Extreme coffee geekery: St ALi put man v machine to the test

I’m a big fan of the manual brew button on all my machines – even if they claim to have volumetric pours – normally that just hasn’t been calibrated properly, and though I’m sure I could find an Expobar and Rancilio manual online – I like to think that the man is more important than the machine in the 4 Ms of coffee (the Ms are Italian – Macinazione=grind, Miscela=blend, Macchina=machine, and Mano=man).

Anyway. I believed the hype – pulling shots when you see them turn a blond colour has always been my cup of tea… Turns out you can trust the machine, and you should… Unless your eyes work like scales, or you’ve built scales into your machines – this produces consistency. Which if there was an Italian M word for consistency would be the 5th M. I have no idea if there’s an Italian M word for consistency…

Check out this video from St. ALi’s Matt Perger… who wins competitions and stuff so you should totally listen to him.

Man vs Volumetric – by Matt Perger for St Ali from St Ali on Vimeo.

There’s a huge amount of info in the description. But here are some quick facts – TDS = Total disolved solids – it’s a measure of how efficient the extraction is, brew ratio is shot mass/dose mass – so a 51% ratio on a 21g dose is a 41mL double shot.

This video hitting the interwebs when it did was pretty funny – James Hoffman, who’s another guy who won competitions, just toured Australia and said this about the coffee scene here:

“What pleased me, inspired me, on this trip was the number of people who were dissatisfied. Their frustration with everything from raw coffee, to roasting methods, to equipment, to service; this will drive things forward and potentially do so at quite a pace. This is awesome. While this dissatisfaction is necessarily hugely widespread, I have high expectations of seeing things being pushed forward by a small group of passionate people.”

Melbourne Cafe Review: Sensory Lab

The final stop on our caffeine charged Melbourne adventure was Sensory Lab – home of Hario products and a pretty amazing brew bar operation where the coffee scientists can apparently brew a cup to your taste specifications. We didn’t put this to the test. Sadly. As it wasn’t entirely clear how that all worked. There were some cool vials of scent which matched up with traditional tasting note features, so I assume the idea was you selected a few of those and got a little blend made on the spot.

Customer service wasn’t the strong point of this place, the staff were really friendly but they just seemed distracted by life. Or something.

It wasn’t exceptionally busy, but we did get there after what I assume is a lunch time rush for a CBD cafe attached physically to David Jones… Don’t, I repeat, Don’t go down to the food court and mistake the “cafe” there for the sensory lab. I almost did. Because my directions were “the cafe at David Jones”… Sensory Lab is on the non-Mall side of David Jones, and it is literally the entrance to the shop… we ordered coffees on arrival, I had a short black because I wanted to try the single origin, and that’s how it was recommended (it was prepped via a Slayer. I still think the Slayer is a thing of beauty).

The coffees were alright, but not excellent. Robyn didn’t like hers much at all, at first, but it was, to my thinking a nice slightly-bitter dark chocolatey kind of deal, and it was pretty smooth. It is possible that after the approximately 25 shots I’d had over the five day period that I was a little bit palate fatigued.

Sensory Lab is a retail arm for St. Ali coffee. They’ve got a few blends and a rotating batch of seasonal single origins. The customer service let down came when I ordered my second coffee, a flat white, and they appeared to forget about it (they did actually forget about it, I had to remind them) for about 20 minutes. Luckily we were enjoying our little spot in a window alcove watching people on the streets of Melbourne. And this cute little old lady buying some specialty coffee gear. I had to take a sneaky photo so it’s not great…

When it arrived the flat white was actually pretty sensational, it’s possible the piccolo we had in the first round was an anomaly, it’s also possible that the wait heightened my anticipation. Who knows.

I am wondering how much using panella rather than sugar is the mark of a quality cafe…

While we weren’t blown out of the park by Sensory Lab, they do offer what I think is the best coffee web shop in Australia. So their website is worth checking out.


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.


Brisbane Cafe Review: Hamptons Home Living, Paddington

I’ve read good things in the Twittersphere about Hamptons Home Living, a fancy homewares store come cafe. So when the opportunity for a Saturday cafe breakfast presented itself, away we went.

This converted Queenslander on La Trobe Terrace is a bit of a visual feast. An expensive visual feast. Their homewares are at the higher end of the scale.

But it’s the promise of St Ali coffee out of Melbourne that lured us here. And the coffee, well, it was a little disappointing.

It wasn’t that the latte art was non existent. And it wasn’t the flavour of the two blends on offer – the St Ali standard blend and another called “Champion”. The coffee itself was nice. The temperature was great. The shiny La Marzocco had doubtless pulled a good shot. It was the flavour of the milk that let the experience down, it had the funkiness that comes from milk jugs not being rinsed between shots. A cursory glance at the jug as I paid revealed a calcified build up on the sides of the jug. Which was unfortunate. If you did a little bit of discerning drinking you could make out beautiful fruitiness in the Champion Blend and a rich chocolatey burst in the house blend. Delicious stuff. So I bought some beans.

The breakfasts were sensational, though the Hash Brown was more potato cake than hash brown. We’d highly recommend the experience. The service was friendly, the view from the balcony was relaxing, and the heaters (and offer of knee rugs) was enough to battle the winter chill.


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