I lucked out to score an award ticket on Delta from Los Angeles to Melbourne right before Christmas. So I thought to myself, “What the hell?” — I booked the ticket. Then I found another award flight from Sydney to Singapore in their Suites class right before New Years and I got the rest of my trip all figured out and booked. So here I was, escaping the rainy Seattle winter for the hot Australian summer.
I stepped off the plane in a tank top and shorts, knowing full well that the morning will only end up getting warmer. I knew where I wanted to go — a coffee roaster in Carlton that would only be open until noon that day — it was Christmas Eve after all. I ate at the same place when I was in Melbourne for my birthday 2 years prior and have been craving this one item on the brunch menu — a savory waffle that is stuffed with smoked ham and cheddar cheese, topped with 2 poached eggs with chipotle hollandaise.
However, my need to eat after a 14.5 hour flight from Los Angeles was 2nd only to my most basic need first thing in the morning — caffeine. I was in the right place: Melbourne, Australia and at a coffee roaster. So of course I ordered coffee. And once the barista placed the glass in front of me and took that first sip, my mind was at ease and thinking, “Finally, a proper Flat White after all these years.” The debate between Australia and New Zealand has not been settled on which country invented it first. However, both countries can do a flat white perfectly. The trademark of a flat white is the micro thin layer of foam and a higher proportion of coffee to milk.
When I ask Australians what the first thing they think of when I ask what Melbourne is known for, they answer me one of two responses: food or coffee. Melburnians take their coffee seriously. And that is joy in the eyes of a Seattleite. Throughout Melbourne, coffee shops can be found all over: in plain sight or hidden away. It is the hidden ones that are the real gems. The only way you can truly find them is following your the Melburnians that you trust the most to guide you.
Throughout my visits to Melbourne, I was a few cups of coffee short of caffeine overdose. It was my mission to find my favorites in the city, and I even ventured to some of the suburbs that have the best coffee. I would so somewhere, have a flat white or two, maybe something sweet to eat and read a book for an hour before heading to the next shop. I love how the Central Business District (CBD) is structured. You have the main streets (Bourke St, Collins St, etc..) and then you have little streets running parallel in between these big streets (Little Bourke, Little Collins, etc…). It is off these little streets that you find the hidden gems. My favorite is one of the more popular shops: Brother Baba Budan. Its a small shop off Lt Bourke and a perfect place to get that flat white, sit for 10-15 mins with a colleague before returning to work.
If you venture a bit further north to Carlton, you can find more off the beaten path coffee shops. My favorite would be Vertue Coffee Roasters, who sources their own coffee and roasts themselves. They take their coffee seriously and it is evident in the delicious espresso that they serve (along with some yummy food). You may find Vertue hidden down an alleyway behind a gas station. And this is what makes Melbourne amazing — you never know what you’ll find.
Now one of the perfect things that pairs with a good cup of coffee is a good dessert. If you’re not drinking some coffee drink loaded with sugar from the Green Mermaid chain, then join the rest of the world in taking a break, having a coffee and a nice dessert. Australians pride themselves on good food (and I would certainly blow my savings account on food if I spend significant time in Australia).
The dessert to try in Australia is the pavlova. It may sound Russian but it is just as Australian as kangaroos and koalas (the dessert is named after Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova). The pavlova is another food item that has disputed origins between Australia and New Zealand.
A pavlova is perfect for a hot summer day. The meringue is light and crispy, with a delightfully gooey inside and then topped with cream and berries. It has many textures and flavors that if you get one the size of your hand, you’ll probably want to eat a 2nd or 3rd one (don’t judge me).
Australia has exceeded my expectations when it comes to a gastronomic experience (move over France) to try so many yummy foods from around the world, with fresh ingredients and an emphasis on it being an experience for you to try. I can’t wait to return to Australia to continue whittling down the long list of recommended food places to eat at in Melbourne and Sydney (and I should probably venture up to Queensland too — I wont hear the end of it from my boss). May you have dreams of flat whites and pavlovas too!