Toowoomba wakes up to a fresh new coffee culture
GONE are the days of instant coffee, paddle pop stirrers and the requisite first-sip cringe for Toowoomba's early risers.
The city's cafe culture is growing alongside its palate.
Few industry insiders have had a closer view of the evolution than cafe supplier Adan Tully.
His Wylie St business Total Coffee has been at the centre of the impressive growth.
"When I bought this business eight years ago, we used to sell instant coffee - just pallet loads of Caterers Blend and Blend 43," he said.
People are starting to appreciate coffee as a gourmet product
"This year, we're not selling any instant coffee.
"It's all about coffee beans."
The business now has clients as far west as Quilpie and all the way down to the New South Wales border.
Total Coffee sells 18 different blends of beans, with three of its own private roasts.
"In Toowoomba, you can walk down the street and have five brandings, all our customers, but all unique," Mr Tully said.
Even coffee machines in gaming lounges and mining camps have made the switch from the freeze-dried forerunner.
"Now they've all moved to fresh bean machines," Mr Tully said.
"You still push the button, but it will grind the beans and put it all together."
In an industry where reputation is everything, Toowoomba's newest star attraction is veteran barista Deb Findlay.
She first caught the bug after dipping her toes into the fast-paced life behind the cafe counter at 16.
She now juggles motherhood and her caffeinated passion while working at Russell St cafe Pump@123.
Ms Findlay earned her stripes by winning the inaugural Darling Downs heat of the Queensland Coffee Barista Competition at the start of the month.
In July, she will compete against the winners of the Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast heats.
From there, the Queensland finals, Australian finals and - if she is up to scratch - the international finals await.
"It's really like the Olympics of coffee," she explained.
"It was an excellent way to challenge myself and learn new skills.
"When you're my age, it's the sort of job that can get boring if you're not trying new things.
"But I still get excited when I see people enjoying and really appreciating my coffee.
"People in Toowoomba are ready to try new things."
I'm just fortunate that the rest of the world is now recognising it as a legitimate career and industry
Coffee helped Ms Findlay pay her way through university.
"Once I finished studying, I realised that coffee was my true passion," she said.
"I tried a few different career moves, but always ended up back in coffee.
"Over the last five years, I have really thrown myself into it as a career.
"I'm just fortunate that the rest of the world is now recognising it as a legitimate career and industry."
She plans to open her own boutique cafe in the near future.
Toowoomba's maturing taste has made the move a genuine prospect.
"We've moved away from people wanting the biggest thing they can get for their money," Ms Findlay said.
"Those people are still out there, and we can cater for them.
"But people are starting to appreciate coffee as a gourmet product.
"They are starting to expect quality.
"Even the older generations have caught on to the coffee culture and can be quite selective about what they like."
One of the city's industry stalwarts, Tim Burstow, has some big announcements of his own.
Since opening, his Margaret St business, Findo's Cafe has grown from a starkly bare room dedicated solely to the perfect brew, into a thriving enterprise.
The cafe's growing collection of brewing contraptions makes it resemble a museum.
"When I started, I was a bit of a purist - it was just me and a coffee machine," he said.
"I don't think we even had any pictures on the wall.
"We've learnt a lot of lessons about the way people drink and taste, and we've definitely changed over the year."
Mr Burstow now runs a small off-site coffee roasting business called Sleepless City Roasters.
Its humble beginnings are on the verge of leading to much bigger and better things.
He plans to open a second Findo's Cafe in the city over the next few months.
There is even bigger news in store for Mr Burstow's venture.
"By the end of the year, we also plan to have a drive-through cafe with a roastery attached to it (in Glenvale)," he said.
"The plan is to have three cafes.
"This Margaret St cafe will completely change.
"I'd like to do something really out-there with a full-on coffee menu, where you have four different types of coffee to choose from."
Not bad for a hole-in-the-wall business that started as a labour of love four years ago.
The overarching creed behind his product is that all is laid bare before the customer.
"What's great about coffee is that there's really nowhere to hide," he said.
"You can sell it every which way, but in the end it all comes down to the taste."
And, just for the record, the free coffees were all fantastic.