The advent of Italian and Greek refugees in Melbourne during WWII sparked a passion for coffee that has now blossomed into a local art form. The city's coffee shop owners travel to the world's best coffee growing areas to stock their shelves with exotic single-origin blends. And I'm not just talking about lattes and flat whites here; I'm also talking about pour-overs, syphons, and cold-drips.
Coffee and the café culture in Melbourne are so good that the city itself has become famous for them. A wide variety of fantastic places to enjoy the best coffee and food can be found all throughout Melbourne, from tucked-away spots in the central business district and outlying roasteries to the trendy cafés lining Chapel Street.
Choosing where to go is the only problem. Making a Sunday brunch reservation might be difficult when there are so many fantastic places to choose from. Here is a list of the best cafés in Melbourne to check out this year to help you narrow down your options. Visit any of these cafes for a cup of coffee, and you'll wish you could spend the whole day there.
FAQs About Melbourne
It shouldn't be too hard to find somewhere - there are more than 1600 cafes and restaurants to choose from, data from the City of Melbourne shows.
There are plenty of excellent cafes all over Melbourne; however, some of the best are located southeast of the city in trendy suburbs like Prahran, South Yarra, St Kilda, and Windsor.
Higher Ground and Cumulus Inc. are two of the best cafes in the Melbourne CBD. Higher Ground is from the same team that runs Top Paddock and The Kettle Black, while Cumulus Inc. is a busy social hub with a seasonal menu.
If you’re looking for the best cup of coffee in Melbourne, head to Industry Beans, Pillar of Salt, Journeyman, Axil Coffee Roasters, or Millstone.
At the end of the financial year 2020, there were 44,679 cafés and restaurants in Australia. The number of cafés and restaurants in Australia has increased steadily from around 41,500 businesses in 2017.
There are now over 20,000 cafés and coffee shops that employ 140,000 people. But what was happening behind the numbers? Looking at information from the Australian Café Owners Network, other online communities, and first-hand experience, some distinct trends are clear.
Australian coffee culture developed from cafés owned by Greek and Italian migrants, slowly brewing from the post-war immigration boom in the 1950s and 1960s to becoming a nationwide obsession that is now part of Australia's cultural identity.
In March of 2016, Melbourne took its coffee love to new heights when it hosted the International Coffee Expo at the Melbourne Showgrounds. Some people even believe that Melbourne doesn't just have the best coffee in the country – it's also the coffee capital of the WORLD, at least as far as quality is concerned.
Melbourne's Best Coffee Shops
Melbourne is known globally for its coffee obsession. It offers more than 2,000 cafés as well as some of the world’s best baristas. Here are some of the best.
Where: 12-18 Yarra Pl, South Melbourne
ST ALi is an entire precinct dedicated to coffee and the engine room of renaissance coffee guy Salvatore Malatesta. With its dumpster-chic decor down a graffiti daubed laneway, ST Ali is one of Melbourne's main experimental coffee brewers, micro-roasters, green bean traders and country of origin specialists. It is one of the best places to try subtle cold-drip coffee, with its low acidity and bitterness, which goes down a treat with a tasty breakfast or lunch.
Where: 114 Berkeley St, Carlton
Seven Seeds (which takes its name from the seven fertile seeds of coffee that the Sufi Baba Budan smuggled out of Yemen and into India during the 17th century) is a small micro-roaster in Carlton that sources seasonal coffee from around the world. It is owned by coffee visionaries Mark Dundon and Bridget Amor, the original owners of ST ALi. Its quirky on-site café still makes some of Melbourne's best coffee and offers a small, simple food menu.
Where: Shop 13, Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Rd, South Yarra
Market Lane’s roastery and café at Prahran Market is proud of its distinctive single-origin coffees. Espresso and pour-over coffee are served alongside cakes, pastries, muesli and more.
