Tuesday, August 23, 2011
To most coffeegeeks (and not just those on the website), Melbourne is the centre for bespoke coffee, or third-wave coffee (the second wave being the introduction of arabica beans instead of robusta). To the uninformed, third-wave coffee focuses on the bean itself, on extracting the characteristics of the bean to reflect the terroir of the place where it is grown. Typically single origin coffees would be a part of this, as well as lightly roasted espresso blends. To the knowledgable, this is a relatively bad description but it will suffice for now.
So I went to Melbourne armed with a list prepared by a friend of mine Ryan (who incidentally happens to be Singapore's barista champion), so of course this list has to be good since he works for a reputed coffeehouse in Melbourne as a, well, what do you know, a barista. Since incidentally, coffee and food are inextricably linked, most of these coffee joints would have food as well, and I would review them together to save you the trouble of seeing me repeat myself.
First stop was Auction Rooms. Everyone has raved about this place and so it felt like somewhere I must go. I was very fortunate to bump into A & G on the plane and so I joined them for breakfast (thanks for the car ride) at Auction Rooms. Located in the suburb of North melbourne, this felt extremely un-citylike. Think low rise houses and streets - but this place was still buzzing with life. On a Sunday morning, this was packed to the brim so we had to wait. Thankfully it was a short 10 min wait, and I had a look-around in the meantime. They seemed pretty serious about their coffee - coffee in all forms, a Synesso in the middle, a few chemexes and v60s on the side, and so on.
We ordered the poached eggs on sourdough toast, with additional sides. I opted for bacon and mushrooms, which were all pretty good choices. The eggs were fresh and poached well enough though perhaps I would have preferred mine slightly less done - the bacon and mushrooms were decent pairing as well. And to the coffee, pretty good, chocolatey notes. I should have ordered the coffee with a double shot because it was a tad diluted, but well hindsight is always fifty-fifty.
Overall breakfast: 8/10
The next stop was Seven seeds, which is a melbourne institution, having been set up by Mark Dundon after he sold off his stake at St Ali (another coffee house we will review later on). i had really high expectations for this place. Set in a refurbished warehouse, it was very tastefully done, with a wall aplete with bicycles, and rather high ceilings and a pretty textured feel to the place. I ordered a latte, as well as the coffee of the day in espresso form, which was a costa rican. The espresso was brilliant: very sweet with a toasty aftertaste - 9/10. The latte, however, didn't pass muster. The milk was too watery and not smooth enough I felt. Rather disappointing. I had a much better experience at their city outpost, brother Buda budan, which used the same beans but had better baristas, hence better results.
the next stop brought us to Proud Mary. A pretty hot spot in Collingwood, Proud Mary has been extensively featured by the who's who of Melbourne, and apparently Jamie Oliver of naked chef fame tried the food there and loved it. Located in a little suburb of Collingwood, proud Mary is one of the hottest cafes around, and has been for a few years now. The decor is really lovely, with artistic curvy lights and a sense of balance and lightness to the designs, and of course a synesso with many many groupheads.
The food - I had the pork belly sandwich which was pretty good. Garlic aioli I think it was, with slabs of pork belly. Has a Kenyan on a siphon which was not bad, if a bit diluted after drinking so much espresso. Ordered a piccolo after that which was alright- should have made it a double shot though because again I could taste more milk than coffee. And finally I had a single origin espresso- brazil I think it was. Not very good. Very buttery with nothing much else. But of course being a single origin, it all depends on the bean and the roasting.
Still however a much recommended destination especially for the food. 8.5/10
Coffee: on average, 8/10
Another one of Seven seeds' many joints, this time located along Gertrude Street, Brunswick. It was only okay, so-so. Nothing stood out. [7/10]
Located at David jones in the cbd, to be honest, sensory lab didn't make much of an impression on me. The coffee was robust and strong- it was alright I guess.
St Alis is another Melbourne coffee institution, and was opened by Mark Dundon (of Seven Seeds). The place itself is like a big warehouse, with a really industrial look - a little chat with the baristas there, however, and one could sense their enthusiasm for all things java. They were frantically telling me how their new COE honduras was an amazing coffee, etc, and well - I ordered a latte and an espresso of that honduras COE. And my my was I godsmacked by the honduras COE as an espresso. It had notes of green apple, fruits, slight toffee, and all sorts of incongruous flavours. Amazing. One of the best espressos i have had in my life (9.5/10).
The latte was not bad as well - but doesn't hold a candle to the single origin espresso I had at St Alis. (8/10)
Brothers Baba Budan (BBB)
BBB is Seven Seed's city joint and is well known when you need to pick up a good coffee in the CBD. Characteristic of the place is the chairs that you see dangling from the ceiling. And I have heard that the baristas here are very good. And so my cup of coffee was quite excellent - balanced, smooth, quite dark, and aromatic. The best out of all the seven seeds joints. (8.5/10)
Market lane coffee at Queen Victoria Market - now this was a little bit strange. It didn't really do it for me. A kind of weird blend, if I may say so. (7/10)
Melbourne is still tops for coffee I believe, but Singapore is catching up! At the high end, Melbourne's coffee joints being far more experienced in roasting etc still has the edge over Singapore, and generally the standard is better, but well Singapore is making fast progress with its new influx of third wave coffee joints such as Toby's, Smitten, Sarnies, Loysel's, Jewel, etc.