Bean there, drunk that

Melbourne – the world capital of coffee

Lumsden Associate Design Director Catriona Watters is back from a five-week trip to Australia and is brimming over with appreciation for Melbourne’s coffee culture.

Years ago, I lived in Melbourne. Before I joined an architectural practice, I got a job making coffee. “I can do that,” I thought. Turned out, no, I couldn’t.

A customer sent back one of my early efforts, complaining it was “too hot”. Eh?

I did learn to make coffee (or rather, I was taught). And my love of Melbourne’s amore of its aroma was re-infused on our recent return.

In Melbourne coffee is king. It is a serious business, in all senses. It is also art. And it is design – the coffee bars’ exteriors, interiors, graphics and branding, the products and their production processes, their presentation and packaging. No detail escapes design’s attention.

Melbourne quite simply has the best cafes in the world. The sector is progressive and egalitarian – enticing the office professional and the manual worker, the student and the retiree. Hipsters are welcome, sure, but only along with everyone else.

I was never going to cut it as a serious barista. In Melbourne it’s a respected, well remunerated career choice. Coffee is a way of life there, one Melburnians celebrate every day, none more so than during the city’s International Coffee Expo.

Melbourne’s enduring love affair with the roasted bean dates to the 1880s and a temperance movement that demonised alcohol and stimulated the creation of more than 50 palaces of coffee. The arrival of the first espresso machine in the 1930s gave the scene a fresh hit of invention.

Today the sector is alive with innovation. New concepts constantly open, each striving for demarcation through retail design. The behemoths of bland do not thrive in Melbourne – Starbucks scaled back from 22 outlets in the city to five in 2008. Independents instead hold sway.

And whilst it’s all about the coffee, it’s also all about the food. It’s about long brunches that dodge deadlines. It’s dishes that are elevated way above the everyday. Boundaries are crossed, creativity is cherished. Yet it remains an affordable indulgence.

Every venue has its interest. Even the pretty bad ones make pretty good coffee. And quirks conjure pavement queues from the Melbourne air.

Here’s a trio I delighted in discovering:


A croissanterie where precision filters from the clean, almost laboratory showcase kitchen to the introduction of its croissant types. The similarities to a gallery extend to packaging that mimics the interior lighting.

It’s a citadel of croissants but the coffee is not second best. There were four of us, so we had to try the entire pastry palette. Would have been rude not to.

They say: “Our home has been designed to create an environment that will allow us to experiment with the boundaries of what is possible, it is unlike any other bakery.”

Industry Beans 

Design’s contribution starts at the outside garden, continues in the container interior with its bean factory and ends at the menu graphics.

Actually, it never ends. It’s also there in the presentation of the food. Alimentary artworks abound.

They say: “Each fortnight we offer a new selection of freshly roasted coffees brewed on a range of methods including espresso, pourover, aeropress and cold drip.”

The Kettle Black 

A palette of contrasting Scandi-inspired materials. It’s a description which applies equally to the interior design and the food.

All is fresh, clean, inviting and soft.

They say: Not much, they let the interior and the menu do the talking. Such as: “Tataki ocean trout with a raw kale & pickled vegetable salad, seaweed, almonds & poached eggs.”

There are so many more great places to drink coffee in Melbourne. If you have one to recommend, let me know:

Catriona is currently drinking flat whites.

Catriona Watters

Catriona Watters

Associate Design Director

Check out our Creative Director and Founder, Callum Lumsden’s latest article on retail design and bookshops here.