This really ought to be titled five hundred cups of coffee in Melbourne, but I’ll try to narrow it down. I spent quite a bit of time tracking down cafes in Melbourne. And, honestly, that is no small feat. Melburnians looooovvveeeeee their barista-made coffee so it seems like there is always something popping up. Plenty of these cafes are tucked away in the Melbourne Laneways, a vast network of some of the city’s most exciting places.
On my last day in Melbourne (this time…) I went on a Hidden Secrets Cafe Culture tour. Katie had recommended I do the Progressive Degustation tour but it’s booked solid. Instead, I opted for the coffee one – perfect for the morning before a long train+bus ride.
Where did we go? What did we talk about? Which cafe had my favourite atmosphere? Best coffee? (<not gonna answer that one ;))
Hidden Secrets tour: coffee in Melbourne
I met my group in front of the bookshop and got to know my guide, Caity, and my fellow coffee enthusiasts: two businessmen from Japan, a Swiss-English couple, and their Australian friend. One we were gathered, Caity immediately started talking about coffee in Melbourne. We learned how coffee came to Melbourne via the Italian labourers, about the oldest espresso machine in town, and how the cafes progressed from comfy places with couches to the austere, standing room only places that they are now.
If you’re planning on visiting Melbourne, I highly recommend the Hidden Secrets tour. I’m hoping to go on the degustation one as well, so I’ll let you know if I do.
We began our tour in the Italian district, and ended in the business district. Caity not only had brilliant insight into the history of Melbourne (talking about the old markets, for example) but also knows a hell of a lot about the Monaco honorary consulate, because the consul chats to her. If you’re ever in Melbourne, you must track this irresistible piece of architecture down and see it. Caity also helpfully pointed out some bars for me to visit on my return to Melbourne while simultaneously relating it to the coffee scene in Melbourne. Other perks of the Hidden Secrets Tours? Chocolate tasting, macarons, and lunch inside a barber shop.
The first three cafes listed below were introduced to me on that tour. The other two are ones I found on my sojourns out into places like Fitzroy and Saint Kilda. I’ll be staying in Fitzroy on my next trip into Melbourne, so I will let you know what else I find 😉
You could be forgiven for literally walking right past this alley and not noticing the tiny storefront window of Patricia. Hell, you could walk halfway down the alley and not see it, like we did on our tour. Caity stopped us a hundred metres away and asked if we knew why she’d brought us here. It wasn’t for the old domed building in front of us (the old judiciary building with an interesting architectural layout)… no, it was the cafe that we couldn’t see. When we got closer, however, it was evident that there was something magical there. There were people sitting on black milk crates in the alley, and a line snaked out the doorway of Patricia.
Inside, a sign listed their coffees: black, white, or filter. No fancy stuff, no five ways to customise. Just simple coffee. Except that their filter coffee is famous, and that was what I tasted. I’m used to French press coffee, or espresso, not the watery, lightly-coloured coffee that was handed to me. But it was delicious and fragrant, and I could see immediately why this place is so popular. The owner Bowen was just as busy as the rest of the staff, but took a second to speak with us and welcome us to his shop.
While Patricia isn’t a place to go and hang out – as noted earlier, the coffee culture in Melbourne has transitioned away from that place to take your laptop – it is certainly a meeting point for friends and a great place to stop into on a morning tea break.
Little Bourke Street & Little William Street, Melbourne
This tiny cafe is on the ground floor of a very modern building, yet there is no indication of what that building is. Caity directed our attention to the flagpole at the top and someone guessed correctly that the building is the Monaco Consulate. The consul, Andrew, designed and built a mini building in a very tiny space next to one of the oldest walls in Melbourne – a delightful contrast if you see it.
Liaison is more a traditional cafe, with tables, pastries, and more; we had coffee and some sweets before moving on. My soy latte was nice and hot, the milk was foamed perfectly, and the balance of espresso to milk was good (this is important!). The sweets we had were all yummy, and if you’re vegan/dairy free/gluten free, they have something for you too.
There are some outside tables next to the welcome garden (a very tiny garden to go with a very tiny house) but again, this is certainly a place that you could be forgiven for walking right past.
22 Ridgway Place, Melbourne
Tucked away in an alley in the Italian District, The Traveller is across from at least three other cafes. It is similar to Patricia in the sense that its designed more for people to come in, have an espresso, and leave again. This was where Caity first mentioned the way that cafes in Melbourne had gone – from the comfy chairs of the corner cafes to the counter-top cafe styles of Italy.
We didn’t stop for a coffee here, but it’s on my list of places to go back to. Judging by the line and the number of people standing around sipping lattes, it’s a popular place.
2/14 Crossley Street, Melbourne
The day I went to Fitzroy it was jam-packed with people and it was tricky for me to find a cafe where I could sit with my computer for a bit. Then I passed Stagger Lee’s. Their website does a not-so-great job at portraying the feel of this place, because in the mornings it’s not a wild, raging bar. The long community tables are loaded with giant coffee drips, exotic plants, lifestyle magazines. The wall behind the bar is full of wine bottles, the side walls open to create a flawless indoor-outdoor space. In all, it’s a typical hipster-area cafe with a real industrial-chic feel. The pastry cabinet was full of yummy looking treats and the coffee was delicious. I had two, actually. And (a huge bonus as a traveller with a computer) I never felt rushed. (Thanks!)
276 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Fitzrovia was my go-to cafe in St Kilda when I was staying down the street. The staff was super friendly, there’s free wifi, and both the coffee and the food were delicious. My favourite place to sit was in the community table across from the counter but the space is deceptively big – there’s a large upstairs dining space and outdoor sidewalk seating. The food is traditional cafe fare – think eggs benny, sandwiches, etc – and you can get whatever kind of coffee you prefer.
2/155 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Melbourne is a city of cafes, from the main street front chains to the tiny, unseen alley ones populated by businessmen, tourists, & students. The baristas in Melbourne take their coffee seriously. Expect coffee roasted to perfection, shots with the right amount of crema, milk foamed the right way (and not burnt), and even some cute latte art if that’s what you’re into.
I hope this list has given you a few great ideas for places to enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee or a quick pick-me-up on your way to the office.
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