Bean there, done that? You haven’t earned your caffeinated stripes until you’ve toured Melbourne’s best cafés. Like Seattle and Milan, this is a city obsessed with sourcing the perfect cup of coffee, with baristas roasting, grinding, blending, brewing and pouring as if their beards depended on it (the Victorian gent-meets-outlaw-Ned Kelly look is big here right now – and is also all the rage in Brooklyn’s coffee scene too, according to our NY Smith spies).
Recently we rounded up London’s best afternoon teas for you, and we’ve already debated where to find the best coffee in London. But now, in our tireless quest to track down the ultimate cuppa, we present our insider tips for Melbourne’s top 10 coffee spots. Savour the flavour…
1: Best for coffee geeks It may look like a hi-tech science classroom, but geek-chic Sensory Lab (right), at department store David Jones, is a must for refuelling on exotic single-origin coffees after CBD shopping trips. With Roast Masters ensuring state-of-the-art blends and a fabled Slayer espresso machine at the brew bar, connoisseur’s quality is guaranteed. The sleek design by Hecker Guthrie (cue olive-green panelling, white tiles and hooks for your bags) is just as smart. 297 Little Collins Street, CBD (+61 (0)3 9643 2610)
2: Best for free radicals An anarchic squat party vibe rules at 1000 £ Bend (left), a cavernous hybrid café, gallery and cinema languishing off Little Lonsdale Street. Salvaged sofas and fleamarket finds dot this super-relaxed warehouse pad, ideal for idling away an afternoon. A reincarnation of former laneway favourite St Jerome’s, it dishes up great-value Coffee Supreme coffee, microbrewed beer and tasty nosh, alongside graffiti-art shows, bike festivals and vintage fashion fairs. 361 Little Lonsdale Street, CBD
3: Best for gents about town A satisfying cup of coffee is just one reason to grab a pew at Captains of Industry, off Little Bourke Street, a backlane warehouse space offering a bespoke shoemaker, an old-school barber’s shop and made-to-measure suits, tailormade for the sartorially sussed. Groom up, then wind down with a sandwich, soup or warm salad while taking in the bygone-crafts styling (we love the old shoe lasts, shaving strop and vintage sewing-machine tables). If you can’t get into the Lost & Found pop-up hotel room upstairs, bed down at ace self-catering stay Apartment 401 nearby. Level 1, 2 Somerset Place, CBD (+61 (0)3 9670 4405)
4: Best for coffee tastings Load up on fresh produce at Prahran Market, then pop next door to Market Lane Coffee (right), where the fine art of caffeine consumption is taken seriously. Small-batch coffees are sourced globally, then roasted and served, with special ‘guest coffees’, seasonal blends, gentle pour-over brewing methods and regular public cuppings (tasting sessions). Try a tasting flight of three single-estate coffees if you can’t make your mind up, mopped up with muesli, a pastry, or gourmet bread and jam. A blackboard explains the bewildering coffee family tree if you’re confused. Arty Smith stay The Cullen hotel is just across the road. Shop 13, Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Road (entrance on Elizabeth Street), South Yarra (+61 (0)3 9804 7434)
5: Best for gourmets Named after the patron saint of coffee, and often touted as the city’s best café for serious bean lovers, St Ali (left) also whips up delicious dishes for breakfast and lunch. A hop away from foodie-favourite South Melbourne Market, and attracting a buzzy crowd, its generous high-ceilinged space offers a mix of communal and intimate tables for sipping the good stuff. Come for super-strength Rwandan single-origin espresso, stay for bangers and mash, pizza or minestrone soup. Londoners should check out St Ali’s Clerkenwell outpost. 12–18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne (+61 (0)3 9686 2990); St Ali (UK): 27 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1 (+44 (0)20 7253 5754)
6: Best for brunch Perched under The Prince boutique hotel, St Kilda institution Il Fornaio (left) is the kind of café you’ll want to hang out in all day. Famous for its house-made cakes, pastries and organic, artisan-produced breads, as well as heartier cooked brunch, it’s also a coffee wow. Sit indoors (all industrial concrete and sleek wood, sprinkled with newspapers and mags) or out on the terrace. Just beware of Justin Bieber lurking in the loo (or at least, his cardboard cut-out effigy). 2 Acland Street, St Kilda (+61 (0)3 9534 2922)
7: Best for nature lovers With a seductive setting beside the Yarra River, opposite sculpture-strewn Herring Island, alfresco café Kanteen is a top spot for taking in the more rustic charm of Melbourne while quaffing a creamy Genovese coffee. It’s also handy if you’ve hunkered down at Smith stay Lyall Hotel and Spa in South Yarra a stroll away. Try the muffins, or go savoury with toasted avocado pidé, Spanish eggs or duck salad. 150 Alexandra Avenue, South Yarra (+61 (0)3 9827 0488)
8: Best for global beans Housed in a converted Carlton warehouse near Victoria Market, vast and airy café Seven Seeds (right) is one for aficionados. A glass-walled roasting room at its core is hung with flavour charts and maps showing where its fine beans are grown (snap up own-label, in-season Brazilian beans to take home). Black pour-over coffees allow you to taste the subtleties, but skinny latte junkies are well catered for too. We like the indoor garden, bicycle racks on walls and army-salvage ammo cases used to stash cutlery. 114 Berkeley Street, Carlton (+61 (0)3 9347 8664)
9: Best for local buzz Serving up seriously smooth coffee, neighbourhood favourite Proud Mary in inner-north Collingwood is a must if you’re checking out grunge-gone-gourmet Smith Street nearby. With coffee sourced direct from growers in Central and South America, but roasted in Melbourne, you’ll be licking your lips. The food’s no slouch, either, with top tip ricotta hot cakes with baked figs. The raw stripped-back space is deservedly popular, with punters spilling out onto streetside tables at peak times. 172 Oxford Street, Collingwood (+61 (0)3 9417 5930)
10: Best for pavement posing Bringing low-key style to gentrifying northern hip-strip Gertrude Street, De Clieu (left) is the latest venture from the crew behind Seven Seeds (see above) and inner-city coffee bolthole Brother Baba Budan. The cosy Six Degrees-designed space sports sleek pendant lights, a fireplace and recycled timber benches, including window-ledge spots outside for people-watching. If the daily single-origin brew has left you craving more, buy choice beans to go. Hot-pressed sandwiches and cakes will also put a smile on your dial. 187 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy (+61 (0)3 9416 4661)
Melbourne’s best cafés are a hot topic (it’s lattes at dawn in chat-duels on coffee sites such as Beanhunter, Melbourne Coffee Review and Espresso Melbourne), so expect more Smith tips on cool coffee spots down under soon...