Pulp, Kuala Lumpur.
Market Lane (Queen Victoria Market), Melbourne.
Aunty Peg's, Melbourne.
Sister Srey, Siem Reaps.
People have a lot to say about Australian coffee culture, with Melbourne being a particular name that pops up time and time again. A couple coffee shop owners I’d met during my coffee trek through Southeast Asia were once students who studied in Melbourne and went home with a dream of recreating one of the amazing coffee shops they had tried during their time abroad – with their own unique flair of course.
It seemed as though out of all the places in Australia, Melbourne was the city that defined Aussie coffee culture. In fact, the term ‘Melbourne-style’ was something that I’d often heard being used to describe a coffee shop that served amazing coffee alongside colorful brunch food items.
As someone who initially had never been to Melbourne but had heard so much about it’s coffee scene, the city sounded an awful lot like the coffee world’s version of Camelot.
I’ll start out with a scenario. You walk into a coffee shop at 6 p.m., order a cookies-and-cream frappuccino, take a seat and open your laptop, and proceed to reply to emails for the next three hours. Totally normal right? If you were in Bangkok or Jakarta maybe, but not if you were in Melbourne.
For starters, you will not be able to walk into a coffee shop at 6 p.m. Most shops close at 4 p.m., and if you do manage to find a place that opens for an hour longer, consider them pushing the limits. I remember myself brisk-walking to a cafe near Camberwell station at 3.45 p.m. for a quick latte. Just my luck, the chairs had already been flipped upside down over the tabletops. Whomp whomp. Get your coffee in early, folks.
Next, lets talk about that cookies-and-cream frap, or rather, the cookies-and-cream frap that you won’t find. For the most part, Aussie coffee shops are purists and don’t serve the sweet iced blends that are popular in Southeast Asia. An iced mocha? Sure. Turmeric lattes? Why not. But a super sweet and addictive cookies-and-cream frappuccino? Probably not. Be that as it may, it’s the coffee that’s got connoisseurs flocking to Melbourne so I’d suggest that you try out as many new brews as you can– save the fraps for the tropical weather.
Next, one does not simply open their laptop in a coffee shop, and certainly, no one stays for three hours – that’s what libraries are for after all (you lucky Melburnians). In Southeast Asia, coffee shops are equivalent to working spaces and dessert parlors – you eat somewhere else, then come to a coffee shop to finish your work and to get a sweet treat. Not here though. Here, you order a coffee, peruse the brunch menu, order, then wait for your meal to come while sipping on your coffee. Then, once you’ve finished, you pack up and leave – people don’t linger.
As I learned early on, part of Melbourne’s coffee culture is the food, and most people don’t go to coffee shops just to have a long black. “But what if I just need coffee?” you may ask. That’s what to-go cups are for.
Southeast Asia’s got a thing for cute little coffee shops – you could almost say appearances are just as important as the coffee served. In Australia, most shops stick to the tried-and-tested look of clean and simple. Often times, decor is largely dictated by the original structure of the building, but of course there are some shops that are flashier than others. For the most part, people just want good fare and warm service.
Other than coffee, what can you expect to find on the menu? Two words: avocado toast. No, it’s not just an Aussie stereotype, IT’S REAL. Australians love their avocado toast. However take note that last year an Australian millionaire made headlines by proclaiming that young folk should shop buying smashed avocado toast if they wanted to save up for a house. Salty or just telling the truth? I’m no economist.
Also on the menu are cafe mainstays, seasonal items, and a variety of what I’d call fusion dishes, all dolled up to be as Insta-worthy as possible. Some dishes were delicious, and some were just okay, however there is definitely something to be said about how the Aussie’s plate and present their dishes.
If there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that the city takes great pride in the curation and processing of their coffee. Most shops source coffee from all over the world, then carefully screen them to ensure ethical integrity and quality, and then roast them to perfection in giant Probat roasting machines.
So does the end result live up to the hype? Maybe. I’ve had bitter espresso and scalded lattes all the same, and really, a lot of Southeast Asian coffee shops now go through the same lengthy process of ensuring quality. The best coffees I had in Melbourne were only just as good as the ones I’ve had in Southeast Asia. All I can say is that the coffee scene of Southeast Asia doesn’t shrink in comparison.
So there you have it, the differences in Southeast Asian and Melbourne coffee culture. Don’t take my word for it though, try the best of those both worlds then come up with your own conclusion. Give both a shot, and give your self a shot of espresso while you’re at it.
ST Ali, Melbourne.
Dutch Colony Coffee, Singapore.
Kitty Burns, Melbourne.
Eight Coffee, Greater Jakarta.
Mr Hendricks, Melbourne.
Shin Coffee, Ho Chi Minh City.