Menu-Focused or Coffee-Focused Cafes

Perhaps it’s my Italian background but for me a “cafe” is a retailer specialising in coffee. This is not always my experience. In fact in Melbourne I have 3 cafes where I really enjoy my coffee every time:

1. Green Park Dining using Small Batch and Profile.

2. Rex Tremendae roasting his own coffee at Sensory Lab Factory.

3. Maker Fine Coffee in Richmond.

So what’s wrong with the coffee everywhere else? Well I can summarise by talking about the focus of the cafe.

I was in Lilydale yesterday and the cafe was serving “batch brew” and “Cold drip” and “Coffee tonic”. I was impressed. They had the right machines to make it – an EK grinder, they apparently roasted their own coffee in house. But the coffee was pretty close to undrinkable. My espresso was ultra ristretto (dark, intensely salty and dull), the batch brew (was in fact a pourover despite asking for batch brew – I suppose they only have an order once a day if that) which was insipid, watery, weak, uneven, unbalanced and harsh with notes of overdeveloped, baked roast and no real flavour.

I realised this cafe was Menu-Focused. They must have thought “The cafes in the city doing really well sell batch brew. So we better add batch brew to our menu”. I suppose they they did some research and asked their suppliers for the necessary equipment.

The problem is this satisfies most people. Most people go to Zomato or Broadsheet and go to a cafe that is famous or ranked highly. What is being ranked? Usually it’s the lighting, the bowling-alley communal table, the street sign menu and the plethora of coffee equipment that was purchased not because they know how to use it but because it sends signals to the customer that the coffee is good. Signals like a sexy blonde in a bikini selling coca-cola or the slim brunette selling Special K cereal. We all know that size 6 seventeen year old doesn’t drink coca-cola. She drinks kale juice.

Similarly in the competitive, saturated cafe market there is immense pressure to send the signals of good coffee.

Have you heard of the Broadsheet effect? It is widely known in the hospitality industry that you have to create a certain type of venue to get the attraction of the media. You need a head chef from here, a locally produced something from there, and spend $300,000 on fit out. This effect is mostly bad for everyone in the medium term. It creates a dull, standardisation of experience for most, and it also creates a fake sense of security for the cafe owner. Many cafes are overwhelmed with popularity when they open due to the “broad sheet effect” and then close down 6 months later when the hoards of Broadsheet disciples have moved on to the next serotonin hit new opening. This happens every other  week. 

There IS a place for beautiful well designed cafes.  There is value in an industry standard of what is a good cafe. BUT  there is a missing need for a consistent review and list of where to get a GOOD COFFEE every time. I’ve found 3 out of 500.

Do you  find balanced, clean black coffee every time somewhere? Let us know. 

pour jonathon

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