Reformatory Caffeine LAB, Surry Hills

A new coffee shop hits Surry Hills and it’s making a difference. Here the mad scientist behind the bar will whip you up a cup of liquid gold and talk coffee and comics while he does it.

Make no mistake: the is not a cafe. You won’t find Jack Johnson playing here, nor will you smell bacon and eggs wafting from the kitchen. You won’t find a seat, so don’t bother bringing the family along on a Sunday morning (it isn’t even open). And if you want the respect of owner and caffeine-fiend Simon Jaramillo, don’t order your coffee in a takeaway cup.

It’s not a cafe. It’s a caffeine laboratory.

The Reformatory Caffeine LAB has barely been open two months and already it’s become a favourite amongst those serious about their coffee. The space was converted from an old driveway and combines the industry laboratory feel with comic book touches and a Tupac-heavy playlist. There are no seats, just side benches to sip your espresso and talk shop with Simon or one of the “coffee freaks” he employs.

“I hire people who are past that barista stage,” he says, in his Colombian lilt. If this is the lab, then Simon is the mad scientist, concocting experiments and laughing maniacally (just kidding about that last one). He drinks anywhere between ten and forty coffees a day, as well as runs his own importing and roasting businesses, so you could say he’s got a very clear idea about what he’s looking for.

The place has become something of a meeting spot for fellow coffee aficionados and locals alike, which is partly why Simon is disdainful of people who order takeaway.“You drink coffee where the coffee is good,” he says. “If you have ten minutes to queue, then you have three minutes extra to sit down and have it inside.”

Ironic, considering there are no seats. But you get the idea.

Even as we’re talking, Simon greets many of the clientele who wander in as old friends, bonding over their passion for the brew. It’s clear he’s a man of the people, which fits well with his Surry Hills location. “There’s always people around at any time of the day,” he says. “There’s always some weirdo walking around, which I love, because I’m one of them.”

Coffee is served here five ways: pour over, filter, french press, cold drip and aeropress. The cold drip coffee is a must-try. It’s a combination of two Colombian blends that take 16 and 32 hours to prepare respectively and is served in a glass test tube (they go through two litres a day). For those new to the cold drip coffee movement creeping into Sydney, it’s a smooth, flavorful drink that’s slightly easier on the stomach than your average piccolo.

If you need a little something to line the stomach while you work your way through the blends on the back wall, then freshly baked eats come in the form of croissants, muffins, sweet tarts and savoury pastries (go for the chorizo or sweet pumpkin Argentinian empanadas).

Don’t leave without asking Simon about the comic strip on the wall. Designed by himself and painted by local artist Heesko, it tells the story of Batman’s The Joker escaping the feds in a guns-blazing coffee-heist. It’s Issue 1 of what will hopefully be many, with plans to take the story along the walls of many a Sydney coffee shop.

Right now, though, Simon’s content with running his three businesses (importing, roasting and turning coffee beans into something incredible). Some people might be knackered after just reading that sentence, but for Simon, that couldn’t be farther than the truth.

“If you’re passionate about something, nothing else matters,” he says.

Besides, if he ever needs a pick-me-up, he knows where to go.

What you need to know

Address: Shop 7B 17-51 Foveaux St, Surry Hills

Opening Times: Mondays to Fridays (6.30am - 4pm), Saturdays (8am - 2pm)

Facebook: The Reformatory Caffeine LAB

Alex Bruce-Smith

Alex Bruce-Smith is a publisher at, taking care of shopping & travel. She funds her addiction to online shopping by hunting coupon codes like a pro, and can usually be found waiting anxiously for a package to arrive. #notevensorry

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