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Published May 28th 2012
Melbourne loves its coffee.
So much so that the average Melburnian is conversant with coffee cupping and tasting terms. In this serious café city, coffee is not a hot, sweet and milky beverage but the arterial lifeblood of a distinct coffee culture who demand flavours and freshness. It is the modern decadence propagated by schools of aficionados who source, roast, grind, sniff, brew and sip the affordable dark narcotic in lane ways all over Melbourne. Sensory ecstasy can come fast and furious at just AUD3.50 a cup. It comes as no surprise that Melbourne has her own International Coffee Expo. With over 100 industry exhibitors spread over 8000 sqm, it was the largest dedicated coffee trade show staged over in Australia this year.
Exterior of Market Lane Coffee at QVM
Melbourne loves its coffee. And Market Lane Coffee loves to make it for this Grand Dame. Perpetually crowded each time I walk by on route to my fav Queen Victoria Market (QVM), I finally found a lull one day to step through the doors and find out what all the fuss was about.
Melbourne's soft wispy finger of espresso diffusion led me by the nose towards the piquant grind of roasted beans and a frothing of euphoria. My will gradually weakened by her aromatic advances, I fell into her warm embrace.
She came to me in a curvy white dress patterned with a fleur of varying shades of brown, her tanned body a sensual blend of Brazil. As I slowly lifted her to my lips, I breathed in her perfume that hinted of praline and cherries. Her kiss was sweet and creamy. I was enthralled.
Skirting QVM on Therry Street just up from Maccas (McDonalds), coffee connoisseurs and former workmates, Ms Fleur Studd and Mr Jason Scheltus opened their second Market Lane Coffee, an offshoot of the original café and roastery located in the Prahran Market. Fleur and Jason met at Monmouth Coffee in London where both were living for a few years, before moving back to Melbourne to open their roastery in November 2009.
Jason at the roastery / Image courtesy of Market Lane Coffee
Market Lane Coffee was born out of the duo's modest desire to serve coffee without making any compromises on quality - a simple maxim that can only be delivered by an unyielding self-dissatisfaction with status quo of quality and service. While compromises on quality are common in all businesses, Fleur and Jason fuss on sourcing the very best of ingredients possible for their cup of java like the freshest milk, coffee beans to roast from the best estates and imported Costa Rican sugar.
Fleur pouring the pour over / Image courtesy of Market Lane Coffee
It helps that Fleur and Jason share a common love for the food and beverage industry. Jason had always worked in hospitality. Growing up with an interest in wine and food, he gained hands-on experience as a waiter, then as a bar manager buying wine for a restaurant and eventually as a barista. Fleur grew up in a family of food enthusiasts with a father who imported and distributed specialty cheese in Australia. Her love affair with coffee ripened while working at Monmouth Coffee.
The duo's genuine passion is best reflected by their hands-on approach to their coffee and business. Fleur particularly enjoys helping people decide which coffee they should take home with them, and helping them with how they're brewing it at home. Jason's favourite activity is making drinks for regular customers, talking to them and recommending new products.
At the QVM store, Fleur and Jason worked with the existing interior and flow of the space to create a coffee apothecary that encouraged interaction between customers, drinks preparation and the retail area. They showed the original brickwork of the old stables through a simple coat of white; seating was limited to only banquette seating along two of the walls and the windows so that people would face in to watch the coffee being made; and a used wooden showcase of coffee products with information cards on the coffee farm of origin and tasting notes to greet customers. The end result is a modern minimalistic yet rustic environment that does not distract from the main affair – the coffee – and appeals to a broad spectrum of folks living and working in the area, visiting aficionados and tourists traveling to QVM.
While the whole coffee business may sound glamourous, it is also a high pressure environment where staffing is a major challenge. Jason reckons they have been able to infuse their personal passion into their staff and are being rewarded by their people's continued inspiration in the business. They are challenging the duo to be better employers, to offer a better workplace, to increase the quality of training, product and leadership. They are a very strong driving force behind Market Lane Coffee.
Maxim of quality / Image courtesy of Market Lane Coffee
Co-owner Jason who is also the quality controller and former head roaster worked as a trainee roaster at Monmouth Coffee for two years, before starting to roast at Market Lane three years ago. He feels that the overall quality of coffee in Melbourne can be improved if more customers reject stale roasted and poor quality foreign coffee. As a roaster, he believes the average age of green coffee available in Melbourne is too old. Coffee starts to taste like timber generally 8 to 12 months after harvest, and those available in Melbourne would be at least 12 months old, if not longer. With the price of coffee ever increasing due to demand and production problems caused by climate change, majority of specialty roasters and cafes will maintain a 80 point coffee grade while Jason sees Market Lane Coffee as one of the few continuing to truly push the quality of coffee higher and higher.
The result of his stringent quality control is coffee that taste fresh, vibrant and of the highest quality. The single estate coffees are chosen based on sweetness, cleanliness and clarity of flavour. The Seasonal Espresso which went into my flat white was a Brazilian blend of Passeio, Paraiso and Espirito Santo. The Passeio lent the coffee a sugary sweet body with notes of chocolate, infused with the creamy nuttiness of the Paraiso. The Espirito Santo finished the blend with a light caramel aroma. It changes every 8 to10 weeks based on which coffees taste best for that season and obviously suitability for espresso. No two palates are the same but if I had a rating of cups or beans, I would give the Season Expresso at Market Lane Coffee a 4 out of 5 for aroma and taste.
I realised during my caffeine-filled date that every great market needed a great coffee place where senses could be awoken and bodies energised for the shopping or touring ahead. Market Lane Coffee has become my must stop place at QVM where the warm and inviting blend of a simple surround resonates the love that goes into making coffee.
Melbourne's ambrosial nutty caramel lingered as I bid her farewell.