Is Melbourne’s coffee really the best in the world?

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By Mantis Kane

My first experience of a Melbourne cafe was drama filled. Fresh off the boat and wet behind the ears, I ordered my first coffee in Melbourne. “A coffee please”, I said to the barista, ignorant to the expansive drop down menu of sub genres and complex lingo. Having been brought up in England, I was accustomed to the binary nature of ordering a drink: tea or coffee, the only variable being the amount of sugar added. Up until Starbucks tampered with the British palette, granulated coffee ruled. No thrills, no creme, no artwork, no turmeric infusion, no babyccino, no matcha lattes. Simple granules, bitter little black granules, the industry’s innovative streak stalling at wartime rationing. Dystopian coffee – just add boil water and start dunking.

Little did I realise my faux pas at the cafe counter. There I stood, a culinary dunce in a land of connoisseurs, committing a blunder equivalent to asking for tomato sauce at Nobu. When condescendingly quizzed again by the barista, I retorted, repeating my order in the slow sarcastic tempo of a teacher addressing a slow kid: “A  c o f f e e   p l e a s e “.

By the third round, things had become heated. Whilst not in my nature, this chap seemed to be coaxing some latent hooliganism the British are infamous for. Did he want to spark some soccer-style blitz and have his cafe re-designed into an abattoir of human butchery?  Plus I didn’t like his waist-jacket and monocle, he looked a Victorian watch maker with an attitude problem. We eyeballed each other, hatred simmering. Fellow customers had sensed the tension and fallen silent, bracing themselves for a Tarantino-style bloodbath.

Fast forward ten years and I’ve become a fully formed coffee twat. I sneer at people who order weak milky cappuccinos (lower class citizens, bah). I will judge you by your caffeine content (an insight into the soul). I choose my friends according to their bean fanaticism (the more they know about Bolivian fair trade bean roasting techniques, the closer I’ll let them in). If you are a pour over filter freak then you may sit at my table. I too now dress like a Victorian throwback; a moustache tweaked to the tension of a well tuned violin. And my hormonal cycle is synchronised with the Columbian cherry harvest.

This is my perception of the upper echelon of coffee snob, so endemic to Melbourne. These coffee aficionados are self-professed artisans-cum-rock stars. It’s fair to say Melburnians have an obsession bordering on absurd. A caffeine rush is a caffeine rush – it won’t leaving you punching the sky and gunning for five hours. At best, it will make you slightly more alert and will satisfy a craving – at worst, it’ll lock your jaw up, cause halitosis and make you incontinent. But irrational obsessions are rife and pretensions are high.

I asked two of St Kilda’s coffee experts to debunk or validate a few myths.

 

Leonardo, international bean trader.

Does Melbourne produce the best coffee?

Melbourne in fact doesn’t produce any coffee – it’s all imported.

And how much does the manufacturing process contribute to the quality – is there an art to it?

The bean is key – they’d be no major coffee industry without South America and Africa. The harvesting, processing, drying and roasting are all arts best done at source. There are decent roasting houses in Australia, but where you guys excel is in serving it – and bragging about how good your Ethiopian beans are!

So it’s a miscomprehension that Melburnians are best at coffee?

Yes. It’s like saying Tasmanians are the world’s best lovers, just because they watch a lot of porn.

 

Jamie, Barkly St Barista

The latte froth pattern – do baristas use it as a diversion tactic for shit coffee?

The latte pattern – or Latte ‘Art’ as it ’s known in the biz – has been disguising shit coffee since the late 90s. Apparently we now drink coffee with our eyes. Call me old fashioned, but I still drink it orally.

 Do you judge people if they order a weak decaffeinated milky latte?

It’s not my job to ‘judge’ you based on your coffee preference. I will however, hate you.

 Can the barista fuck up a really good bean with shoddy workmanship?

Honestly, it’s probably 50-50, barista to bean. So a bad bean means about half as good coffee, that’s providing the barista is operating at 100%. It’s simple maths.

And can they polish a turd (bad bean)?

No, but they can glitter it with chocolate – and add a dyslexic love heart in the name of Latte Art. 

 

So there, you have it: we are not the best in the world at coffee. We don’t even grow any, and are as susceptible to fads as others.

And in case you were wondering how my standoff with the barista ended ten years ago, here’s what happened. Just as I was about to change my order to an Earl Grey, my friend jumped in and recommended a latte.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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