Matt Holden

Eftpos best cafe: Auction rooms, North Melbourne. Click for more photos

Melbourne's essential coffee experiences

Eftpos best cafe: Auction rooms, North Melbourne. Photo: Gary Medlicott


Melbourne is a coffee city in the way that London and Portland are coffee cities - so said Stephen Leighton, the flamboyant MC at the recent World Barista Championships at the Showgrounds. So what are Melbourne's essential coffee experiences? Here are 20:

 

1. A trip to origin

The coffee shrub is native to Ethiopia, and the coffee ceremony happens every day in Ethiopian families - it's at the heart of community life. Green coffee is washed, roasted on a metal pan over charcoal, ground and then brewed in an earthenware pot called a jebena, the smoke and aroma from the roasting mix with the aroma of frankincense and myrrh. You can book a full ceremony at many of Melbourne's Ethiopian restaurants and cafes; Konjo in Footscray offers a light version: the coffee is roasted quickly in the kitchen and served in a jebena on goatskin rugs on the floor. It's $6.50 for a two-person pot, $14.50 for four.
Konjo, 89 Irving Street, Footscray

 

2. Coffee curators

Assembly's tiny space in Carlton is like a tea shop in a Japanese geisha quarter. Pale timber-lined walls bear shelves stocked sparsely with blue-labelled canisters of fine coffee and tea from the likes of Small Batch, Reuben Hills, Somage and Storm in a Teacup. Wall niches feature equipment for brewing at home, including Japanese Kalita wave drippers and the Espro, a smart stainless-steel plunger. There's a filter station and a bench along the wall where you can sample brews from ceramic cups.
Assembly, 60 Pelham Street, Carlton

 

3. Chemistry experiments

Inspired by the antics at El Bulli, Industry Beans' crew has embarked on experiments using brews of specialty beans and ingredients that come in pharmaceutical-grade containers to make latte pearls, coffee caviar, coffee jelly and coffee toffee. But it's more than fun - Industry's espresso and filter brews, roasted on site, are first rate, the menu is full of great brunch food, and the space is a stylish fit-out of a tilt-slab warehouse shell in a Fitzroy back street.
Industry Beans, Unit 3, corner Rose and Fitzroy streets, Fitzroy

 

4. A real old-school cafe

Here's a cafe time-capsule, no question: red laminate tables, a chequerboard lino floor, wood-panelled walls, vinyl-padded bar - and a three-group hand-pulled Faema Urania that dates to 1959, when Pasquale Zampogna opened the place. His son, Dominic, is at the levers now, and while Sila's glory has faded, it's still a haven for locals who might find the rest of the street too cool for comfort.
Sila Espresso Bar, 189 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy

5. Melbourne's hippest coffee bar

Sitting on Johnston Street, just off Smith Street, in a shopfront done in cool greys, bare concrete and dark-stained timber, with eager young brewers at the La Marzocco and the pour-over station, Everyday could be Melbourne's hippest coffee bar. The crew has all done time at Seven Seeds, and their coffee knowledge runs deep. Their gift to Melbourne is batch-brews from a Moccamaster, served in a mug for a morning kick-start.
Everyday Coffee, 33 Johnston Street, Collingwood

 

6. The most expensive coffee you've ever had

Andy Gelman paid about $250 a kilogram* for some Panama Gesha from Ninety Plus Coffee's farm in the Volcan region of Panama. Ninety Plus don't score their coffee the way specialty coffee is usually scored (out of 100), but Gelman says: "It's as good as Ninety Plus's name suggests." You can try a filter brew at Omar for $9, or pick up a 100-gram bag for $40 - enough for 10 shared cups at home. But you'd better be quick - Gelman only bought five kilograms. (* Corrected from earlier version of story which reported price at $300 a kilogram.)
Omar & The Marvellous Coffee Bird, 124 Gardenvale Road, Gardenvale

 

7. A Pellegrini's moment

Sitting at the dark wood bar over an espresso on a wintry Sunday in the early 1980s … that's my Pellegrini's moment, but every Melburnian will have their own. Owner Sisto Malaspina is still there, shirt unbuttoned, as are baristas Paul (34 years' service) and Rocco (God knows). But it's not all old men reminiscing: a bright-eyed couple in their 20s shares coffee and cake, they way we all once did. "It's from the heart," Sisto says to a customer. "Nothing beats that."
Pellegrini's Espresso Bar, 66 Bourke Street, Melbourne

 

8. Coffee flight

How much caffeine can you handle in one go? This smart standing-room-only brew bar in Melbourne's legal heartland offers the Patricia three-step - a flight of espresso, hot filter and iced filter (served in a hip flask). It's not on the menu - you'll have to ask for it. Enough for one session?
Patricia Coffee Brewers, corner Little Bourke and Little William streets, Melbourne

 

9. Balkan brew at St Albans

This St Albans grocer offers another chance to commune with the history of coffee. Beans are roasted out back and brewed in a traditional dzezva (copper coffee pot). The fine, powdery grind produces the characteristic thick cup with a heavy sediment. Just don't call it Turkish - this is a lighter-roasted Bosnian version of the eastern Mediterranean brew.
Hanna Coffee, 336A Main Road West, St Albans

 

