It's quite the truism to say Melburnians are obsessed with coffee. Ask locals for their best cafe tips and you'll set them arguing over the merits of one cafe over another: which has the right mix of modernist yet comfortable decor; inside or outside tables; whether the service was fast enough, friendly – but not too presumptuous – enough; or where to get the fastest pre-work take-away ‘latte’ in an artfully stenciled paper cup.
The writers of Lonely Planet’s 9th editon of Melbourne & Victoria, Trent Holden & Kate Morgan, recently interviewed ‘third-wave’ pioneer Mark Dundon who has over 13 years of experience in coffee, has travelled the world sourcing beans and is the man behind Melbourne roastery empire and much-loved Melbourne cafes such as Seven Seeds and Brother Baba Budan.
Here’s what he had to say about Melbourne’s coffee culture.
What makes for a great coffee?
It's the producer, the roaster, the barista and the consumer. Great coffee is like great wine or food: different people like different styles and interpretations. For me, it’s a sweet, floral coffee, and I enjoy drinking the coffee as filter or espresso.
How would you define Melbourne’s coffee scene right now?
Melbourne's coffee scene is literally second to none. Currently there are a lot of coffee professionals pushing the boundaries, exploring brewing methods, new coffees, roast styles and collaborations.
What are some of the city’s best coffee experiences?
Auction Rooms, Assembly, Market Lane, Clement and of course Seven Seeds. The Melbourne experience, really, is your great local cafe that knows you and your coffee order and looks after you. Melbourne’s cafes are some of the best in the world and there are many providing the beautiful local experience.
If you dig in the local history books you’ll discover how Melbourne got this way. A strong Italian cultural heritage from mid-20th century migration is where it started. Then, over the last couple of decades, retail strips emptied as grocery shoppers were seduced away from local shops by supermarket chains in shopping centres leaving Melbourne with low-rent shopfronts where quirky cafes could flourish in every other neighbourhood across the city.
Not only are great cafes abundant, but many Melbourne residents are now schooled up in the providence of their coffee beans, when and how they were roasted, and which of their local baristas can pull the best long macchiato or short ristretto.
This obsession may sound like something straight out of Portlandia, but in Melbourne the coffee culture isn’t a new fad or inner-urban pretension. Melbourne’s cafe scene runs right out to the outer suburbs and has taken over many small towns. It isn’t hard to plan a road trip based on where to stop for a decent cup of the good stuff.
If you’ve got time on your hands and you want a deeper more immersive coffee experience while visiting Melbourne, look out for coffee courses from coffee ‘cupping’ sessions (a bit like wine tasting) and bean roasting information sessions at Market Lane http://www.marketlane.com.au/coffeeclass.asp or taster barista classes at one of Melbourne’s barista training academies.
For American visitors longing for the bottomless filter coffee head north of the city to Queensberry Pour House (queensberryph.com.au).
Finally, the International Coffee Expo (internationalcoffeeexpo.com) celebrates all things coffee – so we suggest if you’re as obsessed with coffee as Melbourne is, then you ought to time your Melbourne visit accordingly (Melbourne is a great place to be in March).