Don't Under Think It

Melbourne’s cafe culture aka BDSM

What is the best part about Melbourne? For some it would be the sports: football, cricket, tennis, Formula 1 and, the greyhounds equivalent of Formula 1, the MotoGP. For others, inner city pinkos mainly, it would be the cultural life, the National Gallery of Victoria, ACMI, the Arts Centre. Others still would point to Melbourne’s gastronomic landscape (pinkos), and thriving nightlife. For me though the best thing about Melbourne is its café culture, the most pinko-ish thing of all.

I have previously written about my misadventures (albiet very trivial misadventures) in and around Barcelona’s café scene. In Melbourne it is much the same. I work with an inverse metric: the worse a café appears the better it is. While in Barcelona this turned out to be flawed because there the worse the café appears the worse the café is, in Melbourne it is generally a pretty safe rule of thumb.

There are a few criteria that separate a good café serving decent coffee from a cool café serving the best coffee in Melbourne (and if you disagree then you do not really understand coffee I am told):

  • Is the furniture mismatched? For instance, is there a table surrounded by a comfy armchair, a stool meant for a tall bar, a rocking horse and a medicine ball?
  • Are the menus scrawled in white chalk in some out of sight place, perhaps behind a fridge or in the woman’s toilets?
  • Are the waitresses and waiters disguised as customers?
  • Are at least half the customers wearing bowler hats or small circular rimmed spectacles?

If you can tick off most or all of these indicators then you are probably in a café that was featured in ‘Melbourne’s Top Fifty Cafés’ in The Age (now that is news).

Most waiters (and waitresses) at Melbourne cafes look like this

Recently, for lack of anything more constructive to do with my life, I whittled away an afternoon in one such establishment. The café was located in Balaclava, the heartland of Melbourne’s cranky, pickled food loving, Slavic community.

This was one of those places where all the lone people have to sit at a big communal table of shame. I was half way through looking at the words in my New Yorker, when the middle-aged woman sitting next to me committed a cardinal cafe sin.

She complained about the coffee.

It was like a scene from an old Western (especially because most of the people in the cafe were wearing bandanas, vests and flannel shirts); the honkytonk piano broke off abruptly and the chatter stopped.

I should explain. In Melbourne coffee has a sacred status similar to holy water in the Catholic Church or grapes in Bordeaux. Just as no one tells a French winemaker how much he should stomp his dirty feet on his grapes and no one tells a Catholic priest how much flunitrazepam to put in the holy water, it is a ballsy thing to tell a barista how to make the coffee.

I mean I whine a lot but, just as I would never debate the finer points of surgery with a surgeon, I would never send a coffee back. This is because I feel like I probably don’t know what I am talking about: “Oh, the coffee is supposed to have crushed glass in it? Silly me. Sorry for getting blood on your floor, let me clean it for you.”

But I digress.

The woman’s small gripe, that the coffee was grainy, was enough to bring the barista out from his workshop. Taking a knee next to the woman and wiping his hands in a tea towel like a mechanic, he inquired as to the problem.

Said the woman, “It’s just a bit grainy”. I winced.

“A bit grainy is it?” Repeated the barista oozing condescension.

“Yes, a bit grainy”

“Hmm, interesting”, then began this diatribe, “as you can see I have my machine set to a finer grind for the beans. This generally ensures that I can pack and tamp the coffee tighter in the group-handle and that not much of the grind will get through during the extraction. Now, it would be impossible to stop the entire grind from getting into the coffee, wouldn’t it?”

The woman had lost her nerve, “well I suppose- ”.

“- yes, that’s right. Generally though, people don’t mind a bit of sediment as it makes their coffee richer…” he went on like this for a couple of minutes.

To the untrained eye it was just a polite discussion. To my eye the barista had taken his tea towel and was whipping the woman to death screaming between lashes (in a German accent) “What… would… you… know… about… coffee!”

Perhaps this is what I like about Melbourne cafes. The fear you feel when you walk into one is so pure that when you leave you truly feel alive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on June 30, 2011 by in Entertainment, Humor, Life, Short story, Travel and tagged , , , , , , .

Enter your email here and the crap I write will end up in your inbox and hopefully put a chuckle in your day.

Join 242 other followers

%d bloggers like this: