even intent on self-promotion, when he says he has found coffee nirvana in his Atomica Dark, the cafe's house blend. "Our aim is now to perfect everything around it, the single origins and the other blends that we roast."

Admittedly, it is hard to find fault with a shot of espresso. It is precisely extracted, with a glossy crema, notes of butter and caramel, and an elegant balance of acidity and sweetness.

A short macchiato is rich, creamy and infinitely memorable too. Its "stain" of milk is artfully etched into the espresso's crema and the caffeine hit is smooth, clean and bright.

The blend is a combination of eight beans and Avgerinos roasts each one individually to create a precise flavour profile. He goes to great lengths to explain the degree of the roast, "it's not roasted as darkly as many people roast, it's really just past a medium roast and does not 'oil up' for about four days".

There are nine other coffee blends on offer, which include a certified organic, a medium roast, the popular Atomica Tiger blend, and a Europa blend created for plunger coffee. There is always a list of single-origin and single-estate coffees scrawled on the chalkboard above the counter, too. Last month's special was a Brazilian longberry.

Avgerinos has resisted the lure of the coffee competition circuit, saying that rather than entering barista or judging competitions, he prefers to do what he does best, roast coffee beans. About 55 cafes in Melbourne and surrounds serve Atomica blends.

Everything is roasted on the cafe's new La Marzocco FB80 roaster, which fittingly, this quiet achiever has painted a subdued antique cream. It matches the cafe's understated decor, which is part 1950s Lygon Street coffee house, with its retro black and white linoleum floors, and part bohemian Brunswick Street, think exposed brick walls, deep gold-painted roof, classic dark furniture and subdued lighting.

Even that hasn't been changed for years. If it ain't broken.