Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published August 10th 2011
What distinguishes a Melbourne coffee shop from other coffee shops? (And no, Starbucks doesn't count.) Three things: amazing coffee, disdain for fancy syrups, and surly baristas. Doctor Java, situated at the corner of Smith St and Gertrude St, has these in spades . It's an excellent place to go before lunch or dinner, and its coffee never disappoints.
The sign hanging outside reads "excellent coffee, great food, okay service". As tongue-in-cheek as this is, it's actually a decent summary of Doctor Java. The coffee is outstanding even for Fitzroy: smooth and without a trace of bitterness. Sit outside with a latte and people-watch, or sit inside and read the paper. The inside seating is small but classy, with comfortable chairs and a line of stools along the window.
The food, while perhaps not above the Smith St average, is certainly serviceable. There's your usual array of muffins and lighter meals to have with a coffee but the whole thing feels desultory, thrown in because a coffee shop ought to have food options. The sheer amount of cafes and restaurants within walking distance of Doctor Java – or even visible from the outside tables – means that you'll almost never need to eat there. If you can't drink coffee by itself without having a panic attack, stick to a muffin or a slice of raisin toast; otherwise head across the road to Trippy Taco or Konjo Ethiopian Restaurant.
The service is brusque, verging on unfriendly, but as with bartenders, when did people start expecting baristas to serve you a smile and conversation along with your cappucino? We expect surgeons to be competent and dedicated, not chatty and outgoing. Likewise, a barista's job is to pull espresso shots and steam milk, not to listen to you talk about your day. If you want a friendly chat, get a loved one or family member to pour you a cup of instant – but if you want genuinely impressive coffee, get over to Doctor Java.
All in all, Doctor Java is a great option for coffee around Fitzroy. While the surrounding restaurants have it understandably outclassed in the food department, the skill of the baristas more than makes up for that. It's quiet, relaxing and simple – the perfect place to introduce a visitor from out of Melbourne to what good coffee should be like, or to have a no-pressure first date. Next time you visit the Melbourne Museum, why not walk down past Gertrude St's array of interesting shopfronts to Doctor Java?