It sells single estate coffee beans and brewing equipment and offers free public cuppings (tastings) and brewing classes covering pour-over, AeroPress and plunger coffee. Other outlets are at Queen Victoria Market, Carlton and two in the city centre.
Wide Open Road
Where: 274 Barkly St, Brunswick
The hipster chic Wide Open Road roaster, coffee lab and café have an industrial-chic fit-out inside a converted 1950s warehouse plastered with paste-up street art. So very Melbourne. Its Bathysphere house blend is designed to be drunk black. Enjoy some of the most inspired café food in Melbourne as you watch the roasters in action through plexiglass windows.
Where: 103-107 Errol St, North Melbourne
In the sprawling, post-industrial space of the former WB Ellis auction house, the Auction Rooms boutique coffee roaster and café ticks all the boxes. There are great espressos, a separate coffee bar for drip and siphon coffees (all sourced from their beans roasted at the off-site Small Batch Roasting Company) and funky food, including excellent breakfast eggs. Plus, there's outdoor seating for a dose of fresh air on warm Melbourne mornings.
Where: 15-17 Weston St, Brunswick
The back of the Code Black menu reads in small font: “The Sublime and The Ridiculous”, which sums this place up. Sublime in the quality of its fancy stone and metal fit-out and ridiculous in the excellence of its coffee. Code Black is simultaneously a laboratory, a workshop and a hub for connoisseurs of the dark art and science of coffee. There’s always a house blend for black and another for milk coffees, and a single rotating origin for black and white.
Where: 3/62 Rose St, Fitzroy
With an open plan, award-winning warehouse conversion among Fitzroy’s edgy street art, Industry Beans is a coffee roastery, restaurant and brew bar. The inspired seasonal brunch menu sports almost-too-pretty-to-eat dishes, such as rosewater compressed watermelon with lemon myrtle panna cotta, bee pollen curd and wattleseed granola designed to showcase the roastery’s beans.
Dukes Coffee Roasters
Where: 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
With its intimate light wood-panelled café located at Ross House in buzzy Flinders Lane, Dukes Coffee Roasters sources the very best seasonal ethically traded coffee beans from individual farms or small cooperatives worldwide. The café offers single-origin and blended beans for espressos and filter coffee, and you can buy beans and brewing gear when you pick up your morning pour-over coffee.
Where: 438 Lygon St, Brunswick East
Padre Coffee, which obtains its green coffee from thirty different estates across the world, has its roasting headquarters in the Brunswick East Project. Enjoy your speciality coffee while perusing the extensive collection of coffee equipment and deciding whether to take a barista class or not. Padre also features cafés in the Royal Arcade, at South Melbourne Market, and at Queen Victoria Market, in addition to the League of Honest Coffee in the city centre.
Where: 172 Oxford St, Collingwood
Specialty coffee roaster, café, coffee educator and retailer, Proud Mary also serves a terrific all-day breakfast, fresh juices and smoothies, single estate tea, homemade cakes and original lunch fare. Coffee comes via cold drip, V60, Aeropress and espresso.
The nearby two-storey state-of-the-art coffee cellar door Aunty Peg's is part roasting house, part coffee bar, part retail shop, and serves only black coffee as well as an ale-like coffee brew and offers free cupping sessions.
There is no standard formula for a "Melbourne cafe" because the best cafes in the city are rooted in their communities and reflect the people who live nearby in their decor, cuisine, and clientele.
Cafe-goers in Collingwood can choose between drinking filter coffee in a renovated storefront (Everyday Coffee) or a silky flat white in a former red-brick textile mill (Proud Mary), both of which are popular with the area's creative class.
It may be The Kettle Black, which erupts unexpectedly from a large, lacey terrace house with a modernist apartment complex grafted on top, or it could be St. Ali, the laneway building that became the prototype warehouse cafe south of the Yarra.
In Brunswick, a group of hipsters in glasses and beards have transformed a previously uninhabited corner store into a popular meeting place. There are sidewalk benches near the busy intersection of A Minor Place. There were dogs chained to the old post on the verandah, and the tables inside were packed.
