Melbourne specialises in tucked-away cafes, but Vertue of the Coffee Drink takes some beating. The address is Raffa Place, Carlton, but the best directions are “past the auto electrician behind the garage on the corner of Elgin Street”.
The building once housed a stables; now the wooden door opens onto a lovely bespoke space, fitted out in a mix of textures and colours: raw brick, silky timber, shining brass, chrome and copper.
Just about opposite the door is a big Has Garanti roaster, where owner Mike Cracknell works his way through an impressive menu of seasonal single origins from all corners of the globe.
There might be something unusual like a Tanzania Kilimanjaro – a coffee with plenty of body in a short black, nutty flavours and a taut, bitter finish. It gets all sticky-fruity with ripe banana in what Cracknell calls a three-quarter flat white – not a magic, not a piccolo, but something else again.
A batch brew of his Colombia Huila Supremo is rich and chocolatey with a nice fruity tingle, a real “coffee” coffee with plenty of depth, while a short black of Kenya Gaturiri is a savoury, blueberry kind of thing with a creamy mouthfeel and nice, rounded flavours.
Mike Cracknell explains the idea behind the house blend, called 1852: a mix of two Brazils (for caramel and chocolate), a Colombia (depth and body) and an Ethiopia (for interest). It’s best in milk, he says, where it has a distinct sweet peanut flavour, some caramel and some bitter chocolate.
The food menu is similarly adventurous, packed with flavours and textures and, for want of a better word, curated: French toast might be made with fruit loaf and served with vanilla icecream and amaretti crumble, while tea-smoked salmon comes with cauliflower puree and polenta-crumbed eggs.
Need an explanation for the apparent mis-spelling of “virtue”? Check the big framed print of the first advertisement for coffee in London – the year was 1652, and “vertue” was the spelling back then.
Vertue of the Coffee Drink
Where 8 Raffa Place, Carlton
When Mon–Fri 7am–4pm, Sat–Sun 7.30am–4pm