My last article for La Presse was especially fun to write. I walked around the city of Melbourne talking to people obsessed with coffee, while drinking (too) many cups. The original version in French is here. And the iPad version is here.
And this is the English translation:
In Melbourne, coffee is a true obsession. The baristas from this Australian city are known to make some of the best coffee in the world. And Melbournians are fans: 30 tons of coffee beans arrive everyday by boat, the equivalent of 3 millions cups!
Here, we don’t only drink espresso to wake up. Coffee is savoured just like wine. That is what is called the third wave of coffee. People here are interested in the quality and origin of the product, as well as the different methods of brewing and roasting.
A respected industry
Many cities in the world are going through this third wave. So what makes Melbourne special? Since the third wave started earlier here, a coffee culture is deeply anchored. “In Melbourne, working in a cafe is well respected, it’s not just a filler job, but a chosen career. The industry attracts respected chefs, entrepreneurs, coffee roasters, etc.” explains Rebecca Hughes, from Espresso Tales, a magazine devoted to Melbourne cafés.
Espresso is still the most common way of making coffee, but several cafés also implement other brewing methods, such as the pour over/filter, the cold drip, the siphon, the French Press/Plunger and the AeroPress. Clients can also choose between different blends and single origin coffee. The baristas prepare each cup meticulously, sometimes using a scale and a thermometer.
Coffee for everybody
Coffee is taken seriously, but people in the industry are very helpful. Baristas describe with enthusiasm the different options offered to their clients and several cafes offer classes to learn about brewing and roasting methods.
Tastings are also very much in fashion. Coffee cupping is a standardized type of blind testing where you can compare different types of coffee. The experience is almost ritualistic, and cannot be missed.
Melbourne is also a city of great food and design, and cafes are the ideal places to enjoy both of these things easily and affordably. The cafes are designed with care and the food menus are as good as any restaurants.
The Australian particularities
If the espresso is king among coffee enthusiasts, two other typically Australian ways to drink your coffee are also very popular: the long black, the equivalent of an allongé, and the flat white, an espresso shot served with steamed milk but without the froth of a latte. It is also in Australia where the controversial babycino was born, a cup of steamed milk that gives children the feeling they are having a coffee with the grown ups. The “Australian capital of coffee” has even created and named its own caffeinated drink, the magic. It is a double ristretto with steamed milk.
Further acknowledging the infatuation that Melbourne has with coffee, it is here in 1993 that McDonald’s opened its first McCafé. This is rather ironic when you know how fussy Melbournians are when it comes to the quality of their coffee. These high expectations in Australia also contributed to the failure of Starbucks in the country. In 2008, the chain closed 61 of its 84 stores, and in 2014, it sold its remaining branches to the convenience store chain 7-Eleven.
Whether you are a neophyte or a connoisseur, a guided tour is an excellent introduction to Melbourne coffee culture. In the last few years, tours entirely dedicated to coffee were created to answer the demand from tourists.
Monique Bayer, from Walk Melbourne, brings visitors from all over the world to taste a selection of the best coffee in town. She gives information on the coffees tasted, talks about the different brewing methods and passionately tells the history of coffee in Melbourne.
Melbourne in Montréal
If Melbourne is too far for you, it is possible to experience it in Québec. Indeed, two Montréal cafés are owned by Melbournians, Code Black (4095, boulevard Saint-Laurent) and Café Melbourne (4615, boulevard Saint-Laurent).
Market Lane Coffee
We love the sleek design of its four branches and the flight of three coffee blends.
Shop 13, Prahran Market, 163, Commercial Road, South Yarra
You might have to line up, but the wait for the coffee and the food is worth it.
172, Oxford Street, Collingwood
Auction Rooms Cafe
The perfect spot to have brunch while sipping on a good coffee. Take advantage of one of their free classes.
103-107, Errol Street, North Melbourne
Patricia Coffee Brewers
A café in a laneway, it doesn’t get more Melbourne than this. The service is excellent and the team is always happy to guide you.
493-495, Little Bourke Street
Located in a former warehouse, you can see its roasting installations, which are quite impressive. Bring back a bag of the house blend in your suitcase.
106-114 Berkeley Street, Carlton