Melbourne Cafe Review: St. ALi

St ALi is an old skool member of the Melbourne specialty coffee fraternity, from what I can gather, anyway. The guy who started Seven Seeds did so after selling St ALi. It’s all pretty connected, but St. ALi is, if not the father of the scene, the uncle… Because it predates hipsters, I’d say its milieu is grungy, whatever you want to call it, it’s got character in spades. Nooks and crannies around an old shed/warehouse have been converted into dining spaces, the chairs are essentially found objects, old chairs, and planks of wood. It’s eclectic and classy. And it is famous for its coffee – in particular, the Champions Blend.

Like a bunch of other specialty coffee places, part of St ALi’s charter seems to be educating consumers so that they’ll enjoy the coffee experience a little bit more. The waitress was able to tell us a little bit more than average about the single origins they had on offer.

The coffee was pretty charming too, my flat white on the single origin Colombian La Pradera, carried the promised apple flavours through from the first sip to the aftertaste. It was light and bright.

The Champions Blend was pretty special both as a piccolo and as my standard double shot flat white.

We were in for breakfast – and my “Childhood Memory” – poached pear on pear and coconut bread with coffee marscapone and cinnamon dukkah. The dukkah was interesting, it was a little bit salty, which made the meal pop a little.

Wifey took on “My Mexican Cousin” a corn fritter dish with a bunch of Mexican charm.

The menu (pdf) is good humoured and varied, which is what I like in a cafe menu.

Perhaps tapping into Melbourne’s nominal origins, the city was originally dubbed Batmania, the St ALi logo on the menu is part of the charm.

St ALi has recently expanded its horizons, opening a store in the UK, and it is easy to see why. Both the cafe and the coffee was full of charm and character.

Melbourne Cafe Review: Market Lane

Depending on where you park, Market Lane is either at the front or the rear of the Prahran markets in South Yarra. The markets are a bit of a feast for the senses with delis, fruit shops, cheese stores and my favourites – Greek dessert and patisserie stores. So a specialty cafe that sets up in this sort of locale needs to be outstanding. Enter Market Lane.

Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a cafe’s aesthetic quite so much. Wooden benches, chalk boards, washed out colour and plenty of greys and whites… and dashes of colour.

The coffee was the star of the show though – I ordered a “coffee flight” which includes three pourovers from different origins, and followed up with a flat white. Their attention to detail was top notch, and my co-pilots, the parents of the friend we stayed with, had never had brewed coffee before and left incredibly impressed with the clarity of the flavours described on the beautifully designed take-home tasting cards.

The espresso based drinks were also pretty super, they came with vintage tea spoons, which again, were a nice touch.

We didn’t have any food here, and I’m not sure why you would with the range of options available just outside the door. But Market Lane was my favourite coffee stop, I really don’t understand why other cafes charge more for brewed and pourover coffees than they do for the standard espressos, but the $12 coffee flight is a bit of a steal, it kept our table of five pretty happy, and gave us the chance to sample some pretty exotic coffees at a bargain basement price.

Melbourne Cafe Review: Seven Seeds

There’s a modern day axiom in choosing a cafe – if it’s popular with hipsters it’s likely to serve good coffee. You can tell if a cafe is popular with hipsters by checking out the apparel of the average punter, or looking for the presence of a “fixie” push bike. These don’t look much different to normal push bikes, to the untrained eye, but generally take the form of racing bikes reappropriated for use on the roads. The real mark of a fixie is the lack of hand controlled break, they’re the old skool “back pedal break” bikes.

The Seven Seeds Roastery takes the guess work out of the equation by proudly displaying some fixies on the wall. They also deliver on the axiomatic expectations with some tremendous coffee and a low-fi menu that delivers big taste with low fuss.

The grungy warehouse complete with peeling paint on brick wall is pretty breezy, we loved the high ceilings. It had a great vibe and was full of young trendy urbanites relaxing over Saturday brunch. With cheap (vegetarian friendly) food, great coffee, and a predilection for bicycles, this place is a hipster magnet.

Here’s a sampling of shots of our sampling of the menu (also, a repurposed ammunition box serves as the menu holder). The food was fresh and tasty, with great natural flavour combos.

This coffee lab, complete with coffee pot plants growing under lamps, is a bit of a coffee-geek’s delight.

So, the coffees… my single origin Guatamalan Finca La Soledad was fruity and I’d say a bit dark-cherryish in milk, the tasting notes on the pretty brilliant Seven Seeds website promises stone fruit and cocoa.

Their latte art was pretty special, the flavours of the house blend cut nicely through the milk, and temperature was not a concern. In all, this was a pretty solid, and almost spectacular, start to our Saturday morning in Melbourne. They, like a bunch of Melbourne coffee joints, are getting the most out of their shiny Synessos. The Synesso just edged out the Slayer for popularity in the cafes we checked out over our weekend.

Seven Seeds gets an honourable mention for the hot chocolate with latte art (you know what I mean) and solid chocolate stirring stick…

Creative design from the South

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