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When I was growing up in Brisbane, the quality coffee scene was a relative wasteland, so anywhere that served something other than large brands like Lavazza, Vittoria, or Illy was the closest thing to ‘quality’ I could find. As a result, when I stumbled across a neat little spot called Paladar Fumior Salon in the inner-city suburb of South Brisbane in about 2004, it felt like I’d discovered some beautiful oasis. This became my first regular cafe, the place where I fell in love with the magic of drinking coffee at a place that feels like home away from home.

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My journey towards coffee-drinking began much earlier though. During my childhood years, my grandfather, Gar (real name: James), would take me out to the shops, and let me have what was the ‘babycino’ of those days—a cappuccino (with chocolate powder on top, of course), from which I would scrape the frothy, foamy, milky top off with my spoon, leaving the second-hand caffeinated dregs to my poor granddad.

My mother always drank long blacks (or ‘Americanos’, depending on where you’re from and what coffee vocabulary you subscribe to), and very occasionally, in my youth, I would ask for a sip. The lovely mother that she was, she would graciously oblige me, even though she knew that every time I’d just end up gulping water down afterwards, face scrunched up, horrified at the disgusting beverage that had just passed my lips.

During my mid-teens, my entry into willfully consuming coffee consisted of a chain fast food store, where I would order a latte, sit down, and subsequently dump three sugars in it—this was what my older sister chose to drink at the time and as a result I believed it to be the height of sophistication. As time went on, I dabbled in soy lattes and mochas, before finally settling on the coffee beverage that got me through my high school years—a cappuccino with one sugar (most often at Paladar).

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When I first stepped into Paladar, I was immediately taken by it—it’s like Cuba on crack. The interior and exterior walls are painted a deep red, the inside a cosy collection of bric-a-brac alongside pristinely kept, humidified Cuban cigars. The owner, Filip Pilioras, is as colourful and bold as the business he’s built over the years, with penchant for dark-roasted coffee, chilli hot chocolates, boutique cigars, and rich, peaty whisk(e)y.

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During the last two years of my high-schooling, I spent an inordinate amount of time at Paladar: I’d get a lift in the morning with my mum, swinging in to get a cappuccino for myself and a long black for her before surrendering myself to be educated—often before the day was done I would skip out on my last class to go back to Paladar, sit, and drink warm beverages while chatting mindlessly to Fil about all that I wanted to achieve when I grew up.

Over the years, I developed quite a friendship with Fil, continuing to spend time at Paladar after I graduated high school, with the university where I gained a degree in photography being only a short walk from the cafe. Also, having access to a beautiful venue and a personable character was pretty useful for my creative advertising photography major—Fil assisted and modeled for numerous photoshoots, all of them generally taking an unnecessarily long period of time as I wrangled large-format film cameras and portable lighting kits (Fil always being eternally obliging and patient with my un-coordinated photography ambitions).

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Every time I needed some enthusiasm or feedback on an idea, I’d find my way to Paladar to chat to Fil, whether it was needing to be talked into traveling to Mexico & Cuba for a three month trip by myself when I was nineteen, or needing a sounding board for my ambitions to upheave my life and move to Melbourne. Before I left Brisbane, I also had the absolute pleasure of photographing his wedding, and upon a return visit I got to meet his first child, the beautiful Eli.

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Since my first caffeinated beverages in South Brisbane, my knowledge and taste in coffee have developed and changed significantly, but whenever I think about hospitality, I still always think of Fil, and Paladar Fumior Salon. It was at Paladar where I really learnt what connecting with people in hospitality was about–when it really comes down to it, a lot of the time, the coffee is often the least important part of the cafe experience—it’s more about the place, the moment, the people that you’re spending that time with, and the connections that you’re making. These things may seen fleeting or insignificant at the time, but over the years, they are what make a cafe transform from just a shop into a part of your heart.

Eileen P. Kenny is a staff writer based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge.