You could say Melbourne has always been a city obsessed with coffee, although all the other capital cities in Australia have now probably caught up or are doing so fast.
For a long time Melbourne has enjoyed its reputation as the ‘coffee capital’ of Australia.
Visitors revel in the choice of cafe’s in the city, which abound in European feel cobbled laneways, along its expansive boulevards, in galleries, markets and parks as well as unique and special hidden places.
From city centre to outer urban sprawl, anywhere there is a group of shops servicing a local community you will find at least one coffee outlet of some sort.
They are open from 6am in the morning when it is still dark and until 4pm at least, they are packed with people enjoying the legal drug of their choice, caffeine.
We have high expectations about what constitutes a good coffee in Australia. Our love for the rich full round beverage brought forth from humble coffee bean knows no bounds.
It is also, for many people, directly linked to an Aussies love for Italy, especially its capital Rome and the cities of Tuscany and Umbria in particular.
This is where many baby boomers’s travelled between the 60’s and the 90’s embracing all of its culinary expertise, including coffee with lots of white froth on the top.
My first was taken in a sidewalk café on the Via Veneto iat Rome and it is etched indelibly into my memory.
It would be fair to say that since the advent of the 90’s we may have also become a nation of coffee snobs. Nowadays we are fussy about the beans we choose, demanding to know if they are freshly and slowly roasted on a daily basis.
We want to be reassured that they have been stored correctly in a manner that protects the beans from light, heat and moisture, as well as packed and distributed in air-locked bags or tins.
We need to also understand that the distributor we are buying from upholds the very highest standards, supporting the Rainforest Alliance sustainable coffee program, ensuring the beans we buy have the seal of this coalition of leading environmental organisations.
Before I came to Melbourne I lived in Brisbane where the coffee culture was rapidly expanding.
In 2012 Merlo Coffee in downtown Brisbane won Australia’s biggest people’s choice ‘I Love FOOD Award. Their devoted followers voted to get their favourite coffee supplier across the line.
I know a little about Merlo, because during the decade I lived in Brisbane from 1999 – 2009 I watched them grow and develop into the successful popular dispensers of the fabulous fresh, rich coffee they distribute and prepare today.
Gino Merlo migrated to Australia from Italy during the 1950’s, where his father had owned a trattoria in Tirano, which is a Lombardian town protected by ancient walls in northern Italy. It’s nearby the Swiss border where tourists and skiers board the Rhaetian railway to access various ski areas via the Bernina Pass and so coffee goes down well there.
Gino brought with him an Italian espresso machine and developed his own Private Blend, which is still a bestseller today. In 1992 his son Dean took over the coffee shop and Torrefazione in Fortitude Valley, where Gino would roast and sell his own selection of coffee beans. Now regular connoisseurs tastings are part and parcel of a business that boasts five Torrefaziones and 10 Bar Merlo’s. As well, their best blends can be found in all the best café’s and restaurants across Australia.
It doesn’t matter what time of the day you visit Merlo in the Valley today it is always packed with people, these days enjoying a free cup of the brew of their choice, while they wait for their own bespoke blend to be ground just the way they like it, or alternative choose from the fabulous array of bean choices on display
Fearing I may have been freaking out without my Merlo fix when I first came to Melbourne my youngest son, who lives in Brizzie brought me the ultimate gift when visiting not long after, a tin of Merlo’s gourmet beans.
Coffee drinking has grown phenomenally in this country because it provides a place point where a majority of people can meet their peers on a level playing field without it costing an arm and a leg. Our cafe society suits our lifestyle, which is very similar to Italy’s where everyone enjoys to dine outdoors.
Our expectations are high, in such a place where architects rub shoulders with tradies, corporate execs meet today’s young business entrepreneurs, who use café’s as a meeting place and sometimes as a board room, while guys and gals meet their pals in a relaxed and friendly ambiance.
Coffee is all about the atmosphere, it’s also about people watching and enjoying a cultural and social experience that we can all share.
Woops, better rush, it’s time for me to dash down the hill to Coffee Darling and fetch myself one of Bill’s great brews to start my day. The Barista matters!
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013