Coffee in Melbourne – an obsession

By March 26, 2012Life of Dave


There are many things certain Melbournians refuse to take seriously; politicians, public transport timetables, Adelaide.  But there is one thing we do take deadly seriously – our coffee.

I’m not sure how it started, but the city is obsessed.  We’re bordering on fanatical now.  A recent survey* found that within 18 months, every second business in the CBD will be a coffee shop.

I’ve walked out of cafés before when I’ve seen them reheat the milk or they didn’t clean the filter.  And I’m nowhere near as obsessed as many out there. I’ve seen a barista throw a hissy fit because he couldn’t change the settings on his grinder to suit the atmospheric conditions.  I’ve seen two staff almost come to blows when I asked if the latest single origin was suitable for a long black.

A hard core coffee drinker from Italy, who like to count themselves as aficionados of the coffee arts, said to me (and I quote), “You guys are fucking intense with your coffee”. But he said it in a far more swarthy and sexily accented way.

Even the almighty global juggernaut of Starbucks was driven out of Melbourne on a rail. It stuck its claws all over Melbourne, but nearly all of them failed miserably.  If they hadn’t folded, someone somewhere was going to get stabbed – there’s no room for a Venti non-fat half white mocha, half cafe vanilla, on ice, with 2 shots pour, 2 pump hazelnut with whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle.  Not in my town.  The only two remaining Starbucks are in high tourist areas catering for American vacationers and those who listen to Shannon Knoll and believe Daryl Somers still deserves a career.

It’s only a matter of time before there’s a coffee related murder.  As they dragged the barista away, he screamed, “He asked me if I had caramel flavouring, caramel!”

And speaking of baristas – they have been elevated far beyond mere café staff in this city.  They’re the 21st century cocktail makers.

They’re hip.  They’re cool.  They have respect.  But there’s a danger.  Barista’s can take it too far; they can start believing their own hype.  Hipster glasses are stylish, as is a scarf.  But there’s a limit.  Two scarves and an additional set of glasses doesn’t make them any cooler.  I once saw a barrister with 3 scarves, glasses, a monocle and a beret.  That’s beyond cool; it’s heading towards pretentious and an AVO.

There was an Oslo Davis “Overheard” comic from The Age that summed up this city’s obsession perfectly, but I haven’t been able to find it online, so I’ve hacked my own.  It goes like this.


Overheard in Sydney – “You’ll be fine in Melbourne.  Just don’t tell them you like Nescafe.”

Have we gone too far?  Is Melbourne too obsessed with its coffee?

The obvious answer is, no.  The only conceivable way forward is to take it to the next level.

Compulsory coffee breaks for all.  Death penalties for cappuccinos. Mandatory barista courses as part of VCE.

So, if you decide to visit our fair city any time soon, please, for the love of all things holy, don’t walk the streets with a cup from Starbucks in hand.  I don’t want to have to step over your cold lifeless body – I might spill my coffee.

*From the research company of Falsehood, Fabricated and Phony.

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About Dave Sinclair

Dave is a writer, a screenwriter and a really excellent parallel parker. He is the author of The Barista's Guide to Espionage.


  • Shandy says:

    I have to agree – even though you just slagged off my home town of Adelaide!! (I’d be annoyed if it wasn’t true).

    Yeah, I’ve spent days in cities with Melbournites looking for a ‘decent’ cup of coffee. You guys might be intense, but you know good coffee when you find it! I just come along for the ride.

  • Winston Smith says:

    Coffee has become too wanky and mainstream. Dont get me wrong, I drink coffee, but if it has all the pageantry of a royal wedding on acid just to get a caffeine hit then I would rather freebase nescafe off a junkies cooking up spoon.

    Its also environmentally unsound which is somewhat ironic since the driving force for coffee tends largely to be Generation Activist Hipsters who want to change the world, but not actually change themselves in their fight against the evil 1%’ers (not sure if they mean the 1% of people in the US who pay 50% of the taxes, the 1% of people who live in 20% of the world or the 1% of bike riders, its all so confusing).
    I’m not quite sure why we idolise such immaterial things as coffee, wine or Scandinavian pornography to an extent that they become almost a cult. Its very materialistic and depressing that people can be so fixated on something so irrelevant that baristas somehow accrue all the mysticism of a level 56 ninja wizard when all they are in reality are glorified kettle operators who are the Justin Bieber of the beverage world.

    I might go now and sock it to the man by having a Venti non-fat half white mocha, half cafe vanilla, on ice, with 2 shots pour, 2 pump hazelnut with whipped cream and a chocolate drizzle with one of those delightful little biscuits they have. At least then I know I am not feeding the ego of the failed arts student manning some random coffee shop by having to call him barista instead of donkey punching them on the back of the head like the fifthly pirate hookers that they are. (Note, I am not condoning violence here. After all, pirate hookers know where all the best rum is hidden so its best to look after them. Besides, who wouldn’t get dirty after having to spend all day surrounded by seamen.)

    I’ll get me coat.

  • Longy says:

    Pity the poor lonely tea drinker.

  • I know Longy! I think it’s a complete rip off to charge $3 or $4 for a tea bag. I mean, really? If it was some nice fancy tea, sure, but a cheapy tea bag in a pot…. srsly?

  • Josh says:

    Ha! They’ve started to put ‘Melbourne style’ coffee shops in New York and London. Death penalties apply if they ask for a frape or flavouring of any kind. Explanations were needed to understand what a ‘flat white’ was.

  • Grumble Pants says:

    Ha ha ha. Makes me want to get a hot chocolate now….

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