Melbourne's hottest new cafes, coffee spots and brewing trends

The smoked trout and eggs at Stagger Lee's.
The smoked trout and eggs at Stagger Lee's. Photo: Anu Kumar

Things might have cooled slightly on the cafe opening front in 2014 - this year's The Age Good Cafe Guide lists about 50 new cafes, compared with about 70 in 2013 - but there is still plenty going on. So where's trending, what's hash-tagging, and who's generating all those #cafe Instagrams? Here's our guide to A Bunch of Things Everyone Should Know About Cafes in 2014.


Where: Assembly, Everyday Coffee, Coffeehead

Everything is curated now, so why not coffee? Instead of relying on one supplier for a contract-load of beans every week, Melbourne's smartest young operators are picking from the best of our specialty roasters to serve a rotating range of ''guest'' single origins and blends. They choose whatever is tasting good, which means they serve fresh-crop coffee when it's at its best, and remind us that coffee is seasonal agricultural produce, not just a line item on the futures exchange. So your local might be serving an Industry Beans Kenya Karimikui one week and a Proud Mary Brazil Gertrude Santos the next. If you can get to somewhere such as Assembly in Carlton, you might taste beans roasted by Sydney's Reuben Hills or Mecca Espresso, while Coffeehead in Camberwell stocks beans from about 20 local specialty roasters.


Where: Sbriga, Traveller, Axil, Patricia

The original was a heaving Pellegrini's on a busy Sunday 30-odd years ago, when there was no choice but to stand. Now, Melbourne has embraced the stand-up coffee bar. Among the first of the third-wave standing-room-only bars is Cup of Truth in the Degraves Street underpass (not much more than a hole in the wall with an espresso machine), while Patricia, in Little Bourke Street's legal precinct, has a line out the door every morning for a spot standing along the wall or a quick latte in the laneway. This year, Seven Seeds opened Traveller, a wood-panelled nook where espresso and filter coffee and a small range of pastries are served to a stand-up crowd that spills into Crossley Street; and Hawthorn's Axil has just opened a cool coffee-and-pastries-only bar in Flinders Lane that is standing room only. At the west end of the city, Sbriga has brought a mix of traditional Italian and contemporary Melbourne to a Roman-style coffee and pizza bar that was originally stand-up only, but now features a few stools for the footsore.

The Age Good Cafe Guide 2014.
The Age Good Cafe Guide 2014. 


Where: Hortus, Place Holder, Filter

It seems everything is fleeting in the 21st century … Hortus, the temporary urban greenhouse in Docklands, features a pop-up coffee bar by specialty roaster Seven Seeds. Melbourne artist Lauren Berkowitz's garden of edible and native plants is also bringing soul to a dead patch of the city's western extension, at least for 18 months or so. Then there's Place Holder, a temporary project by local coffeeheads-baristas Sam King and Sonam Sherpa, installed in the foyer of an apartment development at the south end of Smith Street, Fitzroy, with a 12-month tenure that runs until early next year. North Melbourne specialty roaster Small Batch has just opened Filter in the ground floor of a disused office building in Collins Street, serving filter and espresso coffee and smorrebrod. And the ultimate Melbourne pop-up? St Ali paired with Sydney design curator Sarah K to bring Melbourne-style specialty coffee to this year's Milan design week in the form of the Other Hemisphere, an Australian design showcase and pop-up coffee bar that went right off.


Where: Filter, St Ali, Traveller

The nerdy excitement over the revival of filter coffee has been tempered by the labour-intensive nature of pourover and Aeropress production and the margin for error in the results, at least for those who notice that kind of thing. So, maybe lacking the patience and customer service found in coffee houses in Japan, Melbourne's specialty cafes are turning to batch-brew methods to make sure they have affordable filter coffee that's consistent and ready to go for time-pressed folk. That means the Fetco, which brews a couple of litres at a time and keeps it drinkable for up to two hours, or the Moccamaster, a cult Dutch drip-filter brewer that works on a smaller scale, but still produces pretty delicious cups.


Where: Stagger Lee's, Hammer and Tong 412, Hawthorn Common

While hole-in-the-wall locals can get by with a sandwich press and some sharp knives, there's a class of what you might call destination cafes cheffing-up in the kitchen to offer food that goes almost fine dining on a cafe budget. Brunswick Street newcomer Stagger Lee's has Chris Hamburger, who comes via Anada and the Aylesbury. Down the road at Hammer and Tong, Simon Ward cut his chops in the Vue de Monde kitchen, as did Stefano Rosi at the new Hawthorn Common. Meanwhile, Andrew Gale, who went from the Station Hotel to his own fine-diner cafe Duchess of Spotswood, continues to smarten up the food offer at St Ali.


