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The Reformatory Caffeine Lab

A concept cafe with a single-minded spotlight on coffee.
By Zoe Bechara
December 19, 2013
By Zoe Bechara
December 19, 2013

He calls himself the Joker but the coffee here is serious. Simon Jaramillo, comic book fan and coming from a cache of coffee experience, has opened The Reformatory Caffeine Lab: a concept cafe with a single-minded spotlight on coffee. A fourth generation coffee farmer from Colombia, the passion for the bean bubbles in Simon's blood: like the Joker who goes insane after being submerged in chemical waste, Simon is coffee-crazed after being immersed in his family's coffee plantation.

The result is a delicious, dark experience, led by a team bubbling over with fizzing fervour for coffee and artisanal expertise akin to a sommelier.

Simply styled with a standing bar, The Reformatory is for the caffeine-crazed, so tea/tisane/tahini smoothie drinkers need not apply. Concrete floors, dark walls, industrial finishes and an enormous suspended cage — the stripped-back style echoes the simplicity of The Reformatory's focus on crop-to-cup coffee. A wall is emblazoned with a customised comic strip; the mad professor scene setting the tone for the intelligent, fanatical drinks.

Here it's all about the coffee from the farm, import, roasting, blending and finally serving, and this is what makes Simon such a superhero: like the field-to-fork philosophy permeating restaurant culture, it's a delight to experience a new awareness of where the blessed beans spent their infancy.

And the beverages? The flat white ($3.50) is caramelly and made especially good with the aroma-relishing customised curved mug. The Panama filtered coffee ($8) is light and sweet, which I crudely likened to tea (not in taste, but in texture). The single-origin short black ($4) goes pow! and zap!: dark and unashamedly wicked, but like the Joker's unnerving charisma, this brew needs no sweetening to go down a treat, neat. And one for the brave and the fanatical: a coffee infused with the flavours of smoky cognac. Non-alcoholic and served cold and milkless, this is surprisingly sippable and must be tried.

As it was said in the Dark Knight comic, "introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order"; the lab is not for lingering but rather hitting the caffeine and then hitting the streets. While you won't find an egg-flipping breakfast here, there are delightful treats like empanadas (chorizo and leek, $5.50) freshly baked on site, as well as stickily sweet tarts ($5).

A sip of The Reformatory's superb coffee is like a spritz of sparkling water after drinking tap. Actually, there is sparkling water on tap, and it is served gratis with your coffee, a perfect palate cleanser. It's a curious place with retro Batman cartoons playing on a flatscreen and B.I.G. on the sound system, but with a caffeinated drink in hand, it works.

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