What makes the cafes in Melbourne so good? After lounging at communal tables around town, wandering its famous laneways, we’ve come up with everything you need to know about the latte-tude of the city, and why it’s so so famous.
In Brunswick, some young folk with beards and big glasses turn a dead corner shop into a good spot to hang out and drink coffee, and the whole neighbourhood joins in. At A Minor Place, the corner comes alive with benches on the footpath, dogs hitched to the old verandah post and crowds at the tables inside.
In Reservoir, another row of dusty shopfronts in a forgotten side street gets an op-shop refit to become Lady Bower Kitchen, while in Kew a brother and sister convert their local milk bar, keeping the homey feel and the lolly jar on the counter, but adding a Synesso and food from a one-page menu of suburban brunch faves at Adeney Milk Bar. Footscray has a new cafe made, appropriately, out of shipping containers planted on a landscaped vacant lot and called Rudimentary.
Carlton has Brunetti, the last word in New World Mediterranean style, a cafe that never sleeps and where the brass and marble trace the journey of Melbourne’s Italians from poorhouse to townhouse; while the CBD is dotted with coffee holes in unlikely places—from station underpasses and switchboard cupboards to office lobbies and the portico behind St Paul’s.
NOT JUST FOR HIPSTERS
Even if sometimes it seems that way, Melbourne’s cafes aren’t just for hipsters. There might be colourful tattoos, big glasses, craft beards, and skinny jeans; but not everyone can be pigeonholed by eyewear or facial hair. In a research last year done by Roy Morgan, Australia’s leading market research company, found that 63 per cent of Melburnians went to cafes to drink coffee—they can’t all be hipsters or ladies having lunch! You also see professionals swinging corporate lanyards or parents with pushchairs and dog-walkers with poodles, schnoodles and labradoodles. They might be catching up with old friends, indulging in a family ritual, taking preschoolers for a morning stroll, hatching plans for a project, working on a thesis or just whiling away the afternoon. A cafe is a place to do all those things in Melbourne. It’s also because, Melbourne’s coffee culture goes beyond Fitzroy—the city’s main hipster neighbourhood. From Hendricks in Mordialloc, to Omar and The Marvellous Coffee Bird in Gardenvale to Corinthians in Werribee and Foodrinkery in Burwood and beyond. Build it and they will come—for good coffee, creative, tasty food and casual but special spaces to enjoy it in.
THE COMMUNAL TABLE
Melbourne and New York are perhaps at the forefront of this trend. Cafes are no more about tables for two and four. The trendiest cafes have a big, low table made for lounging close to the ground or a high table with stools to match. The communal table is one of the important ways the city’s cafes mark themselves as shared public spaces where the only price for taking part is the cost of a cup of coffee. Communal tables help make cafes a place where it’s OK to be alone in public, where people respect your existential bubble but also share it. You can bring your laptop or your book-club novel or just yourself. There’s no time limit to your stay here and certainly no rush.
Cafes are remaking Melbourne’s public space, and although they are still about consumption, it’s local and personal, and the owners are mostly small business people. They are often young, energetic and entrepreneurial. Cafes give a visitor an enlarged sense of what it means to live in this city, with a connection to community that chain stores and shopping malls can never make. PUB GRUB Masterchef Australia has done a great job of telling us more about the kind of food Australia is plating in its fine restaurants, pubs and cafes. Informed travellers know it’s not just about Friday afternoon Barbies. So expect to find great brunches and dishes like a brioche bun stuffed with pulled pork, bacon and egg, or fresh crayfish; perfect corn fritters (crisp outside, creamy inside) in relaxed, casual and chic settings.
FILTER BREWS ALL ROUND
The cafes in Melbourne have taken to the batch brewer, and cafe- goers have taken to filter coffee. This is not just a trend. You’ll see people lingering over batch brews at places such as Glovers Station in Elsternwick or Bluff Town in Sandringham. Filter brews match the lighter roasts preferred for speciality-grade beans, letting the flavours shine in ways that espresso doesn’t. With easy filter brewing, you get the fruit without the acidity. Filter brews make a great food match, too. Try a cup of Colombian next time you order a Mexican egg breakfast and taste how that hit of chilli brings out something in the coffee you didn’t know was there.
There are a host of walking tours that curate great coffee trails, including ones lead by ex Masterchef contestant Andrew Prior and his team at Queenies Food Tours. Hidden Secrets is extremely popular and has wonderfully intimate sized tours, as does Walk Melbourne by Monique Bayer.
