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Exclusive interview: we speak to Sydney’s hottest barista about his new café

Gina Karlikoff

Meet Sean McManus, the face of many happy mornings and 3pm slouches. The former head barista at Single Origin Roasters and barista/roaster at Artificer, is opening up his own coffee haunt next to Central Station. It’s called Neighbourhood. We chatted to him about what we can expect, and what it’s like to be one of the best baristas in town.

Hi Sean! So tell us, how did you get into coffee?
Coffee was one of those things where I started off as a bartender shaking cocktails. Then one day I was feeling jaded about the late hours, so I went down to my local coffee haunt, Barefoot Coffee Traders, and Squid, who was behind the bar, said, ‘What are you whinging about? Can you make coffee?’ He told me to hop on the machine to see what I could do. From there, it was a good three-and-a-half years hanging out with those guys.

Now you’re opening up your own coffee shop, Neighbourhood. How long has that idea been in the making?
I left Barefoot and had a memorable, lazy summer in Manly. From there I approached Single Origin Roasters where I worked under the guidance of Shoji Sasa (now at Artificer). I stayed there for four years, became head barista and had some success with coffee competitions with Single O’s full support [Sean won 3rd in the 2014 Australian Aeropress Championship and 2nd in the NSW Brewers Cup 2014/2015]. I guess it just came down to utilising all the experience that I’d gained from Barefoot and Single O, and shifting it into my own future.

Tell us a little bit about the space...
Neighbourhood’s going to be a really small space. The goal was not to open a café or a food place. It’ll be specialty coffee-focussed with locally sourced milk from farmer John Fairley in Picton, house-made organic oat milk and some yummy Sydney pastries.

Will there be a special drink served with the organic oat milk?
Yep. Our hot chocolates and mochas are going to be standard with the oat milk. The simple reason for that is it tastes amazing, especially compared to soy or almond milk. We’ll be making it with organic dates, vanilla, sea salt, filtered water and organic oats. It took a lot of trial and error to get the recipe right but now it’s tasting really creamy, when you have it with the hot chocolate it’s almost like having a chocolate porridge.

Are you planning any other collaborations for Neighbourhood?
I worked closely with Steve from Porter and Maple to design the store – he also helped out Shoji [Sasa] and Dan [Yee] at Artificer. He has an amazing knowledge of timber and fittings so he’s been great for us. Shoji and Dan are also doing amazing things on the other side of Surry Hills and I’ll be collaborating with them. Our palates really align when it comes to specialty coffee.

Is there anything else we can expect from Neighbourhood?
Neighbourhood isn’t going to wholesale coffee; we’ll be retail stores that showcase the coffees we like and we’ll also be focusing on the hard work of farmers and producers. There’ll be retail packs for customers who want to have the coffee at home or in the office, and you’ll always be able to come in and have your coffee the way it’s been designed to be drunk by the people who are roasting it.

What’s your favourite way to drink coffee?
Probably late at night. Just after dinner, on a full stomach, double espresso or half a cup of filter coffee.

Favourite places for a feed in Sydney?
Definitely the Unicorn in Paddington, that’s up there. It’s the guys from Porteño, Young Henrys and Mary’s. They’ve gotten together and taken over the Unicorn pub and have been doing some amazing stuff. It’s just the best pub food you’ve ever had - every time. 121 BC in Surry Hills is also a go-to, especially for Italian wines. And also, on the other end of Paddington, there’s 10 William Street. If I’m not there once a week, it means I’m dead.

Any other cities you rate for coffee?
Melbourne’s amazing. I feel that Sydney’s not trying to be Melbourne anymore. It’s got it’s own flare, it’s doing it’s own thing and I don’t think we can compare the two cities in the coffee scene. I’m excited to see us go off in different ways and do some amazing things.

Lastly, if there’s one word that could describe Neighbourhood, what would it be?

Neighbourhood is set to open mid-May 2016. Find it at 16B Buckingham St, Surry Hills 2010. 

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