10. Some Melbourne magic

Melbourne's gift to the coffee world appeared at Brunswick's Ray in the early 2000s. "The story is a bit Chinese whispers," Seven Seeds wholesale manager Jona Gunn says. A double ristretto is topped with steamed milk and served in a 190-millilitre ceramic cup (now known as the "magic" cup); it could be the perfect balance of milk and coffee. Where better to try it than at Ray's cool offspring, Brother Baba Budan?
Brother Baba Budan, 359 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne

 

11. Melbourne's cheapest short black?

Just $1.60 will get you a short black at Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick. The beans are from Cellini in Genoa, a standard Italian commodity blend - it's an espresso-at-the-village-bar-style communion popular with Melbourne's Italian-Australian community. Then fill your trolley with pasta, olive oil, cheese, salumi and baccala.
Mediterranean Wholesalers, 482 Sydney Road, Brunswick

 

12. Cupping to tune your palate

Cupping is how coffee professionals assess the quality of green beans. You don't drink lots of coffee (you spit lots out), and it tastes like a weak infusion more than coffee. But you develop sensitivity to flavours and aromas, you practise spitting into a paper cup without getting it down your shirtfront, and you work up a mild caffeine-contact high. Market Lane offers free sessions on Fridays and Saturdays at 10am.
Market Lane Coffee, Shop 13, 163 Commercial Road, South Yarra

 

13. Smart city coffee bar

The antique Belgian floor tiles lend Dukes an air of ''always been here'', but the La Marzocco espresso machines and a high-tech filter station say "21st-century coffee house". Dukes is a low-key spot to enjoy espresso and filter coffee that lives up to that promise with dedicated blends for black and milk coffee, and seasonal single origins, brewed and served by friendly and knowledgeable baristas.
Dukes, 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

 

14. The best coffee this year

Axil's seasonal blend - currently two Brazilian natural-process organic coffees and a Colombian Los Naranjos washed - has made some of the best espressos we've had this year. Axil roaster Matthew Crowley says the Brazilians bring heavy body and sticky sweetness, while the Colombian adds bold blackcurrant and sweet juicy fruit flavours. We just say: "Delicious!"
Axil Coffee Roasters, 322 Burwood Road, Hawthorn

 

15. The benchmark for specialty espresso

Where did The Age Good Cafe Guide best-coffee award subcommittee convene to calibrate their palates and plan their assault on the city's roasters and brewers? At Seven Seeds in Carlton, of course, where the seasonal blend is roasted and brewed to the highest standards. It won the Guide's best-coffee award in 2011 and 2012, and we consider it the benchmark for specialty espresso coffee in Melbourne.
Seven Seeds, 114 Berkeley Street, Carlton

 

16. The museum of vintage Gaggias

Gaggia is practically Italian for espresso machine and Coffee Mio has been the Australian agent for the Milan-based company since 1972. Its Thornbury shop and roastery is home to a lovely two-group 1950s hand-pulled Gaggia (brought in as a wreck by a Chinese restaurateur in 1979 and restored by Coffee Mio's Frank Berra), a 1969 three-group machine (the last hand-pulled model Gaggia made, complete with a filter-brew attachment) and a one-group machine manufactured in Melbourne in the 1960s when Gaggias were made here under licence.
Coffee Mio, 811 High Street, Thornbury

 

17. Grand cafe in the Roman style

The new Brunetti is bigger, brasher, louder and, if possible, more crowded than ever. The coffee is dispensed from three four-group machines at a central bar that looks like the flight deck of the starship Enterprise, and the footpath tables will soon be completely blocking traffic in Lygon Street. The brass-and-glass cabinets bulge with cakes, panini, pizza and more, and there's plenty of customers. It should be a stop on any Melbourne tourist itinerary.
Brunetti, 380 Lygon Street, Carlton

 

18. Single-estate hideaway

At the back of the car park, behind the supermarket, in the old red-brick bakehouse … the recherche location and the gnarly '70s whole-food aesthetic may (or may not) belie the quality of the coffee here. The freshest possible single-estate green beans are roasted in two-kilogram batches and brewed and extracted to be savoured. The low bar is a great spot to rap with owner-roaster Marwin Shaw over a cup of Guatemala Las Nubes Miramar or a Brazil Pedra Redonda. Great single estate teas, too, from Somage.
Monk Bodhi Dharma, 202 Carlisle Street, Balaclava

 

19. Hundred-mile coffee

If you're worried about food miles, you'll have to give up coffee or eat a lot of backyard lettuce as an offset. Growers Espresso in Fitzroy North specialises in roasting quality Australian-grown beans. Among the best are those from Mountain Top Coffee in northern NSW. The 2013 harvest's micro-lot 1301 makes a good pour-over, Growers' Mark Ryan says, and its lot 35 single origin an espresso with marmalade sweetness and a bit of caramel.
Growers Espresso, 332 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North

 

20. Siphon at the filter bar

The siphon is coffee's most theatrical performance - lab glass bubbling, heat source glowing, the final rush of liquid into the pot - and Auction Rooms is like a film set for the location called "interior, hip coffee house". The seat at the brew bar behind the grinder is the best: you get lovely fresh-grind aroma wafts via the grinder fan (really) and a close-up view of the brew master in action. The coffee is served in delicate Hario pyrex - you can linger as it cools and reveals its flavours. An Ethiopian Michiti might run from almost barley-like to floral and dark chocolate by turns.
Auction Rooms, 103-107 Errol Street, North Melbourne

The Age Good Cafe Guide 2013, is on sale for $5 with The Saturday Age this weekend. It's also available in bookshops and online for $9.99.