Lady Bower Kitchen is located in a collection of remodelled op-shops on a neglected side street in Reservoir. Simultaneously, in Kew, a brother and sister reimagine their neighbourhood milk business as Adeney Milk Bar, complete with a Synesso and a menu of suburban brunch standards.
Carlton is home to Brunetti, the epitome of New World Mediterranean design, a 24-hour cafe where the brass and marble trace the path of Melbourne's Italians from slum to swanky suburb. Footscray has a new cafe made, appropriately, out of shipping containers planted on a landscaped vacant lot (Rudimentary). Similarly, stylish coffee bars appear to be hidden away in each of Melbourne's well-known laneways. These coffee shops can be found anywhere from a station underpass or switchboard cupboard to an office lobby or the entrance behind St. Paul's.
They're not all in Fitzroy.
...even if sometimes it seems that way. Good cafes are spread through suburbs as diverse as Reservoir (hello again Lady Bower Kitchen) to Mordialloc (Hendriks), Gardenvale (Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird), Werribee (Corinthians), Burwood (Foodrinkery) and beyond. Build it, and we will come – for good coffee, creative, tasty food and casual but special spaces to enjoy it in.
Not just for hipsters
Despite the prevalence of trendy fashions like skinny pants and crop tops, not everyone can be classified according to their choice of eyewear or facial hairstyle. 63% of Melburnians, according to a Roy Morgan survey from earlier this year, visited cafes to drink coffee; we can't all be trendy young professionals or middle-aged women out for lunch. Parents with strollers, dog walkers with poodles, Schnoodles, and Labradoodles, and workers wearing lanyards and high-visibility clothing may all be spotted.
We could be meeting up with old friends, partaking in a family tradition, taking the kids out for a walk first thing in the morning, brainstorming ideas for a new project, writing a thesis, or just killing time in the middle of the day. In Melbourne, all of these activities can take place in a cafe.
The communal table
A big, low table made for lounging close to the ground or a high table with stools to match could be the symbols of early 21st-century Melbourne civilisation. The communal table is one of the important ways our cafes mark themselves as shared public spaces where the only price for taking part is the cost of a cup of coffee.
Communal tables help make cafes a place where it's OK to be alone in public, where people respect your existential bubble but also share it. You can bring your laptop or your book-club novel or just yourself. The communal tables in our cafes have no time limit on them.
Melbourne's cafe culture is reshaping the city's public realm; while the focus is still on purchasing goods and services, the cafes' local, personable atmosphere and the fact that most cafe owners are self-employed makes them unique. They tend to be youthful and full of life, which is a good sign that anyone can make it in Melbourne with a decent concept and some elbow grease.
Cafes give us an enlarged sense of what it means to live in this city, with a connection to a community that chain stores and shopping malls can never make.
Brunch is for jerks.
So wrote The New York Times's David Shaftel last year, quoting Julian Casablancas, lead singer of the Strokes, as saying: "I don't know how many, like, white people having brunch I can deal with on a Saturday afternoon".
While The Guardian called brunch "a symptom of the soulless suburban conformity that is relentlessly colonising our urban environments". In Melbourne, brunch means eating creative food without spending a packet, and menus allow fantastic flexibility.
Brunch is a small but tasty indulgence that we should all be allowed, an hour or two catching up with friends, family or just ourselves over coffee and a plate of french toast or smoked salmon and poached eggs or a pulled-pork bun. Brunch is for everyone, and Melbourne cafes do great brunch.
Cuisine: Australian cafe
A common question you may hear while travelling abroad is, "What is Australian cuisine like?" If they ask what you want to eat, you might say "barbecues" (too American), "meat pies" (too British), "seafood" (too generic), or "pasta, sushi, pho, etc.." (multicultural fusion).
