Melbourne Coffee Story Part 2 #melbournecoffeestory

Italians love everything fast, thick and intense. Look at their food: pizza, pasta rich in sauce; their cars, mostly red, leather, speedy; their drinks: wine, coffee, strong, syrupy! I'm pretty sure "sugo" (sauce in Italian) was the original natural MSG. Ferraris and coffee alike everything imported from Italy seem to be big, bold, and....beautiful.

Espresso, brought to Melbourne in the 1950s, is consummately Italian: a colloidal suspension of oil and water, an emulsion both beautiful and ugly. I've always considered espresso to be a romantic coffee experience, whereas filter and drip coffee is more elegant, reflective. 

It isn't only the Italians however who love their coffee in Melbourne. In 2009 the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle denounced Melbourne's coffee as overrated in an interview with Melbourne Magazine. The was no minor uproar! Of Mr Doyle MM wrote,

"'The city's coffee connoisseurs are overreacting', he says. Measuring out their lives with coffee spoons, no less. "I think they're very serious about their coffee and that's great, but let me enjoy my tea Coffee is coffee — it's not life or death....Melbourne is a sophisticated, cool, smart city and coffee is part of that, but it's only part of it. It's only coffee. I think in all of our lives we should strive for a balance, and if coffee is taking up that much of your life, maybe you should look for a few other things as well."

"It's only coffee?!!!" I hear you say? So when did Melbourne's protective, zealous love affair with coffee begin? And where?

It's clear from historical records that post WWII immigrants first opened and begun the first espresso bars in Melbourne. However there is great debate as to the first espresso machine in Melbourne (many claim to be the first). 

According to Andrew May author of, ''Espresso Melbourne Coffee Stories''

This is the tantalising question and Melbourne is full of this urban folklore about who had the first espresso coffee machine... I don’t think we’ll ever know with any certainty who had the first coffee machine and it depends on what we mean by the first machine. There was certainly some Italian families in Carlton in the early 1950s who brought in their own individual domestic coffee machines which they may have set up in a grocery in the back room but we couldn’t call them kind of commercial operations so we could say that some families had the first machines now this is just from family folklore and stories and photographs so it’s difficult to establish when precisely they came. (ABC TV, Can we help you?)

                         Luigi Bezzera

                         Luigi Bezzera

Earliest cafes in Melbourne with working "espresso" machines were: 

  • 1850s   - Stove top "espressos" served to                     street workers.

  • 1930s   - Italian restaurants and kitchens                     had Luigi Bezzera's precursor                         to espresso which looked more like               a hot water service.

  • 1954    - Università Café in Lygon Street,                    Carlton.

  • 1954    - Pellegrini’s in Bourke Street.

  •            - up to 60s... 

    • Mario's in Brunswick

    • Sidewalk Café, St Kilda

    • Mirka's Café , St Kilda

    • The Galleon, St Kilda

The 70s, 80s and 90s saw a proliferation and expansion of these coffee bars and cafes. One of the most significant changes over the decades in my opionion is the behaviour of consumers. There has been a move from coffee as a physiological need (one that satisfies hinger, thirst and caffeine), to a social and now self-actualisation need. I mentioned in an earlier post that social etiquette in the nineties and noughties seem to require an "over coffee" context. The number of cafes exploded, and the differentiation of those cafes surged in a colourful array of market segments: there were carpark cafes, rooftop cafes, french themed cafes, and of course specialty cafes. I think it was this last and more recent  where specialty coffee began and moved to take commonplace. 

No longer was espresso and filter coffee a physiological need, nor a social need, it was about experience, atmosphere, and identity. The cafe people aligned themselves with gave them a sense of self-worth, identity and serenity. Coffee was more balanced, nuanced, delicious, consistent, branded, prolific, important, personal, valuable - and people made strong personal connection with their roaster, their barista like never before. It became a codependent, (or should I say symbiotic relationship!) Farmers were benefiting from direct trade relationships and more profit. Those profits were being passed on to pickers who are more inclined to pick the ripe cherries - uniformity is critical in specialty coffee production - and even more to biodynamic coffee farming. This resulted in more delicious coffee that enabled roasters and cafes to charge a little more and customers to be educated. 

This third wave renaissance of specialty coffee, founded on a strong Italian espresso heritage has made Melbourne the coffee capital of the world. Don't take it from me: 

Stephen Leighton of Has Bean coffee in Stafford, England said at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo 2013 ''When you talk about cities for drinking coffee,'' says , ''people talk about Portland, people talk about London, people talk about Melbourne. They're the three places that get mentioned regularly as great coffee cities.'' 1

CNN - ''"The coffee culture in Melbourne is just incredible," says reigning World Barista Champion Pete Licata, from the United States.Coffee is such an integral part of the Melbourne lifestyle that the city even hosts an annual coffee expo.''

2014 - "MELBOURNE has beaten Rome, Vienna and Sydney in being judged to have the best coffee in the world. Travel website surveyed more than 1000 of its users from around the world and found Melbourne was well and truly on top when it comes to coffee" (8 of the world's great coffee cities) 

What's most exciting about the #melbournecoffeestory is that it's only just begun! I believe we are in a forth and most excellent progression of specialty coffee in Melbourne. Stay tuned in coming weeks for Part 3 and 4 of the journey...