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 11th 2011
When it comes to lunchtime, most of us try and pop in a quick nirvana before going back to work or study. We're looking for half an hour to relax and clear our heads with a coffee and something to eat. Shanti Bhagwan, in the Alice Hoy building of Melbourne University, offers a chakra-soothing experience for overworked students.
While the indoors seating gets crowded, the seats are comfortable enough to make it worth showing up early. There's a long table in the middle that will fit even the largest groups, and if you prefer fresh air, there are both sheltered and unsheltered tables outside. One even has a giant chessboard on it – but no chess pieces. If you can gather enough people, try using coffee cups and lids as checkers pieces. Even if all the seats fill up, there's the (currently fenced-off, but not for long) lawn just outside and plenty of other places to sit with a takeaway coffee.
When Shanti Bhagwan first opened it called itself an 'urban chai temple', and although the name's now gone, the chai lives on. Choose between a sweet or a spicy chai latte for a delicious caffeine-free beverage; both are nice, but sweet chai is significantly easier to drink for those not used to chai. What makes this cafe unique is its 'cophai': a chai latte with an espresso shot in it. The combination works incredibly well, and might almost tempt you to give up regular coffee altogether.
If you're just looking for a normal hot drink, Shanti Bhagwan won't disappoint. The lattes are smooth and creamy, and are great to drink while people-watching through the huge glass window. There's also a range of T2 teas to choose from, either takeaway in a cup or to drink inside in a teapot. However, a word of warning: stay away from the decaffeinated options, as some are truly dreadful.
The food is a little expensive but quite nice. Try the green curry for a spicy option or the lentil and feta roti. If you're looking for something quick, Shanti Bhagwan's vegetable foccacia is delicious and holds up well against the food offered at other university cafes. Finish it off with a fruit salad – or an affogato, a scoop of icecream covered with an espresso shot. The affogatos here are perfect, with just the right amount of quality icecream. The truly decadent can even add flavoured syrup for a little extra.
All things considered, Shanti Bhagwan is unique enough to be worth going to. The coffee's not quite as good as nearby Kere Kere, but the seating is considerably better and options like cophai or a chai latte add more variety. If you've got an hour to spare in the middle of the day – especially if you're a student who has class in the Alice Hoy building – Shanti Bhagwan will bring you the inner peace you need to face down the afternoon.