22 March 2009

The best coffee in the world


When I began cabbing a couple of years ago, occasionally I’d pull a day shift on a Monday, or finish off the Saturday night shift around dawn on a Sunday. I’d be tired and needing something to kick off the day, or to keep me going after fifteen hours of driving.

The Manuka rank was always a good place for these times, and I followed the lead of the older cabbies, who would leave their cabs, walk across Franklin Street to the bakery, and return with a takeaway coffee and maybe something munchable in a paper bag.

So of course I followed them. And so began my love affair with Artoven.

At one end of the counter was the coffee machine, and while I waited for my espresso, I had leisure to look at the array of cakes and pastries for sale. Oh, the temptation!

There was another case full of hot food. Pies, sausage rolls, stuffed flaky pastries, all sorts of savoury treats. A framed newspaper cutting and award certificate pointed out that Artoven made the best pies in Canberra.

It’s been a couple of years now, and Artoven in Manuka is a major focus of my taxidriving life. Sometimes my objective will be to get to Manuka, park and get my coffee without getting a radio job or picking someone up off the rank. Time and again, I’ll be Manuka-bound down Canberra Avenue and there will be a chime on the computer announcing a new job, meaning I have to go away to find my passenger, take them to where they want to go, and then return to Manuka. Sometimes it takes several attempts before the work slackens off.

But when I find a moment, it’s worth it.

First, the pastry. I’m not keen on light fluffy things, so some of the sticky cakes and airy creations are just for looking at. My preference in the sweet range is the rock cakes, which are the best I’ve ever tasted. They will last hours, one solid bite at a time, finishing off with the half cherry in the centre. Just the right consistency, just the right amount of dried fruit, just perfect.

There’s the prize-winning range of pies to choose from, and I’m torn between the meat, cheese and bacon pie, or the shepherds pie topped with a mound of mashed potato glazed with melted cheesiness. The frankfurt, mustard and onion roll is glorious, but it vanishes too fast to give good value for money. I can get through it in a few bites, whereas demolishing a pie is a more serious business.

But it’s the coffee that I’m really needing. A boost of caffeine gets me through a long shift. Sometimes it will be four or five hours before I’ve drained the cup. It’s good cold, but that first taste of steaming hot coffee is heaven itself. I go for a skinny latte nowadays, to counter the calories of a pie or rock cake. “Large family size,” I tell the barista, my hands sketching out a coffee cup the approximate size of a wheelie bin.

The very best part of the Artoven experience, however, isn’t the pastry or the rolls or even the coffee. It’s the smiles I get from the counter staff. They all know me by now, and they know how much I love my evening snack and drink. Having a quick chat with one of the baristas, and a smile as they hand over my coffee, it’s better than the sugar hit or the caffeine jolt.

Friday and Saturday nights, they don’t close at all. The place runs twenty-four hours, and it’s always packed. Forget the instant coffee and greasy pizza slices of roadside vans or sidewalk stalls - this is the real deal. Good tucker, served with genuine affection. People drive across town for an Artoven pie at four in the morning.

I’ve had cups of coffee at sidewalk cafes on the Boulevard St Germain, frothy cappucinos in trendy Flinders Lane boutiques, Kujo in Charleston, Kona in Honolulu, vanilla percolated in Fredricksburg, and flat white at the Tate Modern, but for the best coffee in the world, my money’s on Artoven when Franklin Street is buzzing on a mellow autumn evening.

For me, it’s not Artoven. It’s Heartoven. I love it.

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