Melbourne is known globally for its coffee obsession. It offers more than 2,000 cafés as well as some of the world’s best baristas. Here are some of the best.
By Sue Gough Henly
Melbourne's love affair with coffee started with the arrival of Italian and Greek immigrants after World War II and has evolved into an art form. The city's coffee entrepreneurs trawl the world's great coffee regions in search of single origin coffees with which to tantalise their sophisticated customers. And it’s not just about espressos and flat whites (similar to lattes), but also pour over, siphon and cold-drip coffee styles.
ST ALi is an entire precinct dedicated to coffee, and the engine room of renaissance coffee guy Salvatore Malatesta. With its dumpster-chic decor down a graffiti daubed laneway, ST ALi is one of Melbourne's main experimental coffee brewers, micro roasters, green bean traders and country of origin specialists. It is one of the best places to try subtle cold-drip coffee, with its low acidity and bitterness, which goes down a treat with a tasty breakfast or lunch. ST ALi runs the chic Sensory Lab at David Jones department store and elsewhere, where you can have your personal coffee profile created, take barista classes, or just grab a latte.
Seven Seeds (which takes its name from the seven fertile seeds of coffee that the Sufi Baba Budan smuggled out of Yemen and into India during the 17th century) is a small micro-roaster in Carlton that sources seasonal coffee from around the world, particularly estate, micro-lot and single origin coffees. It is owned by coffee visionaries Mark Dundon and Bridget Amor, the original owners of ST ALi. Its quirky on-site café still makes some of Melbourne's best coffee and offers a small menu of simple food. Other cafés include the tiny Brother Baba Budan on Little Bourke Street with its mismatched chairs suspended from the ceiling in Magritte-like whimsy.
Market Lane’s roastery and café at Prahran Market is proud of its distinctive single origin coffees. Espresso and pour over coffee is served alongside cakes, pastries, muesli and more. It sells single estate coffee beans and brewing equipment, and offers free public cuppings (tastings) and brewing classes that cover pour over, aeropress and plunger coffee. Other outlets are at Queen Victoria Market, Carlton and two in the city centre.
Specialty coffee roaster, café, coffee educator and retailer, Proud Mary also serves a terrific all-day breakfast, fresh juices and smoothies, single estate tea, homemade cakes and original lunch fare. Coffee comes via cold drip, V60, aeropress and espresso. The nearby two-storey state-of-the-art coffee cellar door Aunty Peg's is part roasting house, part coffee bar, part retail shop, and serves only black coffee as well as an ale-like coffee brew and offers free cupping sessions. This is also where the Collingwood Coffee College runs barista workshops.
The hipster chic Wide Open Road roaster, coffee lab and café has an industrial chic fit-out inside a converted 1950s warehouse plastered with paste-up street art. So very Melbourne. Its Bathysphere house blend is designed to be drunk black. There's the Shady Lane blend for espresso and milk, plus there are pour overs and cold brews. Enjoy some of the most inspired café food in Melbourne, with dishes that span the spectrum from avocado, pea and goats fetta smash to sake donburi bowls, as you watch the roasters in action through plexiglas windows.
In the sprawling, post-industrial space of the former WB Ellis auction house, the Auction Rooms boutique coffee roaster and café ticks all the boxes. There are great espressos, a separate coffee bar for drip and siphon coffees (all sourced from their own beans roasted at the off-site Small Batch Roasting Company) and funky food including excellent breakfast eggs. A range of seating options includes tall stools at the casement windows with their delicate stained glass accents, a sunken living area near the front door and an enclosed outdoor terrace.
The back of the Code Black menu simply reads in small font: “The Sublime and The Ridiculous”, which basically sums this place up. Sublime in the quality of its fancy stone and metal fit-out and ridiculous in the excellence of its coffee. Code Black is simultaneously a laboratory, a workshop and a hub for connoisseurs of the dark art and science of coffee. There’s always a house blend for black and another for milk coffees and a rotating single origin for both black and white. There’s even decaf coffee and Code Black's own brand of Cocoa Jackson Venezuelan hot chocolate. The generous menu includes superb sandwiches, inspired egg dishes and more.
Housed in an open plan, award-winning warehouse conversion among Fitzroy’s edgy street art, Industry Beans is a coffee roastery, restaurant and brew bar. The barista team offers lots of single origin and blended coffees (with new selections every two weeks) brewed using a wide variety of methods including espresso, pour over, aeropress and cold-drip. There are soy, almond, and coconut milks. The inspired seasonal brunch menu sports almost-too-pretty-to-eat dishes, such as rosewater compressed watermelon with lemon myrtle panna cotta, bee pollen curd and wattleseed granola, designed to showcase the roastery’s beans. The bubble cup cold-drip is made from single origin coffee layered on condensed and soy milks and coffee-soaked tapioca balls.
With its intimate light wood panelled café located at Ross House in buzzy Flinders Lane, Dukes Coffee Roasters sources the very best seasonal ethically traded coffee beans from individual farms or small cooperatives around the world. The café offers single origin and blended beans for both espressos and filter coffee and you can buy beans and brewing gear when you pick up your morning pour over coffee.
The Brunswick East Project is the roasting headquarters of Padre Coffee, which sources green coffee from 30 estates worldwide. Check out the huge range of coffee gadgets while you sip your specialty brew and sign up for a barista course. Padre also has the League of Honest Coffee in the city centre plus cafés in the Royal Arcade, at South Melbourne Market and Queen Victoria Market.