The journey to Melbourne’s best coffee

Publisher of the inaugural 2010 Melbourne Coffee Review, Steve Agi, speaks to ROSS KARAVIS about the pulling together of the list of Melbourne’s best 100 cafes, Melbourne’s cafe culture and the role Greeks played in Melbourne’s love affair with espresso coffee.

This Wednesday the inaugural 2010 Melbourne Coffee Review will be released by the Melbourne Coffee Review, spearheaded by the enigmatic CaFFiend.

Italians may have brought the art of espresso coffee to our fair shores, but it is truly the Greeks who have embraced it and helped to turn it into the amazing social experience that sharing a good cup of coffee is.

The 144 page publication is the quintessential guide to coffee and cafes in Melbourne for Melbourne’s cafe savvy and coffee obsessed aficionados.

The Melbourne Coffee Review is a new venture published by Steve Agi, the Caffiend, and edited by former Age journalist and Epicure deputy editor, Leanne Tolra, with the full support of the iconic Melbourne Coffee Review team originally founded by Peter Christo.

Judging by the wired look in the eye of the CaFFiend and publisher of the guide, Steve Agi, it has been a mammoth task that a team of Melbourne’s leading coffee lovers have put together to showcase the finer points of Melbourne’s cafe culture.

The guide has enjoyed strong pre-sales, already well into the thousands, ensuring that the caffeine fuelled publication will be a major publishing success in 2009.

With approximately a third of the cafes in the TOP 100 being run by, owned or operated by Greeks there’s a definite Hellenic connection here.

“Italians may have brought the art of espresso coffee to our fair shores, but it is truly the Greeks who have embraced it and helped to turn it into the amazing social experience that sharing a good cup of coffee is,” quipped the proud Greek Australian, Steve Agi.

“We believe it’s an honest, down-to-earth snapshot of the best brews coming from the finest hands and the most passionately operated espresso machines around town, and we hope to use it as an effective tool to promote Melbourne’s unique and vibrant cafe culture to the world.”

The cafes were reviewed by a passionate team that includes professional writers and food reviewers, coffee experts and new writers with a special affinity for coffee.

Amongst the 19 reviewers involved in the preparation of the Melbourne Coffee Review were four Greeks; Peter Christo, Steve Agi, Chris Binos and Rachella Birch-Samios.

The reviewers spent more than three months, drinking, smelling, tasting, testing and re-visiting nearly 200 cafes. It was a mammoth task but the team behind the guide managed to cull an initial list of 200 cafes down to the final list of 100 of Melbourne’s finest coffee destinations.

Each of the 200 cafes that were reviewed were rated for their ambience, service, and professionalism – and above all, the quality of its coffee.

The cafes have a simple bean rating: three beans is a cafe that is amongst the best Melbourne has to offer; two beans is a cafe with great coffee which you would be happy to recommend to friends or colleagues and one beans is a cafe with a good coffee and lots of potential.

Although there have been attempts at something like this before, it is this first up effort by Steve Agi and the Melbourne Coffee Review truly reflects and does justice to Melbourne’s unique and vital cafes.

Steve Agi is aware that the selection process and the rating of cafe can be fraught.

“Sure I will cop plenty of flack for this as it’s difficult to limit yourself to 100 cafes.

“However we decided to draw a line in the sand and this was our pick at this time, right or wrong. Maybe your favourite cafe missed out, or one snuck in that you reckon shouldn’t have. It’s all good, grab a copy and let us know. I would love your feedback and comments, the book is for you.”

He goes on to make the point that the annual guide is a labour of love and an evolving list of Melbourne’s best cafes.

“Help us to help you. Let us know and help us to make the next one bigger and better, “ Agi said. “I extend a hand and invite you to join our team next year and help us to do a better job. I don’t claim to know it all, but think that together we can all showcase the best that this city has to offer.”

I am curious to see what motivated Steve Agi and his crew to pull the guide together and what they hope the guide will achieve.

He is clear that it will help both consumers and cafes.

“We all knew that it would not be easy to pick a TOP 100, but we decided that it was something that needed to be done and it gave cafe owners something to aim for, to strive for, which in the end is a better nett result for everybody.

“The consumer wins right across the board. Not only do they get a definitive listing of some of the world’s best coffee destinations, right on their doorstep, they also are assured that coffee standards will go up right across the board as cafe owners set their sights on making the cut for next years guide. So at the end of the day we all win and that’s what it’s all about.

“That is what’s best for this coffee industry which I love so much and is full of so many amazing and beautiful people.”

Steve Agi has also discovered that coffee is the common denominator of every successful business and an inextricable part of the life of Melbournians.

“Coffee is both the glue that binds and the basis of every strong social destination. Even though many businesses seem to struggle these days and we are in the midst of a global recession, a good cafe will often report it is now busier than ever, some even doing over 100kgs of coffee per week, now that’s a lot of cups of coffee.

“The truth is that no matter what people will not give up this little bean, it is both a vice and an affordable luxury, so if we’re all going to drink it may as well be a good one, because as I always say, life is too short to drink bad coffee…”

I asked Steve about the state of the cafe industry in Melbourne and how it compares with the rest of the world. His response is unequivocal in singing the praises of Melbourne’s cafe culture.

“Melbourne is truly recognised right around the world as a coffee destination with some of the finest cafes and specialty roasters anywhere.

“Places like St Ali, Seven Seeds, Brother Baba Budan and Dukes are second to none anywhere in the world, and that says a lot. From Vancouver to Milan, from Tokyo to New York, Melbourne is THE place to be and the Melbourne Coffee Review is all about promoting this truly unique global phenomenon to the world.

It is a true snapshot of this dynamic industry and a clear indication of just what makes Melbourne such a unique destination.

Available now online at and at all good bookshops and newsagents nationally, this first-class guide takes you on a journey through the laneways, converted warehouses and renovated architectural treasures serving the humble coffee bean at its finest.