You should not be surprised to learn that the newest venture from Proud Mary Coffee Roasters‘ Nolan Hirte, a prolific influencer in Melbourne’s specialty coffee scene, is doing quite well. The new cafe is dubbed Aunty Peg’s—Hirte thinks of it as the “cellar door” to his other business—is unlike its older cafe siblings. Positioned in a quiet commercial building just around the corner from Proud Mary on Wellington Street, the focus at Aunty Peg’s is all coffee. In fact, they only serve black coffee in an effort to refocus customers’ attention on the coffee and “show it in its purest form,” says cafe manager Jane Waring. On offer are a variety of filter methods and espresso, plus an exceptional nitro cold brew.
The ample two-story warehouse space boasts a green coffee storage room, a roasting area, a “genius” bar, an office space, a bakery, and an espresso training area, and a coffee bar at which customers enjoy their coffee and chat to the baristas throughout the process. Upstairs, bakery staff (headed up by chef Gad Assayag, most recently of Green Park) creates baked goods for the cafes and wholesale. The bakery overlooks an espresso training area, where individual baristas or groups can book classes with the Aunty Peg’s experts. Downstairs is the green storage room, 15-kilogram and 22-kilogram Probat roasters, and the cupping area. During my visit, there were a handful of people in a roasting class while a Tina Turner record looked on from atop an ample collection. Gangster rap spat through the speakers, but the vibe was decidedly ambient.
Waring poured me a nitro cold brew from one of the bar’s taps (they also serve iced tea). Aunty Peg’s sends the coffee down to a brewery in Geelong, where it’s brewed for 40–55 hours in four-degree-Celsius water. It’s then filtered, charged with nitrogen, and kegged. The Rwandan/Brazilian blend I tried was also charged with argon, which is used to preserve wine. Waring explained that this method produces a cleaner, clearer aroma. The result was aromatic, creamy, and crisp.
Philosophically, Aunty Peg’s strives in its attempt to change the farm-customer disconnect by bringing the stories of the farmers to the forefront of customers' minds. Front and center on the menus are paragraphs about each of the farms from where the beans were sourced. Waring excitedly told me the story of HR61, a rare variety isolated at Hacienda El Roble in Colombia. HR61 cups like a Gesha, but experts agree that it is decidedly not, and its origins remain unknown. In 2013, Hirte purchased the entire 18-kilogram lot, and now Aunty Peg’s exclusively serves what the label describes as “one of the world’s most intriguing varietals.”
Hirte's comment about Aunty Peg’s acting as a kind of cellar door for Proud Mary coffee products and cafes, where customers can go to critically engage with coffee, may sound like the pinnacle of coffee snobbery. It’s not. Rather, it's a playground for anyone from the “biggest coffee geek” (their words, not mine) to a casual passerby. The “genius bar” (stay back, Apple lawyers) is a place for coffee lovers to bring their equipment—be it a French press or an AeroPress or their gold-plated Belgian brewer—and receive tutorials. “Espresso is really hard to make at home,” Waring told me. They want to encourage comfort with any of the easier, cheaper filter methods that produce equally delicious coffee.
Although the focus is zoomed in on the highest quality coffee and its preparation, Aunty Peg's mission is to be as inclusive a space as possible. Waring said, simply: “We want to open up the space and show people what we do.”
And wherever you sit at the twelve-seat bar, you can see one of the three Synesso single-group machines, taps, and various other filter mechanisms. This is to invite conversation and engagement. It’s a space to talk about coffee farmers, methods, and culture in a beautiful space with open, knowledgeable people—whether it's an early gateway to deeper knowledge, or simply your new favorite place to hang out.
Photos by Eileen P. Kenny for Sprudge.com.