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May 7, 2015
Habits

Handsome and the Duchess with Elaine Cheng

In the first of an endearing illustration series from Elaine Cheng, we are given a guided tour of city coffee spot Handsome and the Duchess. Every fortnight on a Thursday, Elaine will be taking a look at a different place and recommending where you should go the next day for your Friday pick-me-up.

  • Words and illustrations: Elaine Cheng
  • Photos: Liam Tang

You’re strolling down the street and you spot a little shop nestled on the sidewalk. The aromas of freshly roasted coffee and pastries welcome you from a distance. There’s a warm light glowing from the windows and the steady churn of a grinder through the door.

Remarks

To see more of Elaine’s illustration and read more of her articles visit her blog – Fill Me In.

At Handsome and the Duchess, Elaine recommends you try the Ferrero Rocher macarons, Persian Love Cake, Specialty Coffee and Cinnamon Sunset Tea. And she’ll be heading back to try owner Syed’s favourite – the meat pies – soon.

Find Handsome and The Duchess at 16 McHenry Street, Adelaide SA 5000. They are open Monday – Friday from  6:30 am to 4:00 pm.

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Chances are that you’ve heard whispers of Handsome and the Duchess arriving in town via the backstreets of Adelaide. Already making a reputation for their excellent coffee, giant macarons, and eclectic decor, it’s only right that we wonder, who are the people behind all this?

This Famished Friday, we settled down with a Ferrero Rocher macaron and a Persian Love Cake to chat with Syed Haider, the barista who put the handsome in Handsome and the Duchess.

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Background

Born in Pakistan, Syed moved to Australia in 2005 at the age of 21. Urged by his aunty who was already living in Sydney to come and take a look, he eventually stayed and took up a TAFE course in Business Management. This led him to specialise in Marketing as he went on to complete his Bachelor degree at Charles Sturt University.

So what brings him to Adelaide? Syed told us that he was working for Taste Baguette and moved to South Australia to expand their store locations. What? Taste Baguette in Adelaide University, Rundle St, and Rundle Place? That’s right, it was all him.

During his work on the store in Adelaide University, he met the Duchess – his wife, Shinae Haider – who was studying there at the time. And so Handsome and the Duchess was born on McHenry St. When I asked Syed what motivated him to open a cafe, the answer was simple – he loves hospitality. Providing a service, socialising with customers; he preferred to be on his feet rather than working a 9-5 job in an office. This is what he loves to do.

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Life at Handsome and the Duchess

“Eating out is a luxury. People don’t need to eat out. We are providing something that is not a necessity,” Syed explained when asked about their philosophy,  “so we want to make the experience as good as possible, to offer something special, something niche, because it is a luxury to be able to eat out, we need to reflect that standard.”

Adhering to this belief has given the business a positive start. There’s only been one problem since they opened – electricity. Due to these issues, Shinae has been baking at the store by herself from 6pm till 6am the next morning, filling up the counter with baked goods.

“I haven’t had a chance to work with her,” says Syed, “When the cafe opens and I come in to work, she is back at home trying to get some sleep. I can’t wait for the electricity to be fixed so I can see her more often, we love working together.”

I asked him what his favourite food from their cafe was. The meat pies, he told me proudly, and the customers love them just as much – they’re always sold out by noon.

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On the topic of coffee

At the mention of coffee, Syed’s eyes light up with passion. In 2008, he was introduced to specialty coffee. “It was cool,” he says earnestly, “I loved its complexity. To me, coffee is as sophisticated as wine.”

In the same way you can taste the notes of grapes, berries, and plums in a glass of wine, coffee carries the taste of the fruit from which it is harvested.

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Syed’s personal favourite is Ethiopian coffee with its distinct notes of chocolate and cherries. Without hesitation, he jumps to his feet and insists that we give it a taste. Behind the counter with his tools in hand, Syed is at home. He takes us through the drip brewing process, explaining each step with great tenderness and care.

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“The smallest things can change the taste of a cup of coffee greatly,” he says as he watches the heated water move through the coffeemaker. “I use this electric drip coffeemaker to ensure that the hot water is poured onto the ground coffee at the right temperature. If this was done by hand, the distance from which you pour the water (if held too far from the cup) will mean it has already cooled by the time it hits the ground coffee. The minerals won’t be released. The flavours can’t be extracted.”

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We stand by the counter and sip on the brew as we finish up our conversation. Syed describes his love for the coffee, the depth of the taste with hints of fruit that carry a subtle sweetness to your tongue. There is no need for sugar or cream, you simply embrace the taste. A full-bodied crescendo.

When you meet someone who loves what they do, that same passion and enthusiasm is intoxicating and contagious. Syed has reintroduced me to coffee in a new way. It fills me with joy to see someone living in the midst of their dreams.

If you’re looking for a quiet, cozy place to settle down for any occasion, Handsome and the Duchess will be ready with their baked goodies, breakfast and lunch menus, and a warm, friendly Syed waiting to pour you your favourite cup of coffee.

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