If you are like Kati and I, you cannot start your day without coffee. While Kati likes the fancier types, I like mine strong and black. No crème. No sugar. And I drink between 3 and 4 cups to get me started. We grind our own beans. We typically utilize the pour-over method at home and the French Press method when camping. We love the rich bold taste. When we are traveling, I cannot get started without a cup or two. Every city, town or campsite, coffee is a main consideration in the morning. While New York has things like pizza and Paris has fresh croissants and baguettes, Melbourne, Australia has coffee. For people who haven’t been to the country, the coffee culture is an absolutely huge part of Australian culture. So much so that other cities around the world advertise having baristas and brewing techniques from Australia. And while the country as a whole loves its coffee, the center of all that coffee-loving is Melbourne. So, what are the best cafés and coffees in Melbourne?
While coffee culture existed in major European cities of the 18th and 19th century, it wasn’t until the 1980s and peaking in the 90s that Aussie coffee became as huge as it is today. After the second world war, Australia saw a massive influx of Italian immigrants, and with them came their refined brewing techniques for coffee. Things “espresso” and “mocha” soon entered the Australian zeitgeist and by the 1950s Italian coffee shops and cafés became a staple of major Australian cities. It’s not to say coffee didn’t exist before, but it was simply redefined from the 50s onward.
What makes Australian coffee so distinct from its other counterparts? While North American coffee typically looks to South America for its beans, Australian coffee is investing more into African and even Asian sourced beans with Ethiopia being one of the biggest bean producers for the Australian market. Not only that, but while North Americans typically will have drip coffee, rarely in Australia will anyone order just “a coffee”. Styles of coffee like the “flat white” or “long black” being ironically Aussie ways of drinking coffee. With that in mind, here are some of the best places in Melbourne to grab a cup.
Everyday Coffee Midtown
Located right in the middle of the downtown area, Everyday Coffee Midtown might seem like the destination for many of Melbourne’s business folk but that doesn’t mean they don’t brew a great cup of coffee. The shop is designed in a minimalist way that is ideal for those looking to get a coffee and hit the street (or make it back to the office), but there is also sitting room available for those who want to wrap their fingers around their classic diner-style mugs. What sets Everyday Coffee Midtown apart from others is that they roast their own beans in their Melbourne warehouse, so their product is freshly roasted daily. They also offer a 50¢ discount if you bring your own mug. On top of all that, even their priciest coffee will only set you back $5.
Axil Coffee Roaster
Coffee has been consumed forever but it is only in recent years that serious coffee aficionados will go to the great lengths to get the best ethically sourced beans. The people at Axil Coffee Roaster are all about that. The staff here is friendly and knowledgeable with a priority set on environmentally sustainable coffee coming from single-sourced origins. That means the coffee selection is on a daily rotation basis meaning there’s always something new and seasonal and they even roast their own coffee in Hawthorn. Axil Coffee Roaster has a few locations around town but all they all serve some excellent coffee.
The coffee game in Melbourne is a big deal and the competition is fierce so coffee purveyors are always trying to come up with new and innovative ways to harvest, roast, and brew coffee. On the surface, Gold Drops is a classic Italian-style coffee shop but it is also one of the most original coffee shops in the city offering something that other places don’t; “natural coffee”. What is “natural coffee” you might ask? Well, while other cafes might buy pre-roasted or the harvested bean and roast it themselves, what Gold Drop does is they buy the bean with the coffee cherry still on them.
What you get is a totally different coffee experience with the flavors being more fruity and adding milk to their espressos only alters the taste even more. Their “natural coffee” isn’t necessarily for everyone and can be a heady experience but for the big coffee lovers out there looking for something new to try, this is it. They’re the only place in the city offering “natural coffee”.
Degraves Espresso Bar
It’s hip, it’s cool, and it’s located right in the middle of the city. Serving simple and uncomplicated food and espresso, Degraves Espresso Bar is the place to go to grab an amazing coffee, freshly made breakfast, and do a little people watching. The place can get busy and with its little space, it is not uncommon to see patrons just spilling out onto the street outside. Degraves Espresso Bar has been around for decades and vaguely resembles the type of café you might find in Paris. Tucked between giant skyscrapers and people in business suits shuffling by, you can find respite at Degraves Espresso Bar.
Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar
No list of the best coffees in Melbourne would be complete without mentioning the iconic Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar. The café is practically the home of Australian coffee and is even listed in the National Trust of Australia. The café is on Bourke Street and the destination is iconic for coffee lovers and even the average Melbournian. The café opened in 1954 by brothers Leo and Vildo Pellegrini who were migrants from Italy. The two brothers upon arriving in Australia worked in a nearby restaurant, Florentino’s (which is iconic in its own right), and soon after opened their own café.
Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar alleges that they were the first coffee shop in Australia to have an Italian espresso machine and serve espressos. Although originally a tiny set-up the cafe expanded and in the 1970s was sold to Nino Pangrazio and Sisto Malaspina, who were also Italian immigrants. Unfortunately, Sisto Malaspina was killed in the 2018 Melbourne stabbing attack which led to an outpouring of grief from locals who regarded Sisto as a Victorian icon. Malaspina was given a state funeral and in the 60 plus years that Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar has been opened, the menu has barely changed.
ST ALi is one of the third-wave Melbourne coffee purveyor originals. While other places were still buying pre-roasted coffee grounds, ST ALi was roasting beans themselves. Now all the who’s who of the coffee landscape in the city are doing it. ST ALi is an all-day hot spot and it’s one of the best-known coffee spots in the city, even going so far as having their own licensed merchandise. While the space itself might seem a little barebones, you’re really here for the coffee first and the atmosphere second. The warehouse looking dining area seating both private and communal tables so you can sit alone and people or try your hand at making some new friends.
Their blends of coffee come from organic producers and they serve both hot and cold-pressed coffee. For a real taste of ST ALi’s best try out their “coffee adventure” which serves six different types of coffee. Think of it as like a beer or whisky flight, only you’ll be awake forever.
Located in the eclectic and bohemian-artsy neighborhood of Fitzroy, Black Cat is another true Melbournian coffee institution. Black Cat is a staple in the neighborhood having been here since 1985 and opened by three friends and coffee lovers. Black Cat is one of those places that as soon as you walk in you’ll just know the people here know their coffee. The cool and laid back vibe of the dining area is set with drooping vines, green plants, and neon lights. While their outdoor seating area is a perfect stop-over and place to chill. Black Cat also sort of turns itself into a bar at night so while you can get a cup of coffee for your mornings or afternoon, come back again in the evening and get a taste for the local craft beers.
Melbourne might be a coffee lover’s dream destination but no doubt, sometimes you just want to have a coffee. No frills, just a good coffee. Patricia is there for those people. Somehow being both busy and laid back, the service you’ll get here is one that is so familiar to the coffee lovers of Melbourne while also being familiar to those who just need a caffeine hit and to carry on with their day.
The baristas at Patricia are speedy and quick running churning out high-quality coffees at rates comparable to fast food places. Like any good Melbourne coffee shop, however, it’s the beans that are the star of the show so while you’re ordering you’ll be given the rundown of the tasting notes and blends currently being offered. With its plain white walls and a couple of flowers sitting on the window sills, Patricia’s is unpretentious. There’s only one cup size, it costs 4$ and their beans are locally sourced. Pick up one of their peanut butter cookies while you’re here too.
If Patricia’s is an unpretentious and quaint café, then Industry Beans is the opposite of that. Another one of Melbourne’s most prized coffee institutions, Industry Beans is not only a café but it is a whole complex of coffee and caffeine-induced glory. Located in the Fitzroy neighborhood, the warehouse complex has a standard dining area where patrons can get their flat-whites and lattes but they also have their own roastery on-site so the beans take a mere 2-minute walk before they go from being roasted to being turned into coffee.
But that’s not all, Industry Beans also has a “tasting lab” upstairs and even a training area for baristas. Learn the ins and outs of coffee making the Australian way or indulge in their breakfast and food options which are just as delectable as their coffees.
Despite its perhaps odd name, ACOFFEE is an award-winning café in Collingwood. Simplicity is the name of the game here. Trying to perfect a hundred things is never as good as mastering a few things and that’s what ACOFFEE has done. Everything from the space and décor of the café to the coffee they serve itself is rooted in simplicity. Your options here are limited as the focus here is what is in the cup. There’s a house blend that features beans from nearby roasters which are featured in their black or white espresso drinks. There’s also a pour-over option, cold brew, and matcha on the menu. ACOFFEE tends to also go lightly on their roasts in order to preserve the flavor complexity.
Little League might not constitute a “café” per se as their space is barely a little more than two shipping containers and some AstroTurf. But that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a mean coffee. Their Queen Victoria Square location is hard to miss as they usually have lineups but the service is quick and the coffee is always delicious. With cups only coasting as low as 4$ you’re limited options are filtered, pour-over, or cold drip as well as a few steamed milk classics.
Among many of the gifts that Australia might have given the world, coffee is among one of the best. But it is important to understand where the culture came from and how it got to where it is today. The story of coffee culture in Australia is the story of immigrants, environments, and a love for the beans that is not always found elsewhere in the world. Melbourne is truly the coffee lovers’ paradise.
Well, I see that my coffee has been brewed. Time for another cup.
What are some of the places where you have had a great cup of coffee?
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