Focus Coffee – deep in Melbourne’s nice eastern suburbs – might seem, at first thought, an unlikely venue for some of the city’s most exclusive single origins. Think again.
Balwyn is about as middle Melbourne as a suburb can get – quiet, leafy streets, big established homes (not houses) and shopping strips that have hardly changed in decades: not really the place to brew cutting-edge single-estate coffee, the kind of coffee that you would expect to find in, say, Collingwood or Balaclava.
But brewing cutting-edge single-estate coffee is exactly what Focus Coffee does. The blackboard menu here is a startling list of geisha from Ninety Plus and coffee from the likes of Blackburn Estate in Tanzania, roasted by Monk Bodhi Dharma and brewed by owner Ken Taing and his sons.
Taing, who came to Australia from Cambodia via Thailand in 1985, says he’s been in love with coffee since he drank a siphon brew on a trip to Taiwan in 1999.
“That siphon changed my life,” he says. “Then a friend took me to Japan. I decided to get out of restaurants and into coffee.”
Taing owned Oak Room in Ashburton for four-and-a-half years before he sold it in May 2015 and opened Focus later that year.
There’s a pair of siphon brewers on the bar at Focus, but filter coffee is more likely to be delivered via pourover: maybe something from Blackburn Estate in Tanzania, a natural process coffee with a fermented pulpy aroma and flavours of strawberry jam and, as it cools, a little boozy dry Marsala wine.
The Focus Coffee filter menu gets serious with geisha offerings going for up to $25 a cup. Focus Coffee serves as many as 14 different single-estate coffees at a time, depending on what’s in season.
A pourover of a Panama Silvia Solkin SK2 (yes, $20) has an intense aroma of rose – more like a perfume than an aroma, really – and is very clean-tasting, with a soft, full mouth and a stone fruit nectar-like quality as it cools.
There’s plenty for espresso, too, with more single-estate coffee from Monk Bodhi Dharma – maybe a Tanzania Mbozi AB that’s sweet and nutty, with a syrupy mouth and hints of candied cherry and toasted nuts.
Food is brunchy – buttermilk waffles with mascarpone and seasonal fruit; a poached duck egg with fat-roasted potatoes, beans and chorizo; a wagyu burger with kimchi puree – and the vibe bright and breezy considering the serious coffee offer.
“Ken is willing to try anything,” says Monk Bodhi Dharma’s Marwin Shaw. “He does tend to buy the most challenging coffees.”
“I wouldn’t have picked that location,” says Shaw. “I thought he wouldn’t be able to sell such pricey coffee there. He’s proved me wrong. He sells more filter coffee than anyone I know.”
Where 439 Whitehorse Road, Balwyn, (03) 9888 5301
When Daily 7am–5pm