Melbourne has the world's best coffee

Melbourne has the world's best coffee

SERIOUSLY, THE BEST: South Melbourne's St. ALi coffee house is the caffeine Mecca. Photos by Don Winsor

When I first traveled to Australia in 2009, it was to meet my girlfriend's family in far north Queensland. I learned two things on that trip I was completely unaware of: 1) Australia grows and makes some of the best coffee in the world and 2) they're way ahead of us in the arena of electronic payments.

Now I'm back, helping my girlfriend to set up our new apartment in Melbourne. In recent years, I've heard that Melbourne is at the forefront of coffee culture — some of the best coffee roasters in the world are here. Couple that with the idea that Australians don't deal well, culturally, with a great deal of pretension and you have a very friendly and diverse scene. A huge scene, as well. Our apartment in Prahran has at least 26 coffee shops within a five minute walk, several of which are roasters.

One of the first things I found during my first day here was a gorgeous, thick, hardbound book from a local publisher. It's 300 pages of profiles and information, titled The Specialty Coffee Book. When I picked it up, I missed a word in the title… I took it as being a general book about specialty coffee. Turns out, the book is called The Specialty Coffee Book — Victoria and profiles over 100 of the very best cafes and microroasters just in the state of Victoria. That's a lot of coffee, and it only scratches the surface of what's happening here. It's a great book and includes a lot more info than just that — well worth picking up if you're curious.

Of course, I've mentioned Australia before a couple of times — in my paean to their invention of the flat white, which I've still never seen really successfully made outside the country, and in my column about their Robert Timm's coffeebags, which are more than just OK in a pinch.

The electronic payment thing is funny. When I was here in 2009, I continually had to apologize that the United States hadn't quite caught up with the ubiquitous chip and pin system which was pretty much universal here by then. Six years later, I still don't have a bloody chip-and-pin card and the Aussies are all well beyond that — every shop clerk now takes your card and tries to tap it against their EFTPOS machine before they realize that you don't have an NFC chip in your card and they've got to use the chip … oh no, wait … they have to swipe! How quaint.

So while I won't list every cafe I've been to, I want to be sure to talk about my visit to what I've often heard, from many sources, is "the best in the world." It's called St. ALi's, and it's in South Melbourne. I never really heard exactly why they were "the best," but I'd heard it enough I wanted to be sure to visit on this trip.

M and I planned to wake early on a Friday and grab a tram in that direction, but instead grabbed an UberX when we learned they were 15% off for the day. Following the address, the car took us down a random alley in the suburb.

We drove from one end of Yarra Place to the other, and didn't see a bloody thing.

Turns out, when people consider your cafe to be the best in the world, you can do just fine without any real signs whatsoever. We'd driven right past it.

We waited to be seated and looked at the menu. Its menu, like most here, was broken down into black (filter coffee, pourovers, aeropress, etc.) and white (cappuccino, flat white, macchiato, etc.), but I saw the item I wanted immediately. Called the "barista breakfast," for $10AUS you get an espresso, their daily filter/pourover brew, and a cappuccino. A sampler of what they do, and at a pretty decent price. Once I had the barista breakfast and the actual breakfast (inclusive of Aussie bacon, which I'd love to be able to find in the U.S.) I was on the St. ALi bandwagon.

Directly across the street, literally a stone's throw from our balcony, is a great cafe called Soldier On and we're just a few blocks from another of the city's most renowned roasters, Market Lane Coffee. Aside from all of the other things "the world's most liveable city" has to offer, Melbourne would be worth a visit even just for coffee tourism. If you're ever considering a coffee-centric trip, take my word for it and don't waste your time on Seattle or Brooklyn. Come to Melbourne. Melbourne is winning.