Monday, 14 March 2011

Freestyle surfing

What do you get when you cross a grown man in a bib with a coffee bong and a micro roastery? The third wave of coffee. Or is it the fourth wave now? I don't know, I’m still on my boogie board surfing the second espresso wave...dude.

I hadn’t been home to Australia in the 4 years I’ve been living in London so thought it was time for a trip back to check out what has been happening in my absence.

If you thought London was starting to get seriously geeky about coffee, you ain’t seen nothing yet if Australia is any indication of where it’s  all heading.

There seems to have been an explosion of micro- roasters, single origin coffees, lighter roasting, drip brewing, hi-tech gadgetry and perhaps most inexplicably, baristas wearing bib aprons.

Never one to leave cafe exploration to chance, I went armed with a long list of ‘the best’ cafes to try in Melbourne.  First stop, Proud Mary: the Fat Duck of the Melbourne café scene.

Located down a side street in Collingwood, (what used to be a pretty dingy part of Melbourne but now home to all the hot new cafes, bars and restaurants in town) Proud Mary is a modern and airy warehouse conversion that epitomises the pointy end of the coffee revolution in Melbourne.

There’s an impressive array of coffee paraphenalia on display to provide customers with a choice of  extraction methods: syphon, filter, clover, cold drip, or if you’re old school, an espresso based coffee made with the world’s first custom built 6 group Hydra Synesso machine which allows the baristas to adjust the temperature of each group head to suit particular single origin or blended coffees. Each day they offer 3 different single origins as well as 2 blends for their espresso based coffee drinks. And that's just the espresso.

It was here that I had one of the most amazing coffees I’ve ever tasted.

60mls of cold drip single origin Sumatran coffee extracted over 12 hours, served on ice. The taste was indescribable – so sweet, clean and smooth, it was like a fine liqueur.

From there I visited the cafes set up by the Seven Seeds coffee roasters:

Brother Baba Budan in  Little Bourke Street (Photo courtesy of Breakfast Out)

De Clieu in Gertrude St, Collingwood
The original, Seven Seeds in Carlton. Note men in bibs.

The East Brunswick Project in Nicholson St who roast their own coffee called Padre.

St Ali in South Melbourne

The Sensory Lab in David Jones in the city,

More men wearing bibs.

And the Auction Rooms, who roast Small Batch coffee, in Errol St, North Melbourne

As I went down my ‘best of’ list I was starting to feel a little bemused and alienated, and not dissimilar to how I felt during the Summernats car festival when I was living in Canberra. There seemed to be lots of boys revving their engines and admiring their reflections in big shiny machines, speaking a language I didn't understand.

This new wave of coffee does provide some good entertainment (as does Summernats) but what I really wanted was a welcoming space to catch up with friends. What had happened to the little unpretentious and quirky cafes that I loved about Melbourne and where were all the chicks? Fear not, as they are also there in abundance, going about their business, serving fantastic food and coffee but without quite so much noise or petrol fumes.

At Bell Jar in Smith Street Collingwood,

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Gastronome
Milkwood in Nicholson St, Brunswick East

Mitte in Michael Street, North Fitzroy


Pope Joan in Nicholson Street, Brunswick East

Amsterdam in Richmond

Photo courtesy of Melbourne Gastronome
Cornershop in Yarraville

and North in Rathdowne St North Carlton

When someone asked me on my return what was the one thing I wanted to steal from Melbourne cafes for Lantana, I had to think long and hard. The cafes where I had the most enjoyable experience were not necessarily the cafes where I’d drunk the best coffee, seen the most impressive barista theatre, eaten the best food or seen the most stylish fitout. My favourite cafes were the ones where I felt the warmth, individuality and personality of the staff and the owner. They were the cafes that felt like they weren’t copying someone else’s style or following the latest trends just for the sake of it.

I read a comment on twitter recently by a visitor to London who wrote “I am left with a feeling I've visited the same coffee shop on different sides of town. Are the London third wave independents a new chain?”

It has been something that has been nagging me recently too as I see some of the new cafes opening in London that seem to be copying other cafes or following fads and lacking in individuality. 

When I read that twitter comment I knew what I wanted to hold onto from my trip back home. A commitment to individuality. 'Independent' is an ethos, not a brand.  I'm going to surf my own wave.


whatIcooked said...