Seven Seeds is one of Melbourne’s premier third- wave roasters, and Traveller joins Brother Baba Budan as a hip city showcase for its coffee. Expect the tangy seasonal blend for espresso, plus a single origin batch-brew for filter fans. We love the informal coffee school that gathers in Crossley Street each morning— so Melbourne.
GOOD FOR: A batch filter brew and a Cobb Lane cake.
BEANS: Seven Seeds Shop 2, 14 Crossley Street, Melbourne
The Hawthorn specialty roaster and mega-cafe finally has a city presence. This tight space is meant for takeaways and quick standups of Axil’s seasonal blends and single origins—via the Spirit espresso machine or the Clever Dripper for filter fans. A giant photo-realistic piece of spraycan art by local hero Adnate keeps watch over the morning rush.
GOOD FOR: A milky takeaway and an office catch up
BEANS: Axil 76 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 61-3/9819-0091
This white-tiled bar serves espresso and filter brews from Melbourne’s best speciality roasters—Seven Seeds, Market Lane et al—to a suity crowd from a tight space behind the Supreme Court. Don’t miss the Patricia single origins roasted by none other than Tim Varney: “the other Tim” in speciality coffee circles (he roasted for Tim Wendelboe in Oslo; that’s coffee royalty).
GOOD FOR: Tasting a selection of Melbourne’s best coffee
BEANS: Patricia, Seven Seeds 493–495 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
Sbriga is a new-school-old- school Roman-style bar that brews a classic Allpress blend for tangy, toasty short blacks. It’s an Italian-ish coffee experience with a contemporary Melbourne twist. Breakfast, brunch, and lunch on panini and pizza made on site.
GOOD FOR: Bomba Thursdays: coffee and a custard doughnut
BEANS: Allpress Shop 3, 280 King Street, Melbourne, 61-3/9077-7653
The fit-out is coolly post- modern in its use of Perspex display boxes, white composite benchtops and lime-washed timber, while the coffee is brewed by pourover, Aeropress and plunger to produce subtle Scandinavian-style filter cups. The food is similarly subtle: a range of smorrebrod, slices of dark rye with cured meats and fish and pickled vegies, all made from scratch. Don’t sweat it, though: there’s good espresso coffee, too, and pastries from Tivoli Road.
GOOD FOR: Scandi-themed coffee and brunch
BEANS: Small Batch 555 Collins Street, Melbourne, 61-3/9620-1211
ECLIPSE SPECIALTY COFFEE
Tucked away at the back of the Rialto building is this speciality coffee den that features single origin beans from Brunswick roaster Code Black Coffee for a range of rich, tangy espressos and tasty filter-style brews.
GOOD FOR: A speciality coffee hidey-hole
BEANS: Code Black Coffee 495 Collins Street, Melbourne, 61-3/9629-7703
This bright, airy cafe features a user-friendly menu, views of Flagstaff Gardens (you could do a takeaway on a sunny day), a nutty, chocolatey house- roasted espresso blend that goes a treat in milk, and regular house-roasted single origins for filter coffee fans.
GOOD FOR: House-roasted single origins
BEANS: Brother Thomas 350 William Street, Melbourne, 61- 3/9328-753
MARKET LANE COFFEE
Market Lane source their beans at origin through Melbourne Coffee Merchants and specialise in coffee from east Africa and Latin America roasted lightly for maximum fruity appeal. These really are beans to appreciate in a carefully made pourover. Their seasonal blends and single origins produce bright, fruity espresso in a third-wave style.
GOOD FOR: Hand-made filter brews
BEANS: Market Lane 109–111 Therry Street, Melbourne, 61- 3/9804-7434
When you’ve traipsed from one end of the Melbourne shopping hive to the other—starting at Melbourne Central on Latrobe Street, winding through Emporium, Myer, DJs and the mall—this is where you’ll pitch up for a hard-earned break over a short black of something dark, fruity and Colombian, a delicious flat white of the Sensory Seamless blend, or a single origin syphon brew.
GOOD FOR: Downtown shopping coffee break
BEANS: Sensory Lab, St Ali 297 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 61-3/9645-0065
This is a quirky use of a bit of disused space at the back of Bennetts Lane Jazz Club: a narrow, woody upstairs- downstairs hidey hole where beans roasted by Joshua Bailey feature in new-wave but old- school espressos that are toasty, nutty and just a little fruit-tinged.
GOOD FOR: A short black in a kooky space
BEANS: Joshua Bailey 141– 149 Latrobe Street, Melbourne, 61-412/063-570