My cup runneth Down Under

Bob HarrisA few notes on coffee while visiting Melbourne:

Know this up front: I'm not going to be a fair judge. I'm still learning the subtle ways of the savage bean. Besides, I'm writing this from one of the fairest and most liveable cities on Earth, a place I wouldn't mind calling home someday. So my mood is elevated even before the caffeine hits my bloodstream. You have been warned.

That all said... wow. I'm not sure I've ever seen a town where the entire economy seems to be based so totally around good food, good books, good coffee, and occasional fits of modern dance. I didn't expect a river town to be so lovely, but then I grew up in 1970s Cleveland, where the polluted river itself once actually caught fire. But I haven't had a bad meal or a bad cup since I got here, whether it was in a Thai place in Fitzroy, the Italian joint in Carlton, or the family-run Vietnamese/Chinese fusion restaurant in Richmond.

My favorite stand-by is what Aussies refer to as a "flat white" -- nothing more than espresso and steamed milk, which I take with a little sugar. But most of the places I've been serve a surprising variety, and the macchiatto seems almost as standard here as a simple filtered brew is back home.

The language is a bit different, too, with "long" and "short" taking the place of what I'm used to seeing in Los Angeles variously as large or small, grande or petite, or venti or tall [sic].

Speaking of menus requiring a "sic," Starbucks seems all but nonexistent here. I've passed exactly two after covering almost the entire city on foot, and neither were busy. Instead, for a franchised cup, Melburnians seem to much prefer Gloria Jean's outlets, so much so that I started wondering if they had originated here instead of American shopping malls. (Answer: nope.) I expected I'd also see the occasional Robert Harris shop (a name I personally find fairly memorable), but nope -- apparently the New Zealand chain has yet to hop the Tasman.

If you're looking to diversify from one tropical bean to another, there's also a Max Brenner location, where the Israeli-based chain can sell you a variety of pretty damn powerful chocolate. I'm still mentally swimming in a cup of peppery mole that made me feel like an Aztec warrior.

Given the San Francisco-like climate here, which has taken the coldest midsummer turn in 40 years, I suppose you can't be surprised that folks here know how to pull a rejuvenating cup.

Bob Harris calls Los Angeles home but it very comfortable in Australia, Canada, Thailand, heck anywhere... He has been writing for the CoffeeCrew from time to time.