9 of the best coffee stops in and around Cairns
Without my morning coffee I’m just like a dried up piece of roast goat.
– Johann Sebastian Bach, legendary composer and coffee lover
Oh, Johann, I’m so with you. I don’t have to rock the world with high-brow concertos, but the thought of heading to an edge-of-the-world destination like Cairns – one that’s famed first and last for its big nature – had me thinking, ‘caffeine withdrawal’.
I’m not an addict, but like most people on this planet, I have a mild physical dependence on coffee and there’s no way I can be scuba fit and holiday happy without the magic bean. Which means, people, we have a problem. For every one of the 160,000 residents of Cairns, there are another 2.7 million visitors who travel to Cairns every single year. That’s a lot of cranky peeps if they don’t get their coffee just right.
Thankfully good coffee exists. And my ode to JBach, apart from having a damned good time, is this gloriously uplifting coffee trail hitting the high notes with Cairns’ best brews.
Stop #1: Sipping Duck Café, 25 Johnston St, Cairns
If you travelled three or more hours on oxidised airplane brew and urgently need a quick caffeine fix, get yourself to Sipping Duck. Located in a light industrial zone a few hundred metres from the airport, there’s two things you’ll like about this place: It imports high altitude beans from Latin America that it roasts daily and second, it’s fronted by barista and co-owner, Erik Ruelin, a half-French, half-Australian artist, who uses his creative skill to draw toothpick art on the crema.
You won’t get much out of Erik; he’s rather monosyllabic but his latte art speaks a thousand words of euphoric welcome.
Why go? Apart from being the closest café to the airport, the relaxed environment is frequented by locals. Besides, who doesn’t want a bit of anime with their brew?
Stop #2: Blackbird Espresso, Oceana Walk Arcade,13/62 Grafton St, Cairns
But that all changed when Troy visited Cairns and fell in love. Today, he and his wife run Blackbird Espresso, a morning perk for a barrage of lawyers en route to court, delivery dudes in their hi-viz fluoros and those who walk blocks just to imbibe his coffee topped up by Misty Mountain milk from nearby Millaa Millaa.
The brew is so good that in 2015, Beanhunter crowned it the second-best coffee in the country.
What’s the secret? “The local milk has a lot of natural fat in it and adds a sweetness to the brew,” says Troy.
Why go? It’s pretty much the best coffee in town and it’s a local fave. Note: The focus is on the coffee and there is limited seating.
Stop #3: Bang & Grind, 8/14 Spence Street, Cairns
For holidaymakers, it also opens at 6am allowing a lot of time for sipping before snorkelling.
Why go? Apart from the decent coffee and friendly service, it’s one of the best places to perch and watch the world go by.
Stop #4: Re:Hab Café, Boland’s Centre, 46 Lake Street, Cairns
I can’t help but reference Amy Winehouse everytime I step into Re:Hab. The café is a little kitschy and a lot chaotic (it buzzes with the bordello-red walls) and to be honest, it’s more about the breakfast that goes with your coffee rather than the brew itself – which is decent and served with a smile.
Why go? The coffee is good, but the French toast with banana, ice-cream and homemade coconut jam will fuel anyone’s idea of a tropical adventure.
Stop #5: The Chamber Room, Village Lane, 20 Lake Street, Cairns
Relatively new on the Cairns coffee trail, The Chamber Room could arguably knock Blackbird off its perch. Pull up a stool, and get ready to learn.
The owners are known to sit rookies down and guide them through the raft of choices and the pouring processes. Oh, and if you want to sweeten the battery acid, expect only Panela (Rapadura). Derived from boiling and evaporating cane, this is one sweetener that does not affect the flavour of the brew.
Why go? TCR is a hub for adults and promises no little disturbances. That means no milkshakes, no syrups, no babycinos i.e. No kids!
Stop #6: Caffiend, 72 Grafton Street, Cairns
I know I’m not freshly brewed, and I may look like your mum, but when I turn up with the same sense of anticipation as a millennial, please drop the bored look and focus on what you do best. And that is deliciously good coffee roasted under the venue’s own Tattooed Sailor brand paired with wonderful hearty bites.
Maybe I arrived at the wrong time of day for the young man serving me.
Why go? It’s the coolest place in town and pumps out chilled tunes along with your brew.
Stop #7: Origin Espresso: 21 Warner St, Port Douglas
Not quite Cairns, but only an hour’s drive up the road in Port Douglas, this cafe screams what Frankie always wanted us to do: Relax.
The laid-back interior blends well with beans from their own Four Mile Roasters (full bodied and earthy) to produce deliciously smooth brew worth leaving the Main Street for.
As one reviewer on Beanhunter says, “this is the spot where burnt Melbournians come to drink Melbourne-quality coffee that isn’t burnt.”
Why go? You could easily while away half a day in the colourful industrial-meets-tropical interior.
Stop #8: Coffee Works, 136 Mason St, Mareeba
Who would have thought that a massive Titan shed in the middle of a light industrial estate one hour inland from Cairns in Mareeba could brew such fun?
Coffee Works is a mad cacophony of colour and aromas; a blend of chocolate shop meets Indian bazaar, a well-curated museum of historical coffee grinders and a kind of Disneyland for bean lovers.
The owners (who incidentally shifted to this spot over 20 years ago when their neighbours complained of the smell from their coffee roaster) have been roasting beans since 1988 and today serve up more than 43 different blends.
Why go? To sample as many coffee flavours and liqueurs as your body can tolerate. Oh, and to also buy their number one souvenir: Queensland Blue beans.
Stop #9: Skybury Café & Roastery, 136 Ivievic Rd, Mareeba
Want a view with your brew? Then put Skybury on the list and drink up the sweeping vistas over a plantation that harvests low-altitude beans using only sustainable farming methods.
The service can be a bit patchy, but hey, on a hot summer’s day, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Beware, these guys are only open from Monday to Friday.
Why go? One word: the views.