Best Cafes of Melbourne 2011

Proud Mary_Cup_webWhen we started up, and we’re just about to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we floated the [then slightly sacrilegious] notion that Melbourne might not, after all, be Australia’s coffee capital – in fact the things that were happening in the Sydney coffee scene were rather leaving Melbourne in the shade. Since then, however, coffee in Australia has taken many leaps forward and we’ve enjoyed riding the wave as coffee in Melbourne, in particular, has surged forward.

We have recently concluded a coffee-hopping trip [including the erstwhile capital of modern world espresso - Seattle] and we now firmly believe that Melbourne takes its place – not just as Australia’s but pretty much the world’s, coffee capital – and as you’ve probably guessed, we don’t make that sort of statement lightly!

However, coffee has got to such a stage in Melbourne, that there may not be much further you can go with espresso. The ‘third wave’ in coffee has seen more emphasis on brewing with different methods – syphon, pour-over, chemex, french press and clover – to the extent that some roasts are optimised for these brewing methods & may actually not be quite so good for espresso… a quandary that probably no other city in Australia may be experiencing.

This leads us to a second point, this review was done on the basis of espresso coffee. Many of Melbourne’s top cafes & espresso bars are actively experimenting with the delicate intricacies of single origin coffees, which can be best explored by non-espresso brewing methods – syphon being foremost amongst these – hence perhaps, the absence of a couple of the better known ‘big names’ in this review… of course, the ultimate is both – great choice in syphon and the perfect espresso!!


Proud Mary_web1. Proud Mary
172 Oxford Street

Still relatively new on the scene, and rated no. 5 in our Best Cafes of Melbourne last year, Nolan Hirte and the team at Proud Mary have continued to push the boundaries and the results are stunning. With their custom-made, 6-group Synesso purring like a stretch-limo on the counter, Proud Mary is full-throttle coffee at its very best. Now roasting off-site, they offer their own blends (in addition to 5 Senses) and single origins available from the Synesso but for the more fastidious coffee-connoisseur, or
those wanting to audition their taste-buds, Nolan also roasts more exclusive coffees especially for the syphon bar, clover and other slow brew methods.

Whilst one of the earliest protagonists of the 3rd wave, Nolan continues to maintain a strong focus on offering single origins and blends optimised for espresso as well as exploring nuanced roasting for alternative brewing. The Kenyan ‘Gethumbwini’ Peaberry was the show-stopper with a luscious citrus acidity, blackcurrant notes and a creamy mouthfeel… distinctive and delicious.

When it comes to commitment in everything they do and an enthusiasm to share their knowledge, Proud Mary gets the number 1 podium spot from us and exceeds the already lofty benchmark for coffee excellence in Melbourne.


Dukes_web2. Dukes Coffee Roasters
169 Chapel Street

There is a certain element of fate when it comes to opening up a new business, especially a cafe in the already over-caffeinated Melbourne. For owner Peter Frangoulis, Dukes is one of those places that was simply ‘meant to be’; originally the cafe was to be located at the Duke and Orr dock at South Wharf, giving rise to the name ‘Dukes’. Although securing the location fell through, Peter had already become attached to the name and so, launching forth in search of premises, as fate would have it they landed in Windsor, up the road from the Duke of Windsor Hotel and across the road from Duke Street.

Using only single estate or co-op beans, roasting is in-house with a 15kg Joper. They also roast smaller batches (on a US Roaster Corp 1lb sample roaster) which are used for filter coffees, Syphon and French Press. Their house espresso maintains a base of Brazilian natural processed coffee; when we visited it was blended with a high grade Kenyan, a single estate El Salvador and an Indonesian from Aceh – with a deliciously sweet choc-nut flavour and notes of caramel and spice, it packed a punch with a creamy finish leaving us wanting more; the Ethiopian Guji offered the aroma of jellybeans that gave way to flavours of tropical fruit and apricot acidity. The name was perhaps an omen – that it was meant to be – that was 2 years ago and today Dukes Coffee Roasters is a buzzing showcase of great coffee.


Axil_web3. Axil Coffee Roasters
322 Burwood Road

In botanical terms, the axil of a plant is the point at which a leaf or stem springs out of the branch from which it grows. Perhaps, this also symbolises David Makin’s development and growth from the fold that is the Melbourne coffee scene. David (ex Australian Barista Champion and silver medalist in the 2008 World Barista Championships) along with his partner Zoe Delany, also a noted barista, have recently opened a showcase cafe at the roastery site on busy Burwood Road in Hawthorn.

Not one for hiding his light under the metaphorical bushel, David is often the one to greet you as you enter the cavernous warehouse cafe space – it’s bold, vast and strikingly decorated in black, definitely a statement by design. The botanical reference continues as the spacious seating area is separated from the ordering counter by a suspended trestle holding terracotta potted ferns. The single origin Tanzanian impressed the most – offering aromas of marzipan and almond, there was citrus acidity on first sip, with a delicious creamy mid-palate, good acidity at back of mouth and a nice silky finish. This is a hot house for coffee excellence and they demonstrate their passion for espresso with outstanding coffee and great service, and their almost
unheard-of leap directly to no. 3 position in Melbourne’s Best Cafes.


Deadman_web4. Dead Man Espresso
35 Market Street
South Melbourne

Warm and inviting, with large windows and a stylish timber decor, this funky cafe seems somewhat at odds with its name. ‘Dead Man’ I’m told, is a reference to the gold rush times of the 1850’s when this area of South Melbourne was a dangerous place with men being murdered for their spoils. It is perhaps a reflection of the current dynamism of the Melbourne coffee scene that these guys, having only been open a little over a year, have already lost their tag of ‘new kids on the block’. With a little help from their friends [including chef Nitish Kissoondhery], owners Luke Mutton and his wife Kylie Mackinlay are using their considerable collective experience and putting it into a well crafted combination of food, ambience and of course, coffee.

Both former baristi, they have maintained a close association with Mark Dundon from St Ali days, so it’s not surprising that the coffee here is roasted by Seven Seeds. At the time of our visit, their house blend was comprised of Brazilian Fazenda Do Sertao pulped natural yellow bourbon, Fazenda Ambiental natural bourbon and a Colombian microlot Los Idaos – lovely almond tones with a caramel sweetness and a long chocolate finish.

We’d say it’s ‘to die for’ but we suspect they may be hoping you want to come back!


MonkBD_web5. Monk Bodhi Dharma
202 Carlisle Street

By repute, Bodhi Dharma was a Buddhist monk who lived during the 5th/6th century and is traditionally credited as the leading patriarch and transmitter of Zen, and if it wasn’t for the banging tunes coming from the Bose speakers you could be forgiven
for thinking that you’d entered into a temple – the contented cogniscenti happily gaze into their lattes, quietly contemplating the ‘god shot’ required to produce such an ethereal beverage.

Dark timbers and cosy tables further reinforce this image, as do the long haired, bearded baristi, circling silently behind the coffee machines – who are surely the prophets of the modern era. Certainly, it almost takes a pilgrimage just to find the place, hidden away as it is among the confines of a disused alley, but the faithful few are rewarded for their efforts with superbly crafted coffee, roasted mostly in-house.

We tried the Nicaruagan Cup of Excellence offering a nose of roasted figs, the palate syrupy with lemon and sour cherry flavours predominating. The house blend was rich and creamy with a nose of almonds, dates and sweet flavours of sticky date pudding on the palate. Zen and the art of coffee roasting.




Judges_webOur sincere thanks to our judges: Andreas Martinu, Patrick Sloane, Kris Wood & Mel Caia; for more on methodology & judges’ backgrounds go to the Forum

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