High Coffee at the InterContinental Hotel Sydney, Australia. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

High Coffee in Sydney at the InterContinental Hotel – A Heady Alternative to Afternoon Tea

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High Coffee in Sydney makes for a heady alternative to afternoon tea. It also makes sense if you’ve been hiking the hilly streets of Sydney seeing the sights all day and your after-dark plans involve hitting the city’s bars and restaurants. Make a beeline for the Cortile at the InterContinental Hotel Sydney for coffee, carbs and chocolate.

High Coffee in Sydney will have a higher degree of success kick-starting your afternoon if you’re feeling weary after a morning’s sightseeing than tea, cucumber sandwiches and scones. And that espresso coffee martini will set the tone for a sophisticated evening ahead in Sydneytown. Yes, you heard right, a martini.

The High Coffee at the InterContinental Hotel Sydney is held in the Cortile – an elegant lobby café in the hotel’s central courtyard surrounded by imposing sandstone arcades. It was once the government Treasury Building and dates back to 1851.

The InterContinental Hotel’s High Coffee – and no, it’s not a typo; it’s a play on high tea – begins with a potent espresso martini: chilled espresso, vanilla-infused vodka, coffee liqueur, and a dash of spice syrup. It’s like knocking back a double espresso while sipping a martini.

The caffeine hits don’t stop there, so if you’re not a bean lover, don’t do stimulants, and would rather be sipping green tea, best to give this giddy offering a miss. If you are a coffee lover, then read on.

High Coffee in Sydney at the InterContinental Hotel – a Heady Alternative to Afternoon Tea

Soon after our espresso coffee martini is served, a triple-tiered tower of some of the most sophisticated savoury treats we’ve seen on any afternoon tea menu arrives at our sunny table in the light-filled Cortile.

On one tier are the sandwiches: Wagyu beef, cucumber relish and watercress panini; roasted chicken, avocado and semi-dried organic tomato on linseed rolls; and smoked salmon on rye with mascarpone and preserved lemon.

Arriving soon after that, so that they stay hot, and placed on another tier, are the ‘warm afternoon savouries’: petite homemade beef and burgundy pies, prosciutto and asparagus quiches, mini olive and feta muffins.

And on a separate plate, supposedly to whet our appetite for the sweets to follow, are chocolate and espresso crepes and Belgian waffles. This selection is served with an icy café freddo, which is a perfect match.

High Coffee at the InterContinental Hotel Sydney, Australia. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Next, staying true to the tradition of afternoon tea in Australia, come scones that would make my Nanna proud — both plain doughy scones and scones speckled with dried fruit, served with fresh double cream and strawberry jam.

A palate cleanser follows of green apple sorbet and the now-empty savoury tier is replaced with more sweets: an opera slice with Espresso di Manfredi and chocolate ganache and gold leaf; an infused cinnamon and ginger chocolate crème brûlée; salted caramel and espresso bavarois cream éclairs; wattleseed macarons with P125 Valrhona-coffee curd; and meringe with Bailey’s cream and candy macadamias.

For this truly decadent course, our waitress invites us to select the coffee accompaniment ourselves, although says a barista is available if we need assistance, and there are coffee-sweet matching suggestions on our menu: espresso or doppio espresso (double espresso) to pair with the slice, mocha to complement the brûlée, ristretto (condensed espresso) for the éclairs, macchiato (espresso stained with milk) to match the macarons, and Aussie favourite, a flat white, to wash down the meringue.

High Coffee at the InterContinental Hotel Sydney, Australia. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

I’m not sure about this last pairing. I think it needs an espresso to cut through all that sweetness. By this stage, I am so alert I am ready to sit down and write this post. Or a book. Or two. I must admit I’m also feeling a teensy bit queasy too. I’m not a sweets person and wouldn’t usually tuck into so many sugary treats in one sitting.

Personally, I would have preferred more savoury bites – or another martini. So I appreciate the café corretto, a shot of Espresso di Manfredi coffee ‘corrected’ with Italian grappa, that comes our way. It’s a nice touch from Italian-Australian chef Stefano Manfredi, who collaborated with the InterContinental to create this brand-new high coffee experience.

Steve Manfredi has long been one of our favourite Sydney chefs – we used to dine at his restaurants Manfredi and Bel Mondo, in the 1990s when we first started to get serious about eating and we tried and loved his new restaurant Balla on this recent trip. More on that soon.

High Coffee at the InterContinental Hotel Sydney, Australia. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Being of northern Italian heritage, Steve Manfredi takes his coffee very seriously – so seriously that he and his business partner, the lovely Julie Manfredi Hughes, launched their own coffee brand Espresso di Manfredi by Piazza Doro and it’s their beans that are used throughout the high coffee experience.

The coffee is very Italian – all at once sophisticated and traditional. One sip took me back to downing espressos at stand-up coffee bars in Italy, which in a country where coffee has been so Australianised – sip coffee at good Sydney or Melbourne cafés and you’ll see what I mean – is comforting.

Although here it should also be said (especially for our English readers) that this is not really ‘high coffee’ as such, if we’re getting technical but ‘afternoon coffee’. Because the inspiration is afternoon tea not high tea, which was traditionally an early working class dinner.

But these days, particularly in Australia and the USA, people often conflate the two. In this case, I’m guessing that ‘high coffee’ just sounded better.

Whatever it’s called, it’s deliciously indulgent fun and is a fantastic way to end an afternoon and kickstart an evening in Sydney. Just make sure your restaurant reservation is for a second sitting, as you won’t be hungry for a while.

High coffee in Sydney couldn’t be more different to the traditional afternoon tea at the Hotel Windsor in Melbourne. But then we wouldn’t expect anything less of Sydney, would we?

High Coffee at The Cortile, Hotel InterContinental Sydney

High coffee is served from 11am-4.30pm and is A$55 per person, including the martini, all savoury and sweet treats, and matching coffees. Bookings recommended.
The Cortile, Hotel InterContinental Sydney, 117 Macquarie Street, Sydney, Australia, 02 9240 1396

We experienced High Coffee as guests of the Hotel InterContinental Sydney, however, all opinions remain our own obviously.


Lara Dunston Patreon


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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

2 thoughts on “High Coffee in Sydney at the InterContinental Hotel – A Heady Alternative to Afternoon Tea”

  1. oh Lara– amazing! I just love the idea of high tea, so proper are formal, but coffee’s more my cup of tea ;) you’ve found the perfect solution — hooray!!

    i will be including this in the coffee around the world infographic and will let you know when it’s live! :)
    happy holidays :)

  2. Hi Brandy – Thanks. I think the InterCont and Steve Manfredi found the solution, not us! Do let us know when your infographic is up – would love to see it. Hope you’re enjoying your holiday!

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