Where to find the best flat white in Melbourne
Love your coffee? Here are the best places to find a delicious flat white in the city that invented the drink.
- October 2019
It's not hard to find great coffee in a city that prides itself on its love for caffeine. But what is the best of the best? As a certified Melburnian coffee lover, I go on a mission to seek out the best flat white... here's what I found.
The journey begins with an existential question: what exactly is a flat white? Is it just a cappuccino in witness protection? Is it a cafe latte for people who don’t want their Italian accent mocked? Our oracle is St Ali, one of the pioneers of the third-wave caffeine revolution that put Melbourne on the global coffee map. “A flat white is pretty much the same as a latte – a little stronger but also less froth,” says the barista at the South Melbourne flagship store as she pours a St Ali Orthodox: a dark-roasted, old-school blend that tastes like semi-dark chocolate fell in love with a Milky Way bar and decided to make a hot drink.
Brother Baba Budan
Named after the 17th-century Sufi who’s said to have smuggled coffee beans out of Yemen, this city outpost of the Seven Seeds café and roastery empire knows its coffee and has the devoted acolytes to show for it. After biding my time in a long queue, the richly caramel flattie proves worth the wait and the quasi-religious reverence the staff show for their product makes me want to take a bag of the good stuff to go.
Monk Bodhi Dharma
It has to be done but a visit to the suburban café that won notoriety last year for serving a AUD $150 coffee doesn’t necessarily involve taking out a second mortgage to enjoy a brew made of José Alfredo #227 from a limited run of Panamanian beans. I splash out nonetheless on a AUD $7 flat white made with the house Disciple Roasters blend and their own house-made almond milk. Mmm, nutty.
“The customers who order their coffee hot but not too hot are the worst,” confides the brightly tattooed barista at this landmark roastery and café as he pours a super-silken number at a temperature that Baby Bear would have declared just right – had he been allowed to drink coffee. Meanwhile, controversy erupts at the table. “The flat white was definitely invented in New Zealand,” says my Kiwi mate as we get stuck into a cross-Tasman slanging match invoking the names of Russell Crowe, Phar Lap and Neil Finn.
In honour of the Italian immigrants who brought real espresso to Melbourne c. 1930, it’s off to the swank new Flinders Lane premises of Carlton stalwarts Brunetti and its metal-clad coffee counter. There’s no table service, alas. You give your order and wait for the ticket to be called. It’s probably the only thing here that doesn’t scream la dolce vita – because everything from the looped film of Anita Ekberg swanning around the Trevi fountain to the heavily accented waiter who calls every woman in earshot “Bella” transports you straight to Italy. And the coffee? A workhorse Italian with rough edges and a lingering kick.
All hail the purists who refuse to serve coffee with soy, almond or any other non-dairy “mylk” (because it curdles, they argue). Now spanning a six-café empire, including the stunning 1920s-styled venue at the Queen Victoria Market’s Dairy Produce Hall, Market Lane serves a flat white for the ages: robust, lingering and as full-bodied as a 1967 Ford Falcon. It’s so good, in fact, I break my cardinal rule of one coffee a day and throw caution to the wind with a second. New York better watch out – at this rate, Melbourne is going to be the city that never sleeps.
Fun fact: by law, school drop-off in Melbourne necessitates coffee at the nearest café. Well, not really, but after surviving rock band assembly I think it should be a legal imperative to restore energy levels at my cute neighbourhood café in Fitzroy North. The flat white and my friend’s cafe latte arrive in identical black ceramic cups looking like monozygotic twins but the waitress doesn’t blink. “Who ordered the flat white?” she asks valiantly. Verdict: nice try on the interchangeable language but too heavy on the milk for a true Melbourne coffee aficionado.
Patricia Coffee Brewers
“Sunshine” reads the neon sign curling across the ceiling and it’s what grey Melbourne sorely needs today. Just as well this standing room only bolthole in the heart of the legal district diffuses liquid sunshine into a cup. It’s not a place where you’ll be spoiled for choice: the menu comes down to black, white or filter. The flat white is swoon-worthily smooth and velvety – and extra points go to the glass of sparkling water that arrives free.