Where: St Ali, Proud Mary

The Mahlkonig EK grinder and a little tool that goes by the nickname of ''mojo'' are the geeky baristas' current toys of choice. The EK is a big-batch grinder that seems better suited to grinding lots of coffee quickly, and caused a stir in the barista community when the Australian champion at the time, Matt Perger, used it in the World Barista final in 2013. The EK produces a smaller and more even particle size, which baristas claim gives a cleaner, sweeter espresso extraction with higher extraction yields (this is the ''geek'' section), and makes good shots with coffees that in the past might not have been suitable for espresso, such as some Kenyans and washed Ethiopians, while the ''mojo'' is a digital refractometer that measures extraction yield: the coffee solids dissolved in a shot (TDS), one of the keys to getting consistently good extractions. Combining the EK43 with the refractometer allows baristas to get high extraction yields - more flavour and sweetness - without the dry, bitter flavours that usually accompany high extraction.


Where: Market Lane, Brunswick East Project, Cobb Lane, Seven Seeds

About 80 per cent of the coffees served in Melbourne are milky brews and about two-thirds to three-quarters of each of those coffees is milk. Our love affair with a latte is certainly keeping dairy farmers happy. Great coffee deserves nothing less than the best milk, so specialty cafes are turning to small farmers such as Schulz, which produces organic and unhomogenised milk near Timboon, and artisan dairy St David in Fitzroy, which collects milk from the farmers every day before minimal processing and packaging in Fitzroy and delivery to cafes around town.



Stagger Lee's
276 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 9419 5564

Stagger's is a collaboration between chef Chris Hamburger, coffee guy Nolan Hirte, ex-Proud Mary manager Monica Chhay and Mun Soon from Krimper. They've brought a smart coffee house to Brunswick Street, with a crowd-pleasing menu, single-origin-only coffee and a corner spot in prime people-watching territory.

Barry Coffee and Food
85 High Street, Northcote, 9481 7623

Barry's on-trend food, excellent Five Senses coffee and bright, airy fitout of whitewashed brick, pale timber and big windows have been a hit with Westgarth locals since it opened last year. Weekend seats for brunch and coffee are at a premium.


Plenty Food
78 Chapel Street, Windsor, 9529 7496

Batch Espresso's younger sibling is a bit of a brunch star, with an industrial fitout, a cheeky menu - check out the fruit pot with chocolate cake soil served in a terracotta flowerpot - and solid brews of Coffee Supreme's South blend.

Little Tommy Tucker
432 Centre Road, East Bentleigh, 9576 5174

The all-day breakfast and brunch menu offers tasty dishes such as banana pancakes with walnut butter and scrambles with smoked salmon, the clean, Scandinavian-influenced aesthetic features wood panelling and hanging plants, the staff are friendly and the Dukes coffee is great. East Bentleigh has scored with Little Tommy T.


Hawthorn Common
302 Burwood Road, Hawthorn, 9819 2200

This large space has been the site of restaurants including Canvas and Chester White. Now, along have come Danny Colls and George Skyiotis with a big, smart cafe with a sustainability focus, from the herb gardens on the deck to the in-house coffee roaster and chef Stefano Rosi working from scratch in the kitchen.

Admiral Cheng-Ho Specialty Coffee
325 Johnston Street, Abbotsford, 9417 1887

St Kilda's Monk Bodhi Dharma is one part specialty roaster, one part vegan cafe and all parts trippy-hipster. The same applies at this new sibling, where half a dozen Monk Bodhi single-origin coffees might be on offer at a time and the menu works the same cafe-vegan-vego groove.


Cobb Lane Bakery
13 Anderson Street, Yarraville, 9687 1538

Pastry chef Matt Forbes made a name supplying goodies to some of the city's best coffee bars. Now he has his own digs, with a menu of English-accented brunches, treats such as salted caramel doughnuts and tasty coffee from Clement in a cool and cosy space tucked away at the end of Anderson Street.

Guerilla Espresso
Shop 228, Footscray Market, Footscray, 9995 4054

Right across the road from Footscray station in Irving Street, this tiny shopfront brings specialty coffee from Proud Mary and Allpress and a short, tasty menu (Dr Marty's crumpets, roast pork rolls, Reuben sandwiches) to the west's urban heart.

The Age Good Cafe Guide 2014 is available for $5 this Saturday with The Age, from participating newsagents, while stocks last. It is also available in selected bookshops and online at for $9.99.