Poached eggs on top of an avocado smash with Vegemite, dukkah, or a spritz of lime and coriander might be our national cuisine. How about some pulled pork, bacon, and egg, or crayfish in a brioche bun? Why not absolutely flawless corn fritters, all crisp on the exterior and silky smooth in the middle? The food served in Melbourne cafes, which is often seen as Australian, is known for being democratic, laid-back, and easy to prepare.
Filter brews all around.
Melbourne's cafes have taken to the batch brewer, and cafe-goers have taken to filter coffee. This is not just an inner-north thing. You'll see people lingering over batch brews at Glovers Station in Elsternwick or Bluff Town in Sandringham.
Filter brews match the lighter roasts preferred for specialty-grade beans, letting the flavours shine in ways that espresso doesn't. With easy filter brewing, we get the fruit without the acidity. Filter brews make a great food match, too.
Try a cup of Colombian next time you order a Mexican egg breakfast and taste how that hit of chilli brings out something in the coffee you didn't know was there.
World champion baristas
Since Dave Makin (now Axil Coffee) finished second in 2008, Melbourne baristas have been right up in the world championship rankings: Matt Perger finished 3rd in 2011 and 2nd in 2013, as well as winning the filter brewers championship in 2012.
Perger (2011, 2013) and Craig Simon (2012, 2014) swapped first and second place in the Australian championships for four years. That draws baristas from around Australia and the world to work in coffee here, one of the factors contributing to ...
The best coffee in the world
Melbourne's espresso culture stretches back more than half a century. People say, "It's not like the coffee in Italy," and it's true. Italian taste has stayed pretty static. Italian roasters still add robusta to their espresso blends, and its inner-tube sweetness gives Italian espresso its distinctive quality. Melbourne prefers 100 per cent arabica, and that's reflected in the flavours here.
Melbourne is at the cutting edge of sourcing, roasting and brewing specialty coffee, with filter-style brews and single-origin espresso on many cafe menus. We regularly make the list of the world's best coffee cities – on CNN, Huffington Post, Lifehack, BBC Travel – but they're just telling us something we already know.
The world wants some, too.
The New York Times noted last year that a number of Australian-themed cafes had opened in the city, citing a dozen spots where one would feel at home if carrying a passport with a kangaroo and an emu. In the United States, diners aren't used to finding cafes that offer a unique menu, high-quality beverages, and warm service.
The cafes of Melbourne appear to serve as a model. The New York Times referred to Brunswick, a café in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood, as "an Australian cafe" in the same vein as "a French bistro" or "an English pub."
Avocado toast and flat whites are popular items at New York City cafes such Bluestone Lane (in Greenwich Village, founded by Nick Stone, a former AFL player), and Little Collins (on Lexington Avenue, owned by former Melbourne lawyer Leon Unglik).
This is mirrored in Europe. Holybelly, run by a pair with experience at Market Lane and the Duchess of Spotswood, and Tuckshop, serving long blacks and flat whites with avocado and Vegemite on toast, are both located in Paris.
A large community table and repurposed armchairs can be found in Pave, a cafe in Milan. The owner, Luca Scanning, says it took some time for Italians to get used to the idea. For two spells as a journalist in Melbourne, Scanni frequented cafés in Fitzroy, and it was these "lazy breakfasts and gorgeous places" that ultimately inspired Pave.
Workshop Coffee, located in London's Clerkenwell neighbourhood, has all the hallmarks of a cafe in Melbourne, Australia, including exposed brick walls, warm wood, and a large coffee roaster in the back. Workshop sells a coffee blend called Cult of Done, named after their former business partner, St. Ali.
Prufrock, a trendy coffee shop in Holborn, might just as easily be in Collingwood, with its iconic blue espresso cups, chalkboard menu, and brew-bar meets-science-lab vibe.
Cafes like Common Man Coffee Roasters are thriving in Singapore as a result of the influx of Singaporean students returning from study abroad in cities like Melbourne and Sydney.
Melbourne is home to some of the world's finest examples of the Australian cafe.