Source: theage.com.au MATT PRESTONDate: December 11, 2009 Comment: When your out and about, a great coffee can be blis. A bad coffee is the pits. Can Melbourne be anything but the coffee capital? Photo: Simon Schluter
Well, it had to happen in the city that boasts, with only a slight air of self-aggrandisement, that it is the coffee capital of Australia. A fully fledged guide to Melbourne's top 100 coffee haunts. The recently published Melbourne Coffee Review (Global Review Services; $24.95) has been edited by one-time Epicure columnist Leanne Tolra, who used to also be deputy on the food section. (So basically I know her, and so if you think I am either being biased towards her, or against her, please write to the editor and let her know.)
First things first. As far as I can see, only three places land the guide's top ranking of three beans — Seven Seeds, Brother Buda Budan and St Ali. If you haven't been to these places you should. A short black at Seven Seeds will do more to explain what all the fuss is about coffee these days than any number of books or columns like mine. Just remember that if you want to fit in with the coffee geeks there, don't sugar your coffee, don't ask for a decaf and forget about requesting anything with milk in it — soy, skim or full fat. Ordering a "decaf skim latte with one" is out.
While we are at it, you should also include on your must-do list Deadman Espresso in South Melbourne, Toby's Estate in Brunswick and Market Lane Coffee. The latter has recently opened at the Prahran Market and is the brainchild of Fleur Studd and her dad, celebrity cheese importer Will Studd. Jason Scheltus oversees the roasting and the Studds are also importing their own single-estate green beans. The arrival of Market Lane brings the number of places to drink great coffee at that market to two for there's also Jasper Coffee which sells beans and ranks "two beans" in the guide.
It's also interesting to see the longevity of so many of Melbourne's notable cafes, but then given that Pellegrini's makes it into the book that's pretty good proof that this city has always cherished good coffee.
Crunch more facts in this guide and you will see that Melbourne is home to a dizzying number of roasters and coffee brands. Veneziano and Coffee Supreme appear to be the most popular across these cafes, with Genovese next. St Ali, Five Senses and Espresso Syndicate are all brands that are gaining popularity. Naming the most popular coffee machine across the hundred cafes is far easier. La Marzocco machines live in about one in four of the cafes in the guide as opposed to about one in eight for the Wega. It seems, however, that the coolest machine to have is the Synesso Cyncra, which pops up in many of the higher-ranked cafes. St Ali and Brother Baba Budan both have one as do the two-and-a-half-starred Brunswick East Project and Canterbury's Maling Room.
Seven Seeds has a Synesso Hydra and, like its two top-ranked compadres, it offers a number of coffee-brewing options. Those in the coffeerati are all a-twitter with talk of Clover and Japanese siphon machines which are among those alternatives. Market Lane champions the pour-over filter method. The unsophisticated, or the cynical, might label these as just a 21st-century reinvention of filter coffee or the Moccona percolator but many aficionados claim they produce coffee more gently and therefore deliver a brew that shows the beans' subtler flavours. They do but it turns coffee into more of a tea-like drink.
Call me an unreconstructed troglodyte — yet again — but I like my coffee short, rich and fruity rather than tea-thin. Maybe I just love all those caramelly flavours, and the jolt that comes with coffee this way is also good. But then I am the sort of philistine that sees coffee as a tool rather than an artistic expression of the bean the farmer has nurtured. Still, far be it from me to suggest that you shouldn't take a little time to appreciate coffee in these forms — especially given the number of the cognoscenti that are into it. Just be prepared to persevere and retrain your palate to accept this subtler form of your morning brew. It's just not coffee as we know it.
Finally, some thoughts on what is lacking in this guide: places in the western, outer eastern and outer north-eastern suburbs, which suggests the guide needs to be scouting for hidden gems out that way. In fact pretty much all of the places listed would already be known to fans of Epicure. Maps would also be useful. Also, it is worth pointing out the guide is sponsored by a coffee house (not one of those mentioned here).
Next time it would be great to have an associated online photo-driven spotter's guide to the city's best baristas. I'd love to be able to go in and single out who I want to pull my coffee because — not that it's rocket science — I'm a big believer that they're as important as the machine, the roast and the beans. Head baristas are already listed and I suppose that any coffee place that makes a guide should offer consistency across the barista team rather than on just the skills of one of their number.