Coffee in Melbourne
Melbourne is internationally regarded as a titan among coffee cities, with its influence felt around the globe. My expectations were set pretty high. What I found wasn’t as simple as good coffee; it was a much more nuanced sense of what comes next for artisan coffee roasters and cafes in the cities so influenced by Melbourne’s trailblazing over the past decade or so.
Let’s deal with the exceptionally good places. Proud Mary came with the tallest of reputations and delivered to my fullest hopes. Brother Baba Budan was also completely splendid. Other highlights were Gold Drops and the Sensory Lab.
But then, and this may well be simply my own incompetence at venue choice, I began running into some issues.
The first of these was what looked to be the rise of local artisan coffee places in office foyers. Where I suffered for many years at the hands of Costa, office types in Melbourne’s CBD have quality offerings from the likes of Axil.
The issue was that I didn’t find any of the places where this scale up to a high volume operator was working all that well. I drank a bunch of mediocre espresso from places that showed all the design and roasting credentials of being able to do much better.
In more positive news, restaurant coffee was lightyears better than any other city I’ve been in. Whether this was top-end places such as Amaru or Attica serving excellent filter coffee or swanky joints like Cumulus Inc serving really good espresso, this was a definite strength of the city.
Oddly, as I was contemplating the heresy of my slightly lukewarm assessment of Melbourne’s lauded coffee scene, I came across local influential print publication Broadsheet with its front-page headline reading “Are Melbourne’s Cafes Out of Ideas?”.
I didn’t read the article closely but it seemed to allude to the scene having been somewhat polluted by the rise of Instagrammable content, design homogenisation, and a greater emphasis on food, somewhat at the expense of high quality coffee preparation. This is the topic for a different discussion so I’ll leave that one alone for now, other than to say I didn’t find a consistent design thread through the cafes I visited which confused me a bit.
It feels like Melbourne remains at the forefront of global coffee in lots of ways. Their scene feels mature and embedded, although I’m not totally convinced that Melbourne really has what you might associate with the term “cafe society”. You can barely find a coffee shop open past 5pm and many are closed at weekends, particularly in the CBD. The coffee shops are becoming specialist weekday breakfast restaurants catering to the busy metropolitan consumer.
What Melbourne’s current experience perhaps indicates is that the next phase for third wave coffee might not be quite so unified, so fast-paced or so easy to achieve. I left with more questions than answers. I also left having tasted a good bit more mediocre coffee than I’d expected.