Clever blend: Wild Timor Coffee is a cosy hangout. Photo: Wayne Taylor
The photos on the wall tell the story: Australian troops from Sparrow Force, who fought a guerrilla campaign against the Japanese in Timor during World War II and survived partly thanks to help from locals; Australian peacekeeping soldiers in the 2000s repaying part of the Sparrow Force debt as a fledgling Timor-Leste struggled towards nationhood; some of those same peacekeepers picking coffee alongside Timorese farmers.
The walls tell a story too: raw brick layered with faded pink and blue paint, stripped back by Tom Mahon, Cameron Wheelehen, Shannon French and Tom Potter as part of their renovation of the space.
The four former Australian soldiers, members of the peacekeeping force, more or less stumbled upon the coffee plantations in the photos, hidden in the forests of Maubisse and Aileu in the country's central north, and saw a chance to repay some of what they felt was Australia's debt to the East Timorese. With zero experience in coffee, they bought 600 kilograms of green beans and shipped them home. Two years later, they are roasting about 15 tonnes, and the venture has blossomed into a new Coburg coffee house.
The haloumi burger is lifted by avjar relish. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Community and relationships underpin Wild Timor: the relationships with the coffee farmers, now paid double what they were getting for their coffee from brokers; and relationships with Timorese in Melbourne, who have taken the project to heart.
The menu is a simple, snacky affair driven by a sandwich press, the flavours more Coburg fusion than Timorese-Australian so far.
A haloumi burger is a thick slab of grilled cheese on a wholemeal bun (non-brioche, thanks) with a crunchy slaw of red cabbage, some baby salad leaves and nice creamy avocado, lifted by a big smear of ajvar, a not-too-spicy relish of red peppers and garlic. It's served on a small board, as are simpler toasties of ham, cheese and tomato that can be perked up with avocado, spinach and relish.
A glossy Portuguese tart. Photo: Wayne Taylor
Quiche and salad also feature for lunch, while breakfast might be a big jar of granola and green tea-poached pear or a smoothie: the Balibo Super is a bright green concoction of kale, kiwifruit and coconut water with ginger.
The menu gets Timorese-accented in the cakes department. Ana Saldanha, who fled Timor in 1975, bakes for the cafe, and her Timorese specialities include pineapple-and-caramel cake and a pumpkin turnover: a dense, moist Swiss roll-style thing, pumpkin-orange in colour, with a cinnamon cream threaded through it. Yes, it tastes of pumpkin, but in the nicest possible way.
On Saturdays, Saldanha supplies savoury Timorese snacks such as rissois - little pastries filled with chicken and garlic and rolled in breadcrumbs; siu mai kukus (Chinese-style dumplings of chicken or pork with garlic and mushrooms); and little pork or chicken meatballs with a chilli dipping sauce.
But the Wild Timor coffee is the focus. The trees are a natural hybrid of arabica and robusta called hibrido de Timor. The beans make a dark, nutty cup with a clean thread of fruity acidity running through it, a crowd-pleasing brew that is rich and toasty in black coffee and stands up nicely in milk.
And the Coburg locals are keeping the cosy little shopfront buzzing, the second-hand espresso machine steaming and the volunteer service ticking along nicely.
Do… try to get here on Saturdays for Timorese snacks
Don't… miss the pumpkin turnover roll
Dish… haloumi burger
Vibe… community coffee hub
- 03 9386 2315
- Cuisine - Asian
- Prices - Breakfasts $5-$14; lunches $6-$10
- Features - Cheap and cheerful, Vegetarian friendly
- Owners - Tom Mahon, Cameron Wheelehen, Shannon French and Tom Potter
- Cards accepted - Mastercard, Visa, EFTPOS
- Opening Hours - Mon-Fri 7am-4pm; Sat 8am-4pm; Sun 9am-3pm
- Author - Matt Holden