Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Catherine Harris

Constantinople, Turkey. That’s where the world’s first coffee house opened its doors in 1475. These days, however, if espresso coffee’s your thing you might want to try heading south. Much further south. To Melbourne, Australia, where espresso coffee is so much a way of life it rivals Italy for its devotion to the rich distinctive brew.

Spurred by the post-war influx of Southern Italian immigrants drawn to the city’s temperate Mediterranean climate (and encouraged by the government’s cheap assisted passage), Melbourne’s baby-boomers developed such a taste for espresso coffee that Australia and New Zealand now sit alongside Italy as the only other 100% espresso based coffee markets in the world! At last count there were 850 people for each espresso machine in Australia. Compared to 20,000 people per machine in the United States, that’s a lot of coffee love.

Start your java pilgrimage on the corner of Swanston and Collins Streets, the City Square, the heart of the city center and home to Brunetti, a Melbourne cafe institution. Slug a single shot as you contemplate the hustle bustle of the Melbourne morning rush hour, or simply admire the traditional Sicilian cakes and pastries on display in the cafe windows as you stand at the locus of this coffee-obsessed town: within a ten minute walk you can experience world class espresso coffee in any number of exquisite settings, each as fascinating and diverse as the city itself.

For example, pull up a seat at Journal, the cafe attached to the City’s library branch in Flinders Lane. Tucked inside one of the many Victorian buildings dominating this arts precinct, flick through the wide range of books, magazines and newspapers scattered across the large communal tables as you eavesdrop on Melbourne’s movers and shakers, all taking in their first caffeine fix of the day. The coffee itself is superb, of course – in Melbourne, great coffee is expected the way Americans expect great apple pie. Tip: Parfait glasses are for ice-cream sundaes. If you’re looking for a hazelnut flavoured brew this cafe isn’t for you.

Around the corner at Degraves Street, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store as you marvel at this cramped urban idyll jammed shoulder to shoulder with holes in the wall all dedicated to getting your day started. Take a seat and enjoy your coffee en plein air, the sky blurred by cafe awnings and umbrellas shading the hundreds of tables crowding this narrow laneway. Degraves Espresso is the holy grail here, though you can’t go wrong with the myriad of choices. Not sure which coffee shop to try? Flip a coin. The others will still be here tomorrow.

Melbourne has more bookshops than any other Australian city so perhaps it’s fitting that books and coffee should go together. At the Victorian State Library on Swanston Street, Mr. Tulk serves up excellent food and coffee to library patrons and university students alike, who flood in from campus across the road to get their morning hits. Named after Mr Augustus Henry Tulk, the Library’s first Chief Librarian, what’s not to love about a cafe parked next to the stacks?

Like so many well loved paintings, the art of coffee is also on display at the National Gallery of Victoria. Perched above the Yarra river, the gentle sway of paperbarks across from the Crossbar Cafe at the NGV Australia affords the scene a decidedly local outlook, while the meditative whoosh of the water wall at the Mezzanine Cafe at the NGV International conjures a world of day dreams.

Are your worms biting yet? If you haven’t already satisfied that hunger with a well deserved snack, a brisk walk down to the Bourke Street Mall will set you right for lunch. You’ll be spoiled for choice at David Jones Food Hall, just the place for a no-nonsense food binge in the middle of a coffee crammed day. Bright busily stocked counters present a gastronomic bounty (from sandwiches, to pastries to oysters). And yes, there’s the Espresso Bar, where you can enjoy your post-lunch coffee with a superb biscuit (cookie) chaser or an artisan chocolate from their confectionery.

The afternoon opens before you like capillaries dilated from a heady caffeinated rush. Will you visit the Immigration Museum, wander through the Aquarium, or take a tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol? After a busy morning of site-seeing, the rarefied atmosphere of Cafe La, is just the place to get your bearings. Situated on the thirty-fifth floor of Melbourne’s Sofitel hotel on Collins Street, this paean to coffee idolatry will set your heart singing as you recharge your batteries to its out of this world view. Ask for a table by the window, though with floor-to-ceiling glass, it’s hard not to get a good seat. Don’t leave without visiting the bathroom. If you thought the view from the cafe was good, this will knock your socks off.

To everything there is a season and this is especially true for plant life. After so much stimulation some tranquility might be just the ticket. Jump on a tram or the free Melbourne City Tourist Shuttle (though it’s a lovely walk down St. Kilda Road) to the Royal Botanic Gardens in South Yarra. Barely a hop, skip and a jump from the Shrine of Remembrance, count kookaburras as you sip your latte at The Observatory Cafe. Or spot peacocks circling the ornamental lake as you stretch your legs between macchiatos at The Terrace. Nothing enlivens the senses more than a stroll through the camellias before a cup of tea (or in this case, coffee). The scones are also very good.

Coming full circle at the end of the day, Pellegrinis at the top end of Bourke Street, lays claim to being Melbourne’s first proper espresso bar. It certainly looks like it is – the ancient mirror-lined counter tops reflecting back an authentic 1950s ambience rarely found anymore in this vibrant ever-renewing city. Also serving a vast array of pastas and cakes, prepare to endure the disdain of the Italian speaking waitstaff who will treat you with just a hint of contempt (it’s all part of the service) as you order your double espresso after dinner. You might have to yell a little to be heard – the sound of the espresso machine echoes loudly in this narrow space, though most people don’t mind the steam and hiss. For a true down under coffee devotee, it doesn’t get much better than this.

CAFES

Brunetti City Square

214 Flinders Lane

Melbourne VIC 3000

Journal

Shop 1 Level 1

253 Flinders La

Melbourne VIC 3000

Degraves Espresso

23-25 Degraves Street

Melbourne VIC 3000

Mr. Tulk

State Library of Victoria

328 Swanston St

Melbourne VIC 3000

Crossbar Cafe

Level 3, NGV Australia

Federation Square

Cnr Russell and Flinders Streets

Melbourne VIC 3000

Mezzanine Cafe

NGV International

Level 1, 180 St. Kilda Road

Melbourne VIC 3000

Cafe La

35th floor, Hotel Sofitel

25 Collins St

Melbourne VIC 3000

David Jones Food Hall

Lower Level

David Jones

310 Bourke Street

Melbourne VIC 3000

The Observatory Cafe

Gate O

Royal Botanic Gardens

Birdwood Avenue

South Yarra VIC 3141

The Terrace

Gate B

Royal Botanic Gardens

Anderson Street

South Yarra VIC 3141

Pellegrinis

66 Bourke Street

Melbourne VIC 3000

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