So I recently went to Melbourne.
It is widely known in Sydney that Melbourne has the elusive upper hand in coffee-making or “coffee-roasting”. As a non-coffee-drinking Sydneysider, I’ve been harassed for years about the cultural superiority of Melbourne, and more recently, the overwhelming abundance of hipster cafes, man-buns, and beards that us Sydney folk are rather behind on.
“You’re only going for the man-buns aren’t you?” What began as a joke about my motives for my Melbourne trip, quickly turned into a quest to find the ultimate hipster cafe.
Weaving in and out of the countless intimate alleys and naturally appreciating every display of graffiti that had suddenly become exhibitions of creative geniuses, I made my way around the drizzly, orthogonal city.
As I became more familiar with the cafe etiquette, I began to realise just how many people were available to soak up the coffee culture on a weekday. Do Melbournians not have jobs? Or does the idea of a deconstructed coffee take clear priority over other potential activities?
Following my phone to a pre-selected trendy spot, I came across many a hidden-away hole in the wall which opened out into cosy rooms of coffee appreciation. As tempting as it was to test the handiwork of all these bearded baristas, I followed the GPS until I found a wooden door in a surprisingly deserted alleyway. I could sense the indie vibes by the fact I had to walk up a flight of creaky wooden stairs to get to the actual cafe room.
As my ironic adventure was all somewhat in jest, I was definitely surprised when I swung open the door to the cafe and questioned my GPS skills and general life choices. Was this the cafe? It was quiet, dimly lit, and very industrial. When I had been doing my research to find the most hipster cafe, I had based degree of hipster on level of industrial influence.
This was industrial.
It was so industrial that I was unsure whether the practicality of the cafe actually outweighed the trendiness. Industrial cafes just LOOK industrial, right? If they’re actually an operating barber and gentlemen’s outfitters as well, does that authenticity make it lose its prestigious industrial Melbourne hipster cafe value? I was so unsure and felt more out of place than I had anticipated. Could they tell I was a Sydney girl coming to take advantage of the Instagram-worthy decor and draw attention to the unrealistic nature of the cafe? No. I had my beanie. I was safe and they couldn’t know.
“Hi do you have a menu?” I asked as nonchalantly as possible to the lovely social justice warrior-esque lady behind the counter. She looked at me. She knew. She pointed towards a big framed board to my right and there sat a list of hand-written lunches.
“Ah thanks, but you have a drinks menu? Teas, coffees, that sort of thing?” I wasn’t after a meal, but a perfectly crafted Melbourne drink.
I looked at her. She looked at me. What was going on…? No drinks menu? Is that even legal? How do I dwell on all the options if they’re not presented logically?
“You just tell me what you want and I’ll make it.”
This was new. What does that even mean? How is that efficient at all? Do I go through every crazy Melbourne treat I’m hoping to find on the menu? As a non-coffee drinker (I know – why am I even in Melbourne in a hipster cafe then?), I had been craving an artistically crafted milkshake that was suitable for a 21 year old.
“Can I please have a milkshake?” She was not impressed. Was she going to kick me out of her cafe? I promise I’m cultured! I fit in! Did you note the beanie?
“We don’t make them.”
Yup, she hated me. I panicked for a moment thinking of my next question.
“I can make you an iced chocolate.” She was definitely concerned by my lack of coffee.
I nodded and pulled out my wallet.
What!? No paying?
“You pay later.”
It was bizarre. Nevertheless, I sat in the middle of the room, in prime photo-taking, gawking position to wait for my much-hyped Melbourne iced chocolate. There was a glass annexe where a man was getting his beard trimmed. Jackpot. Vintage shoes lined the walls, and the tables were platforms for sewing machines. Jackpot.
Eventually my iced chocolate arrived. After quickly taking some snapchats to express my cultural value, I put the straw between my lips and consumed the trend-infused drink I’d put so much pressure on.
It was terrible.
It was actually the worst drink I’ve had ever, which is challenging because it’s chocolate-based. It was a hot chocolate with ice cubes at the top – so much so that the bottom 2/3 were lukewarm. I instantly realised this was just a novelty to be endured for the sake of a cafe experience. I messaged my mum to tell her of the tragedy and she told me to tell the barista. Bless her. So pragmatic. So clueless to the social and cultural protocols I had just been subject to.
“I can’t mum. I’ll be deported from Melbourne. My beanie is literally my only redeeming feature right now.”
No bearded barista, no man-buns, no exquisite milkshake. After sticking it out, taking some photos, and watching the poor waitress have to carry the entire framed board to some seated customers for lack of printed menus, I paid my $4.50 for my watery, warm milk and left. It was an experience.
Later, after spending several hours in the Museum of Moving Image, I decided to give Melbourne a second chance to showcase their milkshake abilities. After all, this cafe was part of the museum. How hipster could it be?
“Hi there, do you have a menu?”
The man behind the counter was much friendlier than my previous barista encounter. He pointed towards a laminated lunch menu.
“Ah yes, do you have a drinks menu? With tea and coffee you know?”
“No, you just tell me whatever you want.”
I was beginning to sense a pattern here.
“Can I please have a milkshake?”
“No, sorry we don’t do those. I can make you an iced chocolate?”
What the hell Melbourne? Up your game! Should I make the same mistake? How much worse could it be though? Reluctantly I agreed, and paid a further $5.50.
When it arrived, it was mediocre. It thankfully had icecream, but otherwise it was another bland disappointment.
Determined that Melbourne could do better than this, I spent the rest of the evening looking up the best freakshakes and diner-style milkshakes Melbourne had to offer.
The next day marked the start of another quest to Richmond’s Rowena Parade Corner Store to find the most decadent milkshake and restore my faith in Melbourne.
This was the place. It was cute and cosy and colourful and youthful. Their menu was extensive and was ONLY compsosed of milkshakes, and the store didn’t have the ‘we secretly spent a fortune on the floors and walls to make it look like we didn’t spend any money on the floors and walls’ vibe going on.
Satisfaction was finally found after choosing the creative vegemite and salted caramel flavour. It was bliss. Very patriotic. Australian pride restored.