Melbourne is a city where people are fussy about coffee. You could even say it’s a city obsessed with its coffee. A Melbournian is likely to abstain from drinking coffee than drink a brew that isn’t up to standard.
Cold drips, aero-press, cupping and siphon are terms found in Melbournian vernacular. Fortunately, coffee drinkers are spoilt for choice in Melbourne and there are loads of specialty coffee places within walking distance of the city centre.
2013 is the year of the bean in Melbourne, with several events on the calendar including the Urban Coffee Farm and Brew Bar, part of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and the World Barista Championships.
One of the best ways of exploring Melbourne’s coffee culture is to be guided by a local.
Brisbane’s top food blogger Eat Drink + be Kerry and I recently had the opportunity to hang out with Monique Bayer of Walk Melbourne, who conducts tours of her home city while telling stories through food and coffee.
Our first stop is The Little Mule, a small café with a bike shop that specialises in building custom single-speed and fixed gear bikes.
Learning about coffee can be an infinite pursuit of knowledge. With Monique’s help, we’re off to find the best coffee in Melbourne.
“Once you’ve mastered the espresso machine (which can take years) you start talking about filter and roasting and there are so many different factors in all of those. Then you can go back to the farm and learn about what happens at a crop level, trading in green coffee beans, economics and global market flows,” says Monique.
While I sip an espresso that is much stronger than I’m used to, Monique fills us in about the growing popularity of filter coffee, which is one of the gentlest ways to brew coffee.
In Melbourne, filter coffee is a bit of a science. There are several different ways to filter, such as pour over, aero-press and syphon. Monique’s favourite kind is cold drip, which is a long extraction process that extracts more flavour out of the beans.
The coffee shrub is native to Ethiopia. Traditionally, green coffee is washed, roasted on a metal pan over charcoal, ground and brewed in an earthenware pot. The smoke and aroma from the roasting mix with the aroma of frankincense and myrrh.
On the tour, we also pop into La Belle Miette, a tiny French patisserie that specialises in macarons. The glass counter is filled with macarons in a rainbow of colours.
All their macarons are gluten-free except for the Hazelnut Belle Miette, which has a small amount of paillete feuilletine (caramelized wafer) in the centre, and Pain d’Epices, which contains a small piece of pain d’epices (a French gingerbread) in the centre.
We wind our way through the back lanes, which are plastered in graffiti.
Along the way, Monique imparts other nuggets of knowledge, such as the fact that the GPO was originally only accessible by postal workers.
The public parked their horse and cart on Elizabeth Street until 1915, when Walter Burley Griffin rejuvenated the inside of the building to enable the public to visit inside.
All the shops inside the GPO will be cleared out and the GPO will soon be the first Australian store for H&M. H&M is famed for its collaborations with designers Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Viktor & Rolf and Madonna.
Another interesting spot is Shebeen, a hip back lane bar that operates under the social entrepreneur business model. It’s a business with a cause, where all profits from the bar are returned to the developing countries where the wine originally comes from and used in worthwhile projects such as teaching children how to read.