Foody Almanac : How Do You Know You’re In A Melbourne Café?


In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a thing – the Melbourne café. What was considered creative a few years back is now a stereotype. What! No beard? Then that dude/actor/writer/artist making your coffee is not worthy of the title barista!*

If you’re from out of town and recognise any of the following, you’re likely to have taken a wrong left-turn somewhere along the Hume and found yourself in Melbourne:

Asking for hot coffee is grounds for eviction
Hot coffee means burnt coffee to those in the know. Ask for hot coffee and expect a firm shake of the head and condescending ‘tut-tut’. Want to really take the piss? Then say you’d like a cappuccino or, even better, cup-of-cino. Some Melbourne cafés will actually tell you the exact temperature they make their coffees. If you’ve got a thermometer handy, you might be able to determine if it’s the right temperature for you.

Go KeepCup for elephant stamps
So you’ve raised the ire of your barista by asking for a hot coffee? Some will argue there’s no coming back from this but, if you produce a KeepCup for your takeaway, you might just save face. Haven’t got a KeepCup on you? Just buy another one (they’re likely to have them on sale) and tell the staff you can never have enough KeepCups. Next thing you’ll notice, your ‘latte art’ is sporting a heart or smiley face.

The brunch menu is longer than the lunch menu, and is available all day
If it’s not quite breakfast and it’s not quite lunch, then it’s brunch. It’s the meal of the day for those reducing their carbs after 5pm and making sure they don’t miss out on the breakfast metabolism boost. If you exercise beforehand, you can even justify the hollandaise sauce.

Your avocado comes with an intervention order
No fruit or vegetable is more abused in Melbourne cafés than the humble avocado. Generally, your avo will be smashed but it might also be mashed, crushed or numerous other brutal adjectives if the chef has a thesaurus. Expect any ‘smashing’ to involve feta. Need proof this is a Melbourne thing? Check out this article from The New York Times:

Pomegranate and quinoa feature on at least one dish
It’s all about the so-called ‘superfoods’ that promise to keep us younger, fitter, firmer and funner. If the Aztecs or Mayans ate it, apparently it’s good for us. Look where it got them…

Panela what?
It is likely to be found in an unlabelled, repurposed jar in the middle of your table. It looks like brown sugar and it’s sitting beside the salt & pepper so you’re going to assume it is sugar. Thankfully, when you put it in your coffee or tea it creates a sweet taste so, for all intents and purposes, it is sugar. But it is not sugar, as you know it. It is the kind of sugar you find in Melbourne cafés (or once eaten by the Aztecs). It is Panela:

Knowledge is power – know your food’s heritage
No Melbourne café worth its salt (Murray River pink salt, most probably) will serve you food without telling you where it’s from. It’s all about provenance – local is best – and, if you know your bacon is Istra or your bread has been baked that morning at Noisette, then it’s likely to taste that little bit better. It also allows the manager to charge you that little bit extra.

Recycled or preloved or repurposed furniture is more important than comfort
Can you feel the ridges of a milk crate carving through the flesh of your butt? Looks like you’re in a Melbourne café. Any café that creates furniture out of items previously used for anything but furniture is held in high esteem among the Melbourne café cognoscenti. Alternatively, if you’ve managed to fit out your entire establishment with the spoils from a deceased estate, you’ve earned creative brownie points. Family photos of people you don’t know are a nice added touch too.

Edison is there, and he wants his light bulbs back
Nineteenth century-style, bare light bulbs – otherwise known as Edison Light Globes – are the only way to light a Melbourne café. They are usually strung on naked wires and they are everywhere.

The waiters are (much) smarter than you
Or at least they think so.

*Despite the cynicism, I love Melbourne cafés. So take everything I say with a grain of Murray River pink salt.


Emma is a writer, reader and horror movie aficionado. When not having the bejesus scared out of her, she wrangles content creation for her company, Bakewood.


  1. Hi Emma,

    Your writing is really interesting to read as I am in Japan and sadly have never been to Melbourne that I am shame to say.

    I didn’t know that brunch was available all day. Would Melburneans eat brunch at 3 pm or 4 pm? Is any light brunch available in such times after doing exercise?

    Are facts you mention here applied to cafes in Lygon Street? Or are they traditional Italiano ones?

    Thanks :)


  2. Emma

    Nothing to add here, all brilliant and spot on. You have captured the hipster, food trend of the month, organic, earnest, beard and tatt environment that is the Melbourne cafe. (maybe just a bit on the baby cino?)

    Fantastic and frighteningly accurate. Should be in The Age’s Tuesday Epicure (although they wouldn’t get the irony)

    I’ve never had kale, and am determined not to


  3. a skinny, soy, decaf, organic, fair trade, single origin, double shot latte in a keep cup please (with a twist!)


  4. Kath Presdee says

    Sounds exactly like the cafe I was in when I was last in Melbourne; particularly the furniture.

    Is food served on slate tiles and juices in jars? Or is that just a Sydney thing?

  5. Very witty, clever and true Emma.
    How do you know you are in a Perth café?
    You order 2 coffees and proffer a $10 note, and the cashier looks at you like you came from Mars………………or Melbourne?
    What’s the difference between Melbourne and Perth baristas?
    In Melbourne (New York and LA) they are all waiting for their lucky break in movies or theatre. In Perth they are waiting for their lucky break as a FIFO cleaner in the Pilbara on $45 an hour,

  6. Gold!
    The smaller the venue never seems to deter the presence of prams the size of earth moving equipment.
    Soy Chai Latte for Moi !!!!

  7. The People's Elbow says

    …that moment when you go to your favourite cafe and all of a sudden it’s a 20-minute wait for a seat?

    You’ve been Broadshited.

    The provenance thing, broadly, is not a terrible trend. But just about every cafe that does this would fall at the first Socratic hurdle: So why exactly is the Tatura butter better than the Western Star I can buy in the supermarket?

    Oh yeah, people with sleeve tattoos used to scare the sit outta me, now they make my coffee.

  8. Emma Westwood says

    Yoshi – Melburnians definitely love brunch. And some cafe/restaurants will serve it until they close at night! Many of the Lygon Street cafes are traditional Italian but there are still some ‘Melbourne’ cafes to be found there.

    Sean – one skinny, soy, decaf, organic, fair trade, single origin, double shot latte in a keep cup (with a twist) coming right up. But don’t ask me to make it hot…

    Kath – slate tiles, wooden boards and jars… spot on. I think we call them ‘Mason’ jars.

    Peter – remind me to take out a mortgage before I visit you in Perth.

    Cowshedend – Cafes are the nightclubs of the yummy mummy set.

    People’s – hear, hear.

  9. Emma – noticed how Melbournians always describe their favourite cafe as a “little place” and don’t even pretend that they can give you directions to it. It seems that if it’s the size of a shoe box and located either on a hidden roof or forgotten dungeon, it must be cool.

  10. Great read Emma, and may I add, as a tea drinker (Green, of course) that cafes can try all they like to be cooler than cool but unless they make a good cuppa tea then they’re just another pretender wannabe to me.


  11. Emma Westwood says

    Rick – I don’t understand the cafes that just give you a cup. If I’m ordering tea, I want a pot. And what is it with those drippy ones?

    Yoshi – Maybe you could write about eating in Japan? I’m sure our Australian readers would like to hear it…

Leave a Comment