Review: South Melbourne coffee walking tour reveals the suburb’s best cafes
Caffeine-crazy Melbourne offers a plethora of fabulous cafes but finding the best options can be tricky, especially for visitors to the city. Solve that problem on this Coffee Lovers Walking Tour through trendy South Melbourne. Review: Adam Ford
South Melbourne coffee walking tour with Walk Melbourne
This small group South Melbourne coffee walking tour starts at the iconic South Melbourne Market, and will introduce you to a number of the suburb’s best cafes. The tour operates at a leisurely pace, and you’ll learn some of the history of this fascinating part of Melbourne along the way. Visit four contrasting cafes and enjoy an included hot drink at each venue. Duration: 2.5 hours (approx.)
Best price guarantee: If you find this tour elsewhere at a cheaper price, we will beat it by 10%. Some conditions apply. There are no booking or credit card fees when you book this tour with The Big Bus tour and travel guide.
It’s a chilly 13 degrees on a Saturday morning in Melbourne, as I make my way to the south side of town.
I’m a little bleary eyed, having stayed up slightly later than I should have the night before. Two of our group have just flown in on the red-eye from Perth and even our tour guide Monique has that look in her eye. We all need a coffee — and we’ve come to the right place.
I’m about to join the Coffee Lovers Walk through South Melbourne with Walk Melbourne — a tour company that’s all about helping visitors discover the hidden treasures of this city. Monique Bayer is the owner of the company, and a published food writer and former barista. She secretly admits to me that this South Melbourne coffee walking tour is her favourite itinerary, which comes as no surprise given Melbourne’s obsession with the black gold — second only perhaps to Australian Rules football.
It wasn’t always this way. Up until the wave of Italian and Greek migration to Melbourne in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, we’d survived largely on a diet of ground coffee shipped in from England. The first espresso machine arrived in Melbourne in the mid 50s, but for years they were regarded somewhat with suspicion by most of us as we quietly drank our morning cups of instant.
Today of course the city is awash with purveyors of espresso coffee, all vying for the affections of the voracious caffeine-consuming public. One café can be packed with a queue down the street, while the one next door sits virtually empty. Why? A complex equation of barista credentials, great beans, an aspirational décor and a healthy dash of street cred. Put simply, some have it, some don’t.
South Melbourne has plenty of it, and these South Melbourne coffee walking tours visit four awesome cafes. We begin at the South Melbourne Market on Cecil Street and a visit to Clement — a wood-paneled hole in the wall that’s renowned for its lightly roasted beans, allowing the flavours to come through more intensely.
Monique encourages us to drink our coffees black on this tour as milk dulls the taste. To get the ball rolling I try a heart-starting short black of Clement’s Pony blend, with its zesty apple and lemon undertones. Special mention to the donuts on offer from one of the city’s finest artisanal bakers — Cobb Lane over in Yarraville. Sweet bliss indeed.
From there we make our way into the heart of the market to Padre. This place is pumping, with wall-to-wall customers and a team of baristas calmly riding the wave of adoring popularity.
Over another short black — this time an Indian blend with distinct berry undertones — Monique tells us more about the pros of drinking filtered coffee. And before you turn your nose up at this, remember that filtering is the way it’s done on the international coffee bean competition circuit, as this process produces a smoother, more rounded drinking experience.
Leaving the maelstrom of the market behind, these South Melbourne coffee walking tours head across Clarendon Street (with quick stops at the fabulous new Bibelot pastry shop and the Madame Truffles pop-up store) and on to one of Melbourne’s biggest and best-known specialty coffee roasters — St ALi in Yarra Place.
The place is remodeling — I think. There are wires and naked light globes festooned around the cavernous interior packed with patrons, but that could well be the look. Here Monique convinces everyone to try a couple of filtered options, with varying degrees of success. For me, the pre-bottled cold-filtered option is the preferred style. It even comes in six-packs and slabs.
The final destination on this South Melbourne coffee walking tour is one of the city’s original breed of innovative cafes that’s managed to keep up the pace for several years now. Dead Man Espresso takes its name from the macabre history of this neck of the woods. The area was once the site of ‘Canvas Town’ — a notorious and dangerous slum for migrant workers established during the gold rush of 1851.
I throw in the coffee-soaked towel and order a hot chocolate by Mork — a blend of 70% cocoa and 30% sugar. It’s a product of Melbourne and absolutely delicious.
To say we walk away from this tour and continue our respective weekends with a caffeine-induced spring in our step would be an understatement. This South Melbourne coffee walking tour is a great way for any visitor to get a broad taste of the city’s vibrant café culture.
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. Adam has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. He worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. Adam also appears regularly as a travel commentator on Sky News Business Class. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.