Really interesting has made me want to go to OZ. Re Individual London cafes, there is a relatively new cafe/restaurant in Clapham South in London that feels quite unique. It's called the Georgian right opposite the tube station. Run from people from that part of Eastern Europe. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner with family favourites inspired by the region. I had breakfast with a friend there yesterday. Georgian spinach eggs. They also do scrambled and croissants and the hottest coffee, by that I mean temperature, and it retained its heat.

Gregory said...

Love the work. While I was in Melbourne for the weekend I did pop into a couple of places that I thought were trying to be too cool for school.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but a large part of the fun of having coffee or eating out is the warmth, the fun and vibrant atmosphere. You can take me to a place with the best espresso, but, if you are not comfortable then there is no reason to go back.

Therefore I would rather go somewhere with a good solid coffee and a great atmosphere..... just like somewhere I went on the weekend.

Shelagh Ryan said...

WhatIcooked Thanks for the tip- sounds interesting.

Thanks Gregory, good to meet you on Saturday and good on you for sitting outside. My biggest envy in Melbourne was the amount of space cafes have- what I wouldn't give for some more seats.

Glenn said...

Great write up Shelagh

A couple of weeks ago I headed home to NZ for a visit and in the 3 years since I last visited there has been an introduction to Cold Drip Filter Brewing as well. This was great to see and some of the coffee I tasted both through this method and also iced through a V60 Fretta were amazing. Such a different in-cup experience than when served hot.

I hope London cafes continue to evolve along different paths. It would be a shame to see them regarded as a chain. Perhaps it's perceived that way due to the variety of roasters, which in London is smaller than in Melbourne, Auckland and other antipodean cities?

Mark E. Johnson said...

Thanks for this post. Fascinating to take a peek in on what's happening elsewhere. To the best of my knowledge, the third wave of coffee hasn't really hit Leeds yet. Starting to think maybe that's not a bad thing! Except that I want to try some of these different methods...

whatIcooked said...

I have posted a couple of not particularily interesting pics of the Georgian but it is worth a check out if in London, sweet interior and a different take on breakfast.

tom g said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tom g said...

lovely review... but I was expecting baby 'bibs'...! not that I'm dissapointed...

those high adjustable aprons (often buttoning at the back rather than with a long tie ) are quite Japanese I believe. I have got one from Muji in Tokyo about 4 years ago. hope all's well. t x

LondonRob said...

Great post - and as a Melbournite it got me to thinking. When I arrived in London in 1999 as much as I loved everything about this city I desperately missed my favourite Melbourne cafes - the Conti in Greville St, Marios in Brunswick St, Il Solito Posto in the City & others. Then finally years later great cafes started popping up in London and now we are spoilt for choice but in the back of my mind I always felt that back in Melbourne it would still be "better", that all these fantastic London places were so good because they were just like what I had missed from Melbourne. What I've realised though is that my favourite London places (of which of course Lantana is one!) are not great copies of cool Melbourne cafes, they are as good if not better alternatives. I feel like such a traitor to my home town even admitting that!

Anonymous said...

I'm perfectly happy with the independents seeming very similar if that is what it takes to get good coffee and antipodean style cafe food across the whole of London.

Speaking of which, has anyone located a good coffee cafe in Kensington/Fulham way yet?

Shelagh Ryan said...

Tom, sounds as though you have the wardrobe if you want to re-start your hospitality career. Lantana awaits your call.

Mark, thanks for stopping by. I'm sure the third wave brew coffee tsunami is on its way.

Rob, I agree- there are now lots of great cafes in London which aren't necessarily better or worse than my favourite Melbourne cafes- just different, and fewer to choose from. But I think that's going to change very very quickly as it seems that I have a new one to visit every week.

Anonymous- West London is notoriously bereft of good cafes. My sister lives in Fulham and when I visit her I go to Local Hero (Climpson coffee I think) on Fulham Rd or Grind, which is over the bridge in Putney- lower Richmond Rd I think. In Kensington there is Kensington Square Kitchen which is not too bad (just near Wholefoods). Coffee Plant on Portobello Rd in Nottinghill used to have good coffee but I haven't had a good one there in a long time- I just go there for people watching now.

mlogue said...

to anonymous:
'Barossa' on New Kings Rd (nr Parsons Green) knock out some pretty mean flat whites, with a great selection of homemade sweet treat, as well as a good brunch/lunch menu.

Jane - Kitchen Stools Direct said...

Awesome coffee post. Came across your blog when looking for cafeterias Down Under, before my trip later this year. Great photographs and a comprehensive list of coffee places. Thanks!

Deborah said...

Come to Brighton, lots of great places here - try red Roaster or metro Deco

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