Sensory Lab – Gateway to a caffeine addictionTweet Follow @MyAchingHead
The world of coffee is moving in a new direction, the coffee geeks call it the Third Wave and here in Melbourne it is taking many forms. Proud Mary, Seven Seeds, Brother Baba Budan, Dead Man Espresso and St Ali all subscribe to the philosophy. This philosophy says that the coffee is king and it should be treated as such and that sourcing the beans is as important as roasting and brewing them. These “specialty coffee” (a shitty name as far as I’m concerned) shops each take an immense amount of pride in their coffee and staff at each of them will happily take time out of a busy service to explain the beauty of single-origin coffee or to help you understand the difference between brewing techniques.
But St Ali is taking it one step further. Their concept is called the Sensory Lab and they have partnered with David Jones to bring the 3rd Wave to the world. This new venture has taken over the Little Collins St entrance to the department store and is an amalgamation where perfume shop meets coffee shrine. As you walk into the store there is a large counter with the an impressive array of Hario siphon filters, pour over brewers and a much-touted Slayer espresso machine. The bright heat lamps of the siphons are an amazing drawcard. There is a constant stream of people stopping to look and learn about what exactly is going on.
It is pure genius. The theatre of the siphon stops the shoppers and the army of white lab coat wearing salespeople swoop to explain how it works or to find the perfect coffee blend for you with a simple 4 step process. This is specialty coffee for the masses and the shoppers are eating it up. On a Saturday morning there is a constant crowd of people around the counter and about 5 salespeople and 3 baristas run off their feet. These people seem to have a newfound desire for coffee. They are buying siphons, looking at the Rancilio espresso machines in the corner, leafing through the barista books and buying take-away beans.
This all overshadows the cafe that occupies the other half of the room. There are 2 large communal tables and a few little single seat booths along the wall. The fare is minimal, coffee and cake. The coffee is being made, not from the Slayer but from a giant La Marzocco machine and the baristas don’t have time to take a breather. There is a queue of people at the window ordering take-aways and an army of mothers with their prams trying to find seats at the communal table.
The atmosphere is positively buzzing but it isn’t all good. The space is too small and the number of people around is uncomfortable and quite noisy, not the best place for a quiet coffee, not that that’s the point. This place is like the gateway drug to a life of better caffeine.
I’m not itching to go back. The concept is great and it means that there is going to be more demand for good coffee but the pretty girls in the lab coats lack the passion of your favourite coffee shop and probably won’t remember your name. Luckily, we are spoilt for choice and I’m more than happy to sit wander down the road, grab the broadsheets and feed my addiction at the big spacious tables at the real St